Worse is often better

Worse is often better

There is more to something than how technically good it is. Sometimes worse is better.
Ginger Baker was scathing about Hendrix’s drummer Mitch Mitchell and even the Who’s Keith Moon. But I cannot imagine the Experience or Who sounding better. Both Keith and Mitch provided excitement. I think Hendrix was always great when he had some passion behind him and Noel and Mitch provided that. The same is true of White Stripes. Meg isn’t the best drummer in the world but she created exactly the right raw backing.
Looking back over Rock Music I think it’s safe to say that many great moments have sprung from the loins of musical mediocrity while much boring tripe has been spawned from technical genius.
I think it’s safe to say that the Kingsmen were not in the musical elite but their version of Louie Louie was the best. The Sonics – Five Great guys – three great chords summed it up. Some of my favourite Punk is pretty basic.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band are the best band to come out of Rock Music because, despite the intricacy and sophistication of the songs, they still manage to capture that power and drive. The complexity does not detract.
I like a range of Rock Music. I like loud, raw and exciting and I like melodic, gentle and thoughtful. I like music that says some and music that is visceral. Roy Harper appeals to me because the lyrics are so poetic, forceful and pertinent and the music is brilliant too. He has power and intensity and is capable of sophistication and complexity without inducing catatonia.
It depends on mood.
If you want music that is brilliant technically you head for Classical or Jazz. Me – I like to Rock!

5 thoughts on “Worse is often better

  1. At first although your comments annoyed me a bit, I was just going to move on and ignore it. But they managed to encourage me to actually say something in reply along the lines of you must be mistaken to think that.
    I actually dislike cheap easy to play Rock music. That’s for the radio and people that buy Greatest Hits type of records and scan Pop Singles charts and so forth, at least they used to when that was an bigger deal than the nonentity it is today.
    I like stuff that isn’t easy to play, that took some invention of ideas to get together and in turn can be exhilarating to hear performed live, providing the band’s musicians have enough talent to play it live. It’s amazing how truly dreadful in live performance many so-called great bands have been down the years. I’ve lost count.
    I would really have to disagree with you on some of what you claim.
    I would immediately disagree with your claim about Noel Redding’s so-called passion.
    He spent many a concert in a rather disconsolate and arrogant state of mind to the point where Hendrix was really wishing to replace him sooner or later. Hendrix didn’t even bother to inform Redding of that and he learned it second-hand and immediately left. Billy Cox was ten times the bass player, as being a real bass player was helpful. Redding wasn’t that great on bass as he preferred to announce himself as the “best guitarist in Kent”, much to Hendrix’s then roadie Ian (Lemmy) Kilminster’s amusement.

    I could just as equally say that as much boring tripe has been spawned by musical mediocrity and that many great moments were spawned by technical genius. That equation is determined by which types of music one listens to or is even aware of.
    King Crimson would be a factor in confirmation. Quiet Sun would also be. But very few people would be aware of Quiet Sun, therefore, would never have heard their music.
    I’ll have Maureen Tucker on drums any day before The White Stripes’ Meg. Tucker was total rock ‘n roll to the max.
    That’s a affirmative – all Punk was pretty basic, so no credit points for that disclosure.
    Some of it was very good, but a lot of it was not.

    Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band were a sort of amalgam of good intentions but they only ever managed to finish an album proper on a hand full of occasions. So many of their albums ended up sounding as a failed experiment having run adrift of fresh ideas about halfway through and meandering into frequent repetition. Firstly, they were never a Rock Band. In fact, they had nothing at all to do with Rock Music per se. The were an American (that’s an immediate problem anyway) blues based, jazz influenced concoction of the two welded together. A real Rock Band would be Led Zeppelin and Captain Beefheart weren’t even close to the same planet as them.
    Captain Beefheart made four quality albums between 1968 and 1972 and that was it. Everything from that point on was a waste of everybody’s time – a rehash of cast off ideas that sounded so out of date as the years past. By 1978, they really had nothing to offer and ground themselves into the tour mill by playing smaller and smaller venues on each subsequent tour. In ten years they dropped from playing to two thousand people theatres to a couple of hundred in a club. It was a sobering sight by 1980.
    Roy Harper is another artist very much of the hit and miss variety. I compare his output to that of Al Stewart’s, who is very much a contemporary and it’s very easy to determine just how far ahead from Harper that Stewart was album for album. Of course, Harper did make some fine albums – completely fine albums and not just a few good tracks on each. That would be his 1970-75 period and any of these albums is a great listen. But then it began to deteriorate and the song quality control suffered. Whereas, Stewart went from strength to strength and from 1970 albums such as the brilliant Love Chronicles to 1972’s equally brilliant Orange. While Harper’s 1973 magnum opus Lifemask is easily matched by Stewart’s brilliantly written Past, Present and Future album – almost impossible to imagine how anyone could have developed that from an idea to fruition. Harper tried to compete but just didn’t have a full barrel of product and ran out of ideas too soon. His heavy dope smoking was of no long term support to his continued struggle to compete with his best past works. By the late 70s he even had to scrap an entire album as it was so mediocre. He wasted his talent. Al Stewart meanwhile set up shop in Los Angeles and became a millionaire overnight.

    That last comment about if you want music that is brilliant technically – you must head for Classical or Jazz. What a strange comment to make. Firstly, not by any means is all Classical music brilliant technically. There are thousands of recordings of Viennese Waltz’s, none of which are technically brilliant. Also, not all Jazz music is brilliant technically. But a lot of it is and all the better for it.
    That description is attempting to say that Rock Music in general is not brilliant technically. This depends what one determines as Rock, what they listen to, what level of music acumen they possess, and a number of other factors.

    It just so happens that earlier today I was updating new entries onto my sales listing on Discogs.com, and have a handy ready made list of a host of brilliant artists, of which at least 80-90% of them are indeed brilliant technically. Most of them are also true representatives of what proper Rock Music should sound like too.
    The following are just a few of the better artists involved in Rock Music and you’ll notice that those that are American tend to be of the older generation. Although at the time back then they weren’t! There’s a reason for that as American Rock Music died the death around the mid 1970’s and never recovered. It became all spandex and poodle-hair do’s and shouty verses and choruses, all stadium anthem rubbish. I hate all of it. So much so that I don’t even sell these records for profit as I refuse to stock them in the first place. But these artists as listed here, each and every one of them were fantastic.
    But THE single best Rock band ever? Easy. Steely Dan. By miles and miles and miles.
    Unbelievably complicated, tight, funky, rhythmic, sophisticated, intelligent and total musicality.
    Hosting the best rhythm sections ever assembled and also the world’s top electric guitar players. The best lyrics ever bar none, some very heavy drug related, some with the most humour and dry wit. Some with New York jive talk that kept the listener awake and always a joy in discovery of what a certain phrase meant and also never a dreary or dull sounding track ever made by them. I’ll always remember finding out what “No Static At All” actually meant on their track FM. Complete brilliance.
    Even the girl backing vocals on all their tracks were the best and sharpest in the business. Even their outtakes off-cuts breazed over most other artists considered better works. They were simply out of this world. Not a lot of people know this but they asked Eric Clapton along to a session, had him cut the track and then decided he really wasn’t what they were looking for so got someone else in instead.
    I really like all of these artists listed here and have all of their better rated albums, and in some cases the entire set – except Frank Zappa as there’s really just too many now to handle. So my own collection isn’t for sale at all and only extras that I pick up from many sources to sell on.
    Because this is a list a artists I have for sale on Vinyl, the time frame stops around the late 1980’s at the point where they more or less stopped pressing records.

    Aphrodite’s Child
    Barclay James Harvest
    Jeff Beck Group
    Adrian Belew
    Tommy Bolin
    David Bowie
    Gary Boyle
    Brand X
    Duncan Browne
    Kate Bush
    Eric Clapton
    Billy Cobham
    Cocteau Twins
    Colosseum II
    Ry Cooder
    Alice Cooper – with Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner
    Curved Air
    Deep Purple
    Derek And The Dominos
    Dire Straits
    The Doors
    The Electric Light Orchestra
    Brian Eno
    John Fahey
    Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
    Peter Gabriel
    Marvin Gaye
    Gordon Giltrap
    Godley & Creme
    James Griffin
    Steve Hackett
    Claire Hamill
    Roy Harper
    Isaac Hayes
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience
    Gypsy Suns And Rainbows
    Band Of Gypsies
    Jimi Hendrix Experience
    Steve Hillage
    Humble Pie
    James Gang
    Jean Michel Jarre
    Jethro Tull
    Joy Division
    Led Zeppelin
    Little Feat
    Nils Lofgren
    Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Deke Leonard
    Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
    Phil Manzanera
    John Martyn
    John Miles
    The Steve Miller Band
    Mink Deville
    Gary Moore
    The Moody Blues
    The Move
    New Order
    The Nice
    Harry Nilsson
    Ted Nugent
    Mike Oldfield
    The Orb
    Robert Palmer
    Anthony Phillips
    Pink Floyd
    Iggy Pop
    Pretty Things
    Procol Harum
    Quiet Sun
    Gerry Rafferty
    Lou Reed
    The Residents
    Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
    The Rolling Stones
    Roxy Music
    Rufus & Chaka Khan
    Todd Rundgren & Utopia
    Ryuichi Sakamoto
    Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
    Bob Segar & The Silver Bullet Band
    Sex Pistols
    Paul Simon
    Simple Minds
    The Smiths
    Stealers Wheel
    Steeleye Span
    Steely Dan
    Cat Stevens
    Al Stewart
    Stephen Stills
    The Stranglers
    Donna Summer
    June Tabor
    Talking Heads
    Tangerine Dream
    Tears For Fears
    10 C.C.
    The The
    Thin Lizzy
    This Mortal Coil
    Tanita Tikaram
    Robin Trower
    U. K.
    Rosie Vela
    The Velvet Underground
    Tom Waits
    Scott Walker
    Joe Walsh
    Jennifer Warnes
    Was (Not Was)
    Roger Waters
    Bob Welch
    The Who
    Steve Winwood
    Wishbone Ash
    Bill Withers
    Stevie Wonder
    Ron Wood
    World Party
    Neil Young
    Frank Zappa
    Warren Zevon

    There’s a mighty ton of music that is brilliant technically in among that lot.

    1. Thank you for your input. I found it interesting.
      Firstly I was not referring to Noel’s passion as a person, as you rightly ascribe he was a pain in the arse, arrogant and racist I understand, but the passion in the sound he produced. It worked perfectly for me and although Jimi worked with better bass players none sounded as good to me.
      Likewise with Mo and Meg. Mo was by far the better drummer but I preferred Whitestripes with Meg any day. It was all a question of what works for me.
      In terms of pop crap and simplistic stuff – I don’t like it. In terms of simple Rock stuff – like Louie Louie – I love it – though I wouldn’t want a complete diet of it.
      As someone who used to go and see Roy Harper and Al Stewart regularly – and sometimes together on the same bill – from my perspective there is no contest. Roy was streets ahead in both technical skill, songwriting, innovation and performance. I like Al and have all his stuff, including a lot of bootleg live stuff, but he doesn’t hold a match to Roy.
      Roy’s best period was a matchless set of albums in the 70s – Flat Baroque and Berserk, Stormcock, HQ, Bullinamingvase, and Lifemask are all superb. Nothing Al has produced comes near. If it had not been for the production Folkjokeopus would have been up there too. His later work did not reach the same heights but was still good.
      As for my comments on classical and jazz, neither of which I am a big fan of, I believe the technical ability of the best performers would surpass anything in Rock. But for me it is not about technical skill as I have already established.
      Steely Dan never did it for me. I had a couple of their albums but I got rid.
      What is this an advert for your album sales?
      There’s some good quality ones in there, a great set of names, plus a few I personally wouldn’t be at all bothered with.

      1. Pleasure. I don’t find any difficulty in talking about music I like.
        About Noel Redding. He was not racist. A pretty crumby bass player, yes, but never a racist. When he left Hendrix’s band after a gig in Denver, I believe, he travelled straight to New York City because of the “black chicks”. Noel had a big thing for black girls, so any negative allegations of that sort really doesn’t hold water.
        I would be interested to know from what source you heard such a story.
        Billy Cox was an immense player. All of Hendrix’s recordings from Cox’s arrival went way up in quality. Cox could have played with anybody back then as he’d done the Chitlin circuit to death and had all the chops. He played at four times the speed that Redding was able to. That is the truth. Eddie Kramer did a test by slowing his playing down on a track and counting the finger-to-string strikes. Listen to the song Jam Back At The House (a.k.a. Beginnings) from their Woodstock concert. Sly Stone wanted him badly but he wouldn’t budge from Hendrix.

        Having seen the Velvets in concert, I couldn’t see what the fuss about the White Stripes was all about. Of the moment they were, as nobody even remembers them now, whereas the Velvets are as influential now as they ever were. They sell so many records too.

        Harper’s first album was fairly awful, with silly type songs and badly recorded, whereas Stewart’s was very professional and sounded great. I would completely disagree with you with your claims of Harper’s ownership of technical skill – he was years behind Al Stewart’s guitar playing. That’s why Jackson C. Frank picked Al Stewart to be his backing guitar player for his album and not Roy Harper, who was also kicking around the same clubs at the same time. Listen to the track Denise At 16 from Stewart’s first album and compare to what Harper was playing in 1967. Clearly you are most mistaken with your point of view there.
        Harper seemed to prefer sillyness and sort of comedy songs that I couldn’t listen to again, where Stewart was writing great social commentary. You must have forgotten about that maybe. Stewart’s Love Chronicles album with Jimmy Page is formidable throughout, whereas Harper’s contemporary Flat, Baroque album is only half as good.
        Then of course Harper had to get Jimmy Page on his album. It was a bit like Rod Stewart always being one season of stage costumes behind Mick Jagger.
        Al Stewart rewrote the songwriting rules by early 1972 on his Orange album, with a master class in writing songs with a historical narrative as never had been done before. Songs such as The News From Spain and Night Of The 4th Of May. He went up another notch again on his next album, the seminal Past, Present And Future, with The Last Day Of June 1934, Roads To Moscow and Nostradamus. Roy Harper attempted similar but failed some seven years later on his 1980 Unknown Soldier album, but it really was feeble. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some Harper albums but I’ve never been impressed with the actual playing on these records but have frequently been so with a number of Al Stewart tracks. Probably because his music is so much more versatile and not so one dimensional. Roy Harper was also a hopeless electric guitar player. Less said about that the better.
        I once nodded off at a Roy Harper gig. At another he spent it giggling at his own jokes which got a bit redundant after four songs so we all left to the bar and listened with half an ear from there. At Al Stewart gig, he goes full tilt no time wasting so regards performance Roy Harper doesn’t even get a look in I’m afraid. But I’m being subjective as neither of them are anywhere near my favourite artists which as it appears is not the case with you. Trust me, my favourite is a lot more exciting than Roy Harper or Al Stewart, and I don’t mean Steely Dan either. Steely Dan were the best musically.
        I think my tastes are maybe more sophisticated, musically developed and technically informed from your own as I would never have selected The Kingmen’s (or the dozens of others who recorded it) Louie Louie as any kind of template reference point. It’s too slow for my tastes and I’d have ? And The Mysterions 96 Tears or the Velvets Sister Ray any day before that turgid very under rehearsed and badly played mockery for rock ‘n roll. Perhaps because I play guitar myself and would be either Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck had my name been either Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck.
        I can dream and frequently do.

        No, my list of artists was not anything of the kind of an advert for my album sales. I only listed the names of the artists whose albums I had listed earlier that day. On any other day the list would be different again. I also use a trading name very different to my own so wasn’t doing any sales pitch. I don’t need to as Discogs is just about all I can handle as I’m doing thirty or so mail orders a day just now. Vinyl sales have exploded. That’s why I’m up at night now to answer questions from US buyers and have altered by sleeping hours to fit in. I pack stuff at night, hit the post office first thing in the morning then go to bed.

        Let me put you on the spot and ask you to name the few you wouldn’t be personally (could it be anything else?) bothered with.
        And before you say Steely Dan, firstly you must listen to the guitar solo opening their second album Countdown To Ecstasy, the track Bodhisattva. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter is unbelievable.

      2. Shit – I just wrote a lengthy reply and went to check your list of albums and lost it!
        Nevermind – I will start again.
        I do not remember what source I heard about Noel’s racism – directed towards Jimi – it was probably an article in a mag a long while ago. I remember it talked about a casual use of racist terms by Noel which caused tension with Jimi. I can understand that. There was a lot of casual racism around at that time. Jimi and Noel had a difficult relationship. I think there was a lot of jealousy there.
        In terms of Roy and Al – that too is a matter of taste I suppose.
        Roy wasn’t around in 65 when Jackson was recording that album. He was on the continent busking. But he and Jackson became best friends when he got back on the scene. Roy wrote a song for him on that first album. Al did play second guitar on a few tracks. I did love that album. It was very groundbreaking.
        In terms of Roy and Al’s first albums. Roy’s was literally a garage recording. Done in a makeshift studio all carried out in order to launder some money. Hence it was all rather make-shift. It was quite light-weight but I found it interesting. Al’s was the opposite – Bedsitter Images was really an attempt to be a pop star I reckon. A lot overproduced and I didn’t think it worked. Neither were anything like their best.
        In terms of songwriting I don’t think Al’s Love Chronicles was a blazing set of social commentary. I enjoyed it greatly but there was nothing that had anywhere near the bite of Roy’s I Hate The Whiteman or McGoohan’s Blues.

        I always felt that Al suffered from seeming too much like a public schoolboy. But that is just me. I saw them both a lot in the late sixties and early seventies. Al was always very friendly but Roy is the one that did it for me. He was innovative and varied back then. He tried anything out – check out Fokejokeopus. Not all of it worked but he was trying. He had a range as well – instrumentals, love songs, comic songs, social bite and political.
        For me Flat Baroque and Berserk was a superb album – though not his best. I preferred it in every way to Love Chronicles. I wouldn’t put them in the same league. Not only was there the wonderful I Hate The Whiteman, How Does It Feel and Tom Tiddler’s Ground but there were the beautiful love songs Another Day, East of the Sun, Davy and the bit of fun with Hell’s Angels. Love Chronicles made a splash because of the long title track which supposedly was the first time the word Fuck had been recorded and also its frank admission of impotence. I liked it a lot but not close as far as I was concerned.

        Roy went on to top FBB with the amazing Stormcock and then Lifemask, HQ and Bullinamingvase. Al did some good albums but Love Chronicles is still my favourite of his.
        I don’t think you would have nodded off if you’d have been at one of Roy’s late sixties gigs. They were roaring passionate affairs. Certainly kept me on the edge of my seat. I have never heard anything like it. The power of his lyrics and performance was immense.

        Yes your tastes are probably more sophisticated than mine. I came in from visceral Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Likes of Little Richard and Blues with Elmore James. But I appreciate a very wide range. I’m not a musician so the playing is not such a big thing to me – it’s the performance and how I relate to it. I am also a big words man. I like good poetic lyrics – particularly with social bite.
        The list of albums you gave had a great number of my personal favourites on. The ones I’d not be bothered by are Aphrodite’s Child, Barclay James Harvest, Boston, Duncan Browne, Godley and Crème, James Gang, Kansas, Rufus and Chaka and The The. But again, that’s all down to personal taste and I’m not saying they’re bad – just that they’re not my cup of tea.
        I will check out that Steely Dan again on your recommendation. As I get older my tastes tend to change a little. You never know. However I think I got rid of my Steely Dan albums in my big clear out many moons ago when I dumped 5000+ albums. I only kept 3000 and there are a number that I wished I’d kept. It was a daft moment of madness.

      3. Ha – I was just doing my exercise, playing my iPod on shuffle and suffered this coincidence – A live recording of White Stripes doing Astro/Jack the Ripper followed by Velvet Underground Sunday Morning and then Jack Kerouac reading an extract from On The Road. Quite uncanny when we have just been discussing that.

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