Nearly ten years after they first were featured in this space, ZZ Top has, with the passing of bassist Dusty Hill, ended its tenure as the longest-running music group with an unchanged lineup. To call this the end of an era is an understatement, as would be any attempted summation of the band’s history and legacy. The trio consistently embodied the total rock and roll package, and today’s Jam is a small tribute of gratitude to their commitment, sound, and style:
Eddie Van Halen was, until this week, a living legend. Cancer erased the first part of that, but he forever will have a prominent place in the pantheon of popular music, his monumental guitar work an essential element of rock music. While the lineage of his sonic legacy flows into harder rock and metal artists, his own music retained a melodic accessibility that helped maintain his mainstream appeal.
I’m too young to have experienced the phenomenon of Van Halen as it was happening, but I still can remember the time in middle school when I first heard “Right Now” and “Jump,” which, together, are this week’s Jam:
Smile and play the hits, of which there are many.
Toots Hibbert, founding father of reggae music, died this week in Jamaica at the age of seventy-seven. Along with his band, the Maytals, his words, voice, and sound are essential pillars of the genre he named, dubbed “reggay” in his spelling. Hibbert’s longevity and creative prowess are remarkable. With longstanding hits to match the caliber of those of fellow legends Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, he continued to create. Notable late-career efforts include 2004’s True Love, a star-studded update to some of the best parts of his catalog, and Got to be Tough, released just two weeks before his passing.
In 1972, the soundtrack to the landmark film, The Harder They Come, with Cliff acting in the starring role, established an enduring, widely distributed touchstone of this music. It includes two Hibbert-penned tracks– “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pressure Drop”– that Cliff sings along with the Maytals. The following year, Toots & co. released the wonderful Funky Kingston, which, in addition to a series of strong originals, presented two very fun covers: “Louie Louie” and “Country Roads.”
Funky Kingston was maybe the second record I ever bought, and catching a glimpse of its wonderfully colorful cover still instantly transports me to the backyard of the house in which I grew up on a too-rare sunny summer evening in Michigan. To my untrained ears, this group brought a more present, earthier reality with jauntier rhythms than, for example, Marley’s familiar, philosophizing, pontoon-sailboat lilt. In short, Hibbert’s music is authentically irresistible, and it will stand forever as a sonic cornerstone. Do the reggay indeed:
Following up on last week’s selection is this week’s Jam:
Hang in there. We’ve got a ways to go.
How better to celebrate our necessary response to the present public health crisis than with a splendid duet?
Hunker down, folks.
Perhaps the last of the great classic rock drummers, Rush’s Neil Peart died last week after a battle with brain cancer. Peart’s drumming was representative of the band’s overall approach and sound in that it often was complex, extended, highly technical, and loud. In addition to commanding an always-elaborate drum set, Peart also wrote lyrics for the band’s songs. Whenever I hear his name, though, it’s the instrumental YYZ that comes to my mind.
Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis.
Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion.
Shall we go, you and I while we can
through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?
Last week, Robert Hunter– longtime Jerry Garcia collaborator, Grateful Dead lyricist, and early MKUltra test subject– flashed permanently to the linguistic plane in which, one assumes, terrestrial linguistics and DMT have no further use. He was seventy-eight and previously had written the lyrics for basically every Dead song not written by John Perry Barlow, which is to say the majority of them. Like Barlow, who was dispatched last year, Hunter embraced the nascent internet, through which one still may locate many of his uploaded journals that, unsurprisingly, reveal an active and introspective mind.
In the time since his passing, many writers have made reference to “Black Peter,” a song obviously about death, even as one recognized that the song bore meaning as a communication to or about Hunter’s partner, Garcia.
For purposes of this post, I suggest instead we turn to the band’s great suite, “Terrapin Station,” for words more self-referential:
Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done
The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master
Our Friday Jams probably are the longest-running series on this website. The series began on August 5, 2011, the end of ALDLAND’s first week of public existence, naturally with Space Capone’s “Friday.” It was an appropriately strong debut for the nature and scope of this site, but, as concerns music-related debuts, it didn’t make even a flicker of a blip. In that sense, it’s the spectral opposite of the self-titled debut from The Cars, whose leader, Ric Ocasek, died last week. I have long believed that The Cars, released in 1978, is the best debut album of all time. The case for that claim, simply stated, is that every one of the nine tracks– eight of which are credited solely to Ocasek, and one of which to Ocasek and keyboardist Greg Hawkes– is a hit:
- “Good Times Roll”
- “My Best Friend’s Girl”
- “Just What I Needed”
- “I’m in Touch With Your World”
- “Don’t Cha Stop”
- “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”
- “Bye Bye Love”
- “Moving in Stereo”
- “All Mixed Up”
One thing I did not know about Ocasek was that, following the band’s breakup in the late 1980s, he found work as a producer. In that role, he helped to create the successful Blue and Green albums for the band Weezer.
That’s a neat footnote, but, for me, it always comes back to the beginning. That’s why The Cars, in its entirety, is this week’s Jam (videos will play sequentially):
A week ago, Eddie Money cashed in one of his tickets to paradise, leaving this world still awash in his hits. Seventy years old, he recently received a cancer diagnosis. The Brooklyn-born former cop-in-training developed a habit of kicking off his tours at the old Pine Knob outside of Detroit and previously ingratiated himself into Bill Graham’s Bay-Area scene, even joining the post-Janis-Joplin lineup of Big Brother and the Holding Company for a time. It was a recording of a live performance of a lesser-known tune on a Graham-coordinated date at San Francisco’s famous Winterland Ballroom that really hooked me, and it is this week’s Jam: