As a result, posting by moi will be sporadic for a couple of days at least.
But in the meantime, here's a fun little project for us all:
Best or Worst Use of Non-Traditional Rock Instruments on a Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Song or Album!!!
If that category sounds familiar to you, it does to me too, but despite an archive search, I can't actually find a previous entry with the same theme. So I figure cut the geezer some slack. In any case, I'm reasonably certain most of my current nominees wouldn't have been on any earlier list.
Well, the Red Crayola, at least.
No arbitrary rules then, at least not per se, but there are a few basic points we should probably all agree on.
By traditional rock instruments I mean the following, which have been the template for the music since the earliest days: Drums. Bass. Some form of piano and/or organ. Saxophone. Harmonica. And of course guitar.
That all seems pretty cut and dried, although obviously we may have some arguments around the margins, at least where keyboards are concerned. Obviously, the weird little electronic thingie that's on Del Shannon's "Runaway" counts, ditto mellotrons on all those 60s songs. Synthesizers, however, are a grey area, and I think a decision on whether they're non-traditional has to be made on a song by song basis. As do some other electronic keyboards, like clavinets.
Other than that, though, the possibilities are pretty wide open, I think.
And my totally top of my head Top Seven are:
7. The Troggs -- Wild Thing
Written by Jon Voight's not-a-wingnut brother and originally recorded by Sybill Burton's boytoy Jordan Christopher. The solo, of course, is played on an ocarina. The humble Sweet Potato on a pop smash -- genius!!!
6. The Monks -- I Hate You
Blank generation punk a decade ahead of its time, but instead of rhythm guitar, it's amplified banjo. A lot of rock fans weren't ready for it in 1966, and in some precincts they still aren't.
5. Joanna Newsom -- Peach, Plum, Pear
Some people find her little girl voice annoying; others seriously contemplate shoving pointed sticks into their ears to make it the pain of it go away. Perhaps we can all agree, however, that Newsom's use of classical harp in a pop/rock context is at the least imaginative and a little different.
Or not. Jeez, she's an annoying singer.
4. The Beatles -- For No One
One of the most gorgeous and heartbreaking records ever made by a pop group, and the french horn solo is a big factor. I doubt many Beatles fans realized, back in 1966, exactly what a coup it was to have Alan Civil play the part, though. In fact, Civil was pretty much considered to be the greatest living player at the time; it wouldn't have been all that different from George Martin convincing Jascha Heifetz to drop by for a fiddle overdub.
3. Rolf Harris -- Stairway to Heaven
A digeridoo on the Zeppelin classic. To be honest, that's they way I always heard the song in my head.
2. The Red Crayola -- Evening: Dust
A legendary live performance at the Berkeley Folk Festival, summer of 1967. Drummer Fredric Barthleme described it to me thusly:
"That's where [bassist Steve] Cunningham played the famous block of ice. He brought a block of ice on stage, put it on a stand with some aluminium foil under it, and miked the foil. It was an outdoor concert, and it melted attractively."
I couldn't find an mp3 of the show, but the album pictured above has the entire Crayola performance on two CDs. You can order a copy here and you can hear some audio snippets here.
And the most memorable use of non-traditional instrumentation on a rock record quite obviously fricking is --
1. Pianosaurus -- The Letter
An entire band playing on toy instruments (from the 1987 album Groovy Neighborhood, produced by the incomparable Peter Holsapple). I actually saw these guys back in the day (Irving Plaza, I think) and they weren't remotely the novelty joke you might have expected; covers like this one aside, they had some terrific pop originals. Fortunately, the album is currently available on iTunes, where it behooves behearing.
Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?
[Shameless Incredibly Late Blogwhore: Uh, my parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: best flicks featuring undercover agents of some sort, hero or villain -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, I'd be incredibly grateful if you could go over there and leave a comment; management really needs to know I'm worth my life-changing freelance rate. Thanks!]