Monthly Archives: August 2009
Someone once called Emitt Rhodes’ eponymous debut “the best album Paul McCartney never made.” Because of comments like this and the obvious likeness to the former Beatle, I always just assumed that Rhodes was British. Not true, actually. He’s from Southern California by way of Illinois. So how could such an obvious difference have slipped by me? Well, the fact is that very few people seem to know anything about Mr. Rhodes. This is despite the fact that his songs have been used in movies and the track “Fresh As A Daisy” was a top 50 recording in 1970. Rhodes even scored a west-coast hit a couple years earlier in the band Merry-Go-Roung with the song “Live.” And now, despite his relative obscurity, the album “Emitt Rhodes” is considered a “true classic of the period.” What is most remarkable about the album, despite it’s sheer consistency in quality of songwriting, is that Mr. Rhodes wrote, sang and recorded every single instrument himself. As far as I’m concerned, this was pretty much unheard of in the late 1960’s in terms of the quality.
Upon looking up some of his songs on YouTube, one comment struck a chord with me: “If you actually listen to the lyrics, they’re pretty lame.” This is true. Rhodes may have some serious songwriting chops in terms of hooks, chords and production, and his voice may be good, but he doesn’t have much to sing about. The best songs tend to be the ones with the simplest and most repetitive story lines, because this helps him avoid such banal topics as dragons and fair maidens, or fairies and daisies. It is clear to see why Emitt Rhodes sort of washed away in the early 70’s, after four very similar releases, and even clearer to see why he stuck with producing. That makes the tracks on this collection seem all the more like a ‘stroke’ of genius.
This live video of “the Clock” is interesting for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s just a damn good performance. Originally I didn’t like this track on the album, but after seeing this video I went back. I think it speaks volumes about Yorke as an artist that he didn’t record the song like he performs it. He strove to express the song in a different way than how he wrote it. It is usually by such means that we make a good thing great. Perhaps this time it didn’t work out (see: my original opinion of the album-version of the song), but its the effort that counts. Here are the two versions:
No, this is not a Dave Matthews album. That’s the first question that everyone asks upon seeing this album. In actuality, David Matthews has been the name of numerous famous musicians. There is of course the Matthews of DMB fame, the singer-songwriter who has generated a uncontestedly debated and thus ambiguous influence upon modern pop music. Then there is the Matthews of the classical field. Born and raised in Britain, he is one of the island’s foremost classical composers of the last 50 years. Then there is the Matthews of this post. Within the jazz community, this Matthews has generated a reputation very much akin to the Matthews of DMB fame. A pianist, composer, arranger and producer, David Matthews has dipped his toes into a wide array of sub-genres and has been associated with many of the music’s most famous musicians, but you probably have still not heard of him. Among his more famous collaborations include being an arranger for James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Billy Joel, a producer for Idris Muhammad, Steve Gadd and Esther Phillips, a piano player for Nina Simone, Jim Hall, Art Farmer and (along with being a co-founder) the Manhattan Jazz Quintet. Matthews even has, indirectly, made a strong influence upon hip-hop. This is largely through the impact of his album “Dune”, which has become somewhat of a hip-hop producer’s classic, contributing to beats for Method Man and Redman, Large Professor, RJD2, and more.
The album’s history bears a strong resemblance to that of the leader’s, in the sense that it has notoriously been confused with the soundtrack to the David Lynch movie “Dune”, despite it’s coming over 8 years before the release of the film.
The impressive lineup on this particular disk is mostly the result of the partnership with Creed Taylor. Matthews was given full access to CTI’s full roster of talent, which included (on this album) such 70’s heavyweights as Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Hiram Bullock, Randy Brecker, Lew Soloff, Jon Faddis, Eric Gale, and Will Lee. The first half of the disc makes up a sort-of suite that Matthews wrote, and contains the best material of the disk. The latter side is more of an ode to sci-fi, including appropriate covers of David Bowie and Star Wars-related numbers. (The disco take on the Star Wars theme shant be missed for those nostalgic for this missed era).
When taken for what it is (and perhaps with a generous serving of salt), this album stands as a classic example of what CTI and 70’s era arrangers such as Matthews were capable of. It’s legacy lives on in, if nothing else, it’s sample-ability and the classic hip-hop tracks it has influenced.