Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making Cymbals Sound Trashy

Drummers far and wide have trashy cymbals sitting in a corner, or perhaps they are part of a rehearsal kit. Why beat the crap out of your quality cymbals during rehearsal when all you have to do is hit the mark during a song? What I find interesting is that on more than one occasion, I found that the broken cymbal starts to sound pretty good, when used in the proper context of a song.

Tyrko Cymbals by Sonor

I bought a Tyrko cymbal on Ebay a long time ago. It was pretty much junk, and I knew that I was taking a risk. The metal is all "bend-y" and it sounds like something you get when you buy your six year old nephew a toy drum set. I kept it as a reminder to never buy cymbals online.
Fast forward about ten years, and I'm practicing a song that my band wrote. This song screams for a China type cymbal, but I put a lock on my wallet when it comes to buying new equipment. Could this crappy Tyrko cymbal do the trick? Do I have the mad skills to hammer it into the shape that I want? Who doesn't love to hammer stuff?

I had nothing to lose, and not much of a plan. I thought that I would start by hammering a number of dents into the cymbal two inches from the outer edge, working in a circle. Then I would hammer another ring of dents with the cymbal flipped over, with this ring being closer to the bell. Sadly the metal is too flexible, hence the reason that it sounds like crap to begin with. Still, I managed to get a pretty ugly sound out of it, even if it has too much decay. Here is a link for all of you do it yourself home made cymbal nuts out there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Harry Warren the Hit Maker and Musician

Harry Warren

Who is Harry Warren? Ask anyone under 40 that very question any you might get a blank stare. I didn’t know who this composer was until I decided to look deeper into the origins of some of the music on the Carl Stalling Project-Part One. Specifically, the song I Only Have Eyes for You was the melody that stuck in my head. Harry Warren wrote that song in 1934. It was one of hundreds of hit songs for Warren, and that particular song was covered by the likes of Billie Holiday, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, Zapp, Toni Tennile, Kenny Rodgers, Frank Sinatra, and dozens more.

Harry Warren the Musician

Warren was a self taught musician, first learning how to play the drums. He went on to learn many other instruments including the piano. Harry’s problem was his lyrics. They weren’t nearly as good as his melodies. He couldn’t find anyone to publish his songs until he found someone to write better lyrics. Edgar Leslie was just the man, and in 1922 the team had their first hit, titled Rose of the Rio Grande.” Fast forward seven years, and Warren had numerous hits, and the job title of director of ASCAP! He went on to use various composers to provide him with the words to his melodies, and the hits continued to come.

Forty Second Street the Musical Launch Pad for Warren

Harry Warren was already a hit maker before the producers of Forty Second Street tapped him as composer for the movie soundtrack. What came after was a career that stayed in the stratosphere. He went on to write for so many stars that it is impossible to name them all. He won two academy awards by 1943, and composed the scores for so many great films of that decade. He won an Oscar nomination in 1957 for the song An Affair to Remember.

Warren had twenty-one number one hit songs, won two Oscars, and over seventy of his songs can be heard in movies from 1929 to 1957. The sheer number of current and past musical stars that re-recorded his songs is probably in the hundreds. Tomorrow will mark the 30th year of his passing. Hollywood would not be the same without Warren’s contributions.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Third Album Struggles for Famous Bands

Album Number three

Do bands really struggle when it comes to making their third album? Is there such a thing as the “third album syndrome?” I decided to take a few minutes to do a very non-scientific study of some of the biggest rock bands and their third albums. To make it a bit more unbiased I picked ten famous bands that I like and/or don’t like so much. I put the band names into a hat, and picked three of the ten, and then checked out their third album.

Rolling Stones-Now!

I don’t know if the Rolling Stones should count in this regard, but I’m going to give it a go. Their album titled Now! was their third studio effort. It came out in 1965, and the biggest hit on that album was titled Heart of Stone. The album was considered to be a solid piece of work, and Rolling Stone magazine rated it just above the middle of the pack in their “500 best albums of all time” article. The album hit number five on Billboard the year it came out. The single Heart of Stone made the top twenty, and the album went gold. It should be mentioned that the album was a hodge podge of songs that the label put together, and the band was still doing covers at the time.

Pearl Jam-Vitalogy

If an album sells over five million copies, does that mean it’s good? One thing worth noting about this album is that it was written while Pearl Jam was on tour. It’s not an easy thing to write music while promoting an album with a tour. Pearl Jam did just that, and recorded it during breaks. There were references on the disk where the band touches upon the rigors of fame. The disk is eclectic, and there is even one very solid pop tune on it. Reviewers didn’t pan it entirely, but they did say that there were some toss away songs on it.

Michael Jackson – Music & Me

I’m stretching it, but this is the album that I picked. Still a boy at the time, Michael Jackson recorded Music & Me. Although he was just a boy, he encountered issues that come up with any famous artist. He wanted to branch out, he wanted his own songs on the album, and Motown still held control. The only song to break the top twenty was “With a Child’s Heart” written by Stevie Wonder.

These three examples do have a common theme. All three albums contained a mix of styles. In the case of Jackson and the Stones, cover songs were vital. For Pearl Jam, strange tracks that were atypical to their style showed up on the disk. At least I didn’t find any of these artists looking to add lush horns and strings to their work. That is what we sometimes find on third albums.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Steve Lillywhite, XTC, and The Psychedelic Furs

Steve Lillywhite

One of my favorite albums of the early 1980’s is the debut album by the Psychedelic Furs. No, that album does not contain their hit song Pretty in Pink. Their first disk was a darker, more powerful piece of work with songs like Imitation of Christ, Susan’s Strange, and Sister Europe. But this post is not so much about the Furs as it is about the man who produced those first two albums. His name is Steve Lillywhite.

Steve Lillywhite is one of those guys whose name is on album covers of The Smiths, XTC, Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey, and U2. I’m barely scratching the surface here, but you get the picture. Since the late 1970’s Lillywhite has guided bands to various levels of success.
Black Sea by XTC

Another favorite album that Lillywhite produced was Black Sea by XTC. I took a chance when I picked up that album. I had never of XTC, but the album cover that featured the band in old fashioned bell diving outfits was unique enough to catch my attention. That was well before the internet age, so if you wanted to know who produced an album, you had to head to the record store, and flip the back cover.

Steve Lillywhite continues to work today. He even made a go at convincing the folks at American Idol to let him take Simon Cowell’s spot. That never came to be, but Steve is probably better off in the background anyway.