Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How much do you want to know?

Maybe I've read too much about music. Good thing I found this book on the "Clearance" shelf.
Tim Morse's CLASSIC ROCK STORIES (1998) had the potential to be good -- telling the real stories that inspired the classic rock songs we all know. But the book's thin, only 200 pages (some of which are less than half-full), and it turns out some of the songs came from ... nothing much.
And though Morse includes a list of sources for his information, I'm more surprised by some of his quotes that aren't credited. Pete Townshend's comments on "Substitute" are straight out of a hilarious review Townshend wrote for The Who's MEATY BEATY BIG AND BOUNCY best-of that ROLLING STONE published back in 1971. Stevie Nicks's comments on "Go Your Own Way" sound like they came from an excellent Daisann McLane profile on Fleetwood Mac, "Five Not So Easy Pieces," that RS printed in late 1979.
Other good quotes are credited -- Neil Young's comments on "Ohio" and "Heart of Gold" both come from Young's liner notes for his DECADE best-of. Mick Fleetwood's comments on Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" and "Sara" come from FLEETWOOD -- one of the best rock-star autobiographies.
There are some good quotes that I've never seen anywhere else. Paul McCartney speaks for a lot of songwriters when he says "I use these things (inspirations) like a painter uses colors." You'll be surprised that Cream's "Badge" could have come out of the silliness George Harrison describes here.
Steve Miller's quote about how his early singles did on the charts made me laugh. Linda Ronstadt has a good story about "Heat Wave." Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ed King has a neat story about how the band recorded "Simple Man."
There are quotes from Led Zeppelin that are informative about how their music was put together, even if the quotes aren't revealing about where the songs came from. Same could be said for the Pink Floyd quotes.
In fact, that's the whole problem. This book barely scratches the surface about where these songs came from. There's a whole lot more that could have been done here.
In a section called "Really Deep Thoughts," you'll find out many of these songs didn't come from much deep thinking. I'd rather have the mystery. I'm not sure I want to know that "Running on Empty" came from Jackson Browne driving around with no gas in his car while he was recording THE PRETENDER.
At some point, no matter what the song meant to the songwriter, a piece of music becomes a screen onto which listeners can project their own stories, images, fantasies, wishes, dreams. And that becomes the meaning. Compared to that emotional meaning for the listener, the "real" story can hardly measure up.
But I wish Morse had been able to assemble some better, more involving Real Stories.
Also: There are silly little errors a good proofreader should have fixed:
* CSNY's "Our House" was really written by Joni Mitchell? Really? On the CD reissue of CSNY's SO FAR best-of, the credit's still going to Graham Nash. And frankly, the song isn't good enough or clever enough for Joni to have written it. Sorry, Graham. Though I'm sure it was about their domestic lives together....
* Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff" was on 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD, not THERE'S ONE IN EVERY CROWD.
* Neither Steppenwolf's first nor second albums were released in 1973. They were up to at least seven by then.
* The Doobie Brothers' producer's name was Ted Templeman, not Templeton. But the story about how the Doobies' "Black Water" first came out as a B-side is a good one. Though brief.
* Paul Kantner's name is spelled wrong. Twice.
This book's good for about an hour of browsing if you're into classic rock. Did I learn anything new? No, not much. But I wish it had been different....

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