Friday, 8 July 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 105 (Top Something): The Perfect AAA Lineup




Writing the review of Neil Young’s ‘Mirror Ball’ the other week and it’s song ‘Downtown’ about meeting the perfect band onstage in heaven set me thinking…what would be the ultimate line-up of musicians in thwe world’s best band, in a kind of CSN-type supergroup? So here, for this week’s top whatever-number-it-ends-up-being, is your AAA scribes ultimate band, complete with marks for musicianship, charisma, an analysis of how each member will get on with each other and what their ‘solo’ turn in the spotlight would be. For the sake of completeness, we’re calling them the Alan’s Album Archives All-stars, though doubtless one or two members of the group will want their name in front, top billing and a king-size dressing room. It’ll be just like Paul McCartney’s Rockestra! (But with decent songs!) Oh and before anyone asks, this is a solely imaginary thing, right, so I’m allowed anybody living or dead, no matter how unlikely it is that they would ever perform in a band like this. Doubtless you lot of opinionated readers (and in this context ‘opinionated’ is a good thing, by the way) will disagree about some of the choices (well, that’s what our forums are for – arguments pretending to be discussion, so come on get writing in with your ideas!), but here goes… (And before anyone complains, remember it all makes a lot more sense than Neil’ perfect band ‘Led Zeppelin’ anyway! – yuk!)



LEAD SINGERS: Allan Clarke (The Hollies 1962-99). Need I introduce one of the world’s most under-rated rock and roll voices? Equally at home on funky rock-strutting guitar epics (‘Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress’) and breathy ballads (‘The Air That I Breathe’), Clarkey is also a great songwriting, best at working in collaboration (hmm how about Clarke-Gilmour-Nash writing credits?!) who will bring a lot to this band.

Musicianship 6/10 (best known as a vocalist, but plays a bit of guitar and some great mouthorgan – expect lots of blues duetting with Pigpen!)

Charisma 9/10 – Tonnes of stage presence and a voice that makes the audience stop in their tracks

Relationships – Big feud with Graham Nash (and by association Crosby and Stills), boyhood best friend, for leaving him and the Hollies for a new life in America, since healed to some extent. Bit of a feud with the Beatles and Paul McCartney, too, after John Lennon rubbished Hollies cover of George Harrison ‘If I Needed Someone’ in the press. Great friends with Hollies drummer Bobby Elliott though! And very used to Peter Tork’s constant banjo practicing after working with Tony Hicks for 40-odd years!

Set Highlight: ‘Soldier’s Song, the best song the Hollies ever did live, with lots of space for Clarkey’s carefully controlled dynamics and emotion!



Janis Joplin (singer 1966-70, with Big Brother and the Holding Company first two years of career). Just picture it – Clarkey’s soaring lead, Janis’ bluesy gutsy warbling underneath it, the backing singers (below) on top, absolute heaven! What does Janis bring to the band? Stage presence, recklessness, experimentation and one hell of a fine voice. Might take some coaxing her out of the bar, though!

Musicianship 5/10 (Janis never played an instrument on-stage, though she was learning the guitar when she died. What a voice though!)

Charisma 10/10 – Why would you look at anyone else in the band when you can see Janis living every song in front of your eyes?!

Relationships – Janis always had the reputation for being hard to get to know, but that’s not really true when you look at what people wrote about her, even before she died. Great friends with Pigpen after infamous ‘Festival Express’ tour on board a train with the Grateful Dead. Not worked with anyone else in the band – drinking contests with Keith Moon might cause some problems…

Set Highlight – ‘Work Me Lord’, gut-wrenching ballad guaranteed to make the audience cry, even with Peter Tork desperately trying to re-create the sound of horns on an old synthesiser. The end of the first act – who wouldn’t want to return for part two after hearing this?!



Guitarists:

David Gilmour (Pink Floyd 1968-94). Used to fighting against fractious band members, Gilmour is the glue this band really needs to stay together. The bands can rehearse on his house boat on the river Thames (if everyone can fit inside!) and make full use of his bursting musical contacts book! Terrific guitarist too, by the way!

Musicianship – 9/10, near perfect, used to enhancing his own songs and making those of others sound good, with mercurial solos that sound as if they come straight from the heart

Charisma – 6/10 To be fair, Gilmour’s never really done much on stage as, like the rest of the Floyd, he’s rather hide behind the light show, effects, flying pigs, spitfires crashing the stage, 10-foot blow up teacher dolls, etc

Relationships – Knows most of the people in the band. Played on two Paul McCartney songs (‘No More Lonely Nights’ and ‘We Got Married’) as well as appearing in Macca’s ‘Run Devil Run’ band. Knows John Entwistle through work with Pete Townshend in the 1980s. Knows Art Garfunkel from time hanging out with Paul Simon in early 1960s when both were penniless and unemployed. Used Crosby and Nash as back-up singers on last tour (2006).

Set Highlight – While Stills and Young trade vocals on ‘Comfortably Numb’, depping for Roger Waters’ parts, in comes Gilmour with a guitar solo to break your heart. First encore.



Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield 1966-68, CSNY 1970+, solo 1969+). Famously hates being in bands, breaking several up along the way, and yet Neil can’t seem to keep away from them, with several reunions of the two above plus work with Pearl Jam, Crazy Horse, Booker T and the MGs and many dozens of others. Neil will inevitably be the first to quit the band – and the first to rejoin – but will add a spooky edge to the vibe and dozens of exclusive new songs, most of which he’ll ban the group from releasing on record for 30 years!

Musicianship – 9/10, Some say Neil plays too slow. Like heck he does! His guitar work is as ‘real’ as you can get!

Charisma – 6/10 Neil doesn’t do much on stage except hunch his shoulders and groove, but I defy anyone not to take notice of the intensity in his eyes.  

Relationships – Love/Hate relationship with Stephen Stills, which will both make and break the band. Crosby-Nash, of course, are his buddies. Most of the time. Knows lots of bands from his wife’s Bridge Street School benefit concerts, appearing on stage with Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson. Worked with The Monkees in the 1960s twice (‘As We Go Along’ and ‘You and I’). Perfectionists like McCartney, Garfunkel and, yes, Stills might well hate his ‘first thought, best thought’ approach!

Set Highlight – A spooky reading of ‘Dangerbird’, trading solos with Stills and Gilmour, whilst Crosby, Nash, Garfunkel and Wilson soar their counter-part harmonies over the top. Wow. I’m in heaven.



Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield 1966-68, CSN 1969+, solo 1970+). Unlike Young, Stills thrives on being in bands – albeit bands where ‘Captain manyhands’ can be in charge, staying up in the studio for six days straight and can overdub as much as he likes. Will be great if he doesn’t burn himself out, being one of the most versatile musicians of the lot.

Musicianship  - 9/10. Some say Stills plays too fast. Like heck he does! His guitar work is as ‘real’ as you can get!

Charisma – 6/10. Alternatively bouncy and energetic, then timid and frowning, Stills will cause this band’s greatest nights – and it’s share of disasters too!

Relationship – A love/hate one with Neil Young which will break the band/ Crosby and Nash are his buddies. As long as nobody mentions the incidents that broke up the trio in 1969, 1974, 1976, 1982, etc. Stills was room-mates with Peter Tork when the two were unknowns and recommended the latter for his role in The Monkees, so Stills has at least one buddy there. Worked with Art Garfunkel in 1983 when Crosby was poorly. Bit of a feud with Clarke and Elliott after poaching Nash away from the other Hollies. Accidentally insulted Paul McCartney once by telling him his Beatles Hoffner was an ancient relic.

Set Highlight – Art Garfunkel recreating his harmony part on CSN’s ‘Daylight Again’, with Peter Tork on banjo and Stills on acoustic. Scrumptious!



BASS:

John Entwistle (The Who 1965-82+): ‘The Ox’, one of the busiest, heaviest and most reliable bassists there has ever been. His wry humour will amuse the whole band (as long as they don’t take it personally) and he can keep up with Janis and Moony in the ‘rock star’ excess stakes whilst somehow managing to stay out of trouble!

Musicianship – 10/10. If you own it, listen again to the ‘bass only’ track on the Who DVD ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and then ask me how I could ever put anything else?! He can add some horn parts to Janis’ songs too!

Charisma – 3/10. John doesn’t run around the stage – he’s had too many years working with the likes of Daltrey, Moon and Townshend to compete with that – so he’ll just stand there getting into the music. He might well bring some out-there fashion sense to the band though, such as his celebrated skeleton suit.

Relationship – Big pals with Moony and very used to making the wayward drummer sober again. The two of them together makes for the ultimate rhythm section in rock to boot! Never worked with anyone else in the band to the best of my knowledge.

Set Highlight – Entwistle’s comedy piece ‘My Wife’, given added fizzle and feminism when Janis starts trading verses!



Paul McCartney (The Beatles 1962-70, Wings 1972-79, solo 1970-71, 1980+) What is there to say? One of the most naturally gifted composers around, tackling just about every style there is and has worked with most people in the band. Has been accused of ‘taking over’, though, which might cause him to butt heads with Stills and Janis from time to time.

Musicianship – 10/10 Is there anything this man can’t play? We’ve stuck to his bass work for most of the set though, simply because few other players come close to Macca’s 1966-67 work (Entwistle excepted).

Charisma – 7/10. Knows how to put on a good show. And I can guarantee that all the papers will show the day after the concert is Macca, with thumbs aloft, with or without Pete Townshend on his shoulders a la Live Aid.

Relationship – Close mates with Brian Wilson (the two were born just days apart) and their songwriting rivalry in the same band could make or break this pair. David Gilmour guested on two of his solo records and played in his ‘Run Devil Run’ band. Guested at a Neil Young show singing ‘A Day In The Life’. Hung out with Peter Tork a bit when The Monkees came to England in 1967. Slight rift with Hollies (it’s a Manchester/Liverpool thing).

Set Highlight – Maybe I’m Amazed (with David Gilmour playing the song’s famous solo) and a re-creation of ‘A Day In The Life’ from Neil Young’s last tour, with oodles of feedback and Crosby-Nash-Garfunkel-Wilson harmonies.



Drums:

Bobby Elliott (The Holies 1963+) For my money, the best drummer there ever was, adding jazz licks to r and b songs and vice versa. Many of the Hollies’ singles contain the best drumming solos you’ll ever hear. Hasn’t played with another band since 1962, though, so might be a bit rusty playing new songs.

Musicianship – 10/10. If there’s ever been a better drum solo than the one in The Hollies’ ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ then I’ve yet to hear it!

Charisma – 3/10. Not known for doing much on-stage, just likes playing and hiding underneath big hats.

Relationship – Great mates with Clarkey. Doesn’t really know anyone else but playing drums in a duet with Keith Moon (Bobby’s complete personality opposite) might cause a few problems – for our purposes Bobby is the ‘pulse’ and Moony the psychedelic ‘colour’! Slight feud with The Beatles too (see above).

Set Highlight – The Hollies’ ‘Soldier’s Song’ once again, with plenty of room for crashing drums and epic soundscapes!



Keith Moon (The Who 1965-78) What can I say? The greatest practical joker that ever lived (possibly the mask hiding the saddest man that ever lived) there’s been more written about Moon the Loon that almost any human being of the 20th century. People forget what a great drummer he was in his heyday though, adding flourishes of colour and using percussion as the lead instrument on many Who songs. Keith would be one heck of a pain to look after and would cost more to keep on the road than all these other musicians combined – but oh it would have been worth it, especially with Entwistle on bass too.

Musicianship – 8/10. Depending who you ask, Moon was either the world’s greatest drummer or a fake getting by on extrovert arm gestures. I reckon the former.

Charisma – 10/10. Who could possibly look at anyone else when Keith’s in the middle of a drum solo (probably an unscripted one?!)

Relationship – Great mates with John Entwistle, who we’ll need to help keep Moony on the straight and narrow. He’ll get on with the more party-loving members in the band too (will it be him, Janis or Pigpen last out of the bar every morning before the gig?!) Big fan of Brian Wilson and all surf music in general, though the feeling probably isn’t mutual. No feuds that I know of, but The Who were feared by many 60s bands for upstaging people and there might be a slight musicianly disagreement with character polar opposite Bobby Elliott. Garfunkel and McCartney, perfectionists both, will probably tear their heir out, but then Daltrey and Townshend were both perfectionists in their own way ands they put up with him for 13 years till Moony’s death!

Set Highlight – A unique version of Moony’s favourite Who cover ‘Barbara Ann’, with Brian Wilson on backing vocals!



Keyboards:

Pigpen (Ron McKernan) (Grateful Dead 1965-72) This rock and pop band needs a touch of blues – and I know of no better voice or personality. I did wonder about adding Otis Redding but, well, we’ve already got so many fine singers (Otis would have drowned them all out anyway) and Pigpen is used to playing keys behind long and rambling solos when not singing after his seven year stint with the Dead, a band he co-founded. Only trouble is, Pigpen was an alcoholic dead from liver failure at the age of 27 – even here, in this imaginary utopian band, he’s gonna form some sort of a problem for us managers!

Musicianship – 7/10. Under-rated even now, perhaps because he never got to play much (there was usually another keyboard player in the Dead), but his score is lifted to 7 points in honour of the harmonica duetting with Allan Clarke we can look forward too! .   

Charisma – 7/10 The charisma’s in the voice, not the movements on stage, but if nothing else you’ll know the sound is real!

Relationship – Great mates with Janis. Doesn’t really know anyone else, but I’ll lay odds he’d get on with Moony too. The only friction I can see is with John Entwistle (both he and Pete often criticised the Dead for being ‘formless’ in the 1960s), while his do-it-live-and-improvised feel is the complete opposite of perfectionists in the band like McCartney and Garfunkel.

Set Highlight – ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’, featured here in a duet with Janis with both singers sparking off each other!



Peter Tork (The Monkees 1966-68). Under-rated by the band, never mind the audiences of the 1960s, it’s worth pointing out that Tork had the most performance credentials of all before joining the Monkees project (on Stills’ recommendation after he failed the audition!) The one true ‘band’ album by The Monkees, ‘Headquarters’, is due in great part to Tork’s strengths as a pianist, bassist and banjo player (all parts he can play on the night), who also wrote some of the best Monkees era songs. We might have a bit of a confidence issue here, but past the nerves on opening night Peter could be a crucial part of this band! We also need some comedy in this band – and sadly there wasn’t room for the members of 10cc as well!

Musicianship – 7/10. Self-taught, but one of those natural musicians who can seemingly play anything he puts his mind too. Only ended up[ on the bass in The Monkees project because Mike Nesmith insisted on playing guitar.

Charisma – 7/10. With a very emotive face, Tork was perfect for The Monkees and can add a bit of humour to proceedings too!

Relationship – Great mates with Stills from their pre-fame days in the coffee clubs of Los Angeles. Played with Neil Young on Monkees records (see above). Hung out with The Beatles in 1967 briefly, getting on especially well with McCartney. No feuds with anyone as far as I know, but look out for that whole ‘The Monkees aren’t a real band’ fiasco to start up again.

Set Highlight – A gorgeous version of ‘Shades Of Gray’, with a piano part written by Peter and Allan Clarke filling in for Davy Jones’ vocals.



Group Chorus:

David Crosby (The Byrds 1964-68, CSN 1969+, solo 1971+) The best harmoniser in the world (barring only the other three singers here), Crosby can stick like glue to seemingly any voice and cement sounds that really shouldn’t go together. Well known for creating problems in bands, but sometimes you need a bit of fire to get things going and Crosby’s counter-culture credentials and jazzy unusual guitat tunings give this band a great sense of other-worldliness.

Musicianship – 9/10 If we’re talking vocals rather than guitar then Crosby is near-perfect!

Charisma - 8/10. OK Crosby isn’t the figure he was in his heyday and doesn’t tend to move much nowadays. But in his day all it took was a crinkle of the eye or a swirl of his Byrds-cape to turn a good gig into a great gig.

Relationship – Prides himself on knowing pretty much everyone who was anyone in the 60s. Nash is his soul mate. Stills is his on-off soul mate. Young is the guy he respects the most – but understands probably least of all in this band. Knows McCartney well from The Byrds hanging out with The Beatles (he turned George Harrison onto sitars and helped turn John Lennon onto drugs). Worked with Art Garfunkel on Crosby/Nash and Art records. Sang on David Gilmour’s last tour. Big friends with Janis and Pigpen. Knows Tork through Stills. Bit of a feud with the Clarke and Elliott of the Hollies, though, after taking Nash away from them in 1968.

Set Highlight – ‘Long Time Gone’, the old CSN warhorse, with Pigpen on organ and Gilmour trading with Stills on the solo.



Graham Nash (The Hollies 1963-68, CSNY 1969+, solo 1971+) Another of the best vocal harmonisers in the world (Crosby: ‘I like to think it’s me that’s the best in the world, but really it’s him’). Again, Nash knows everybody and has already played with five members of the band in the Hollies and as part of CSN/Y. The band’s organiser, it’ll be Nash sorting out the rows, getting the band out of hotel rooms and urging them to get it together – even if he ends up causing a whole lot more arguments along the way!

Musicianship – 9/10.  Again when it comes to just vocals, Nash is near-perfect whoever he’s singing with.

Charisma – 8/10. Nash likes to walk yup to the drummer and nod his head in time to the music when he’s not singing and rallying the crowds to sing along when he is.

Relationship – Crosby is his soulmate. Stills is his on-off soulmate. Young is the guy he respects most – and understands the least. Knows Art Garfunkel well after working together on various solo records by both. Sang on David Gilmour’s last tour. Knows people like Janis, Pigpen and Moony well after hanging round Mama Cass’ kitchen in the late 60s. Bit of a feud with McCartney though after The Beatles’ slight’ of as Hollies cover of ‘If I Needed Someone’. And positively wary of the old band-mates he left in 1968, Bobby Elliott and old school friend Allan Clarke.

Set Highlight – Another Sleep Song, Nash’s eerie song of worry, with Janis Joplin filling in for Joni Mitchell’s equally eerie harmonies.



Art Garfunkel (with Simon and Garfunkel 1964-70, solo 1972+). Yet another of the best vocal harmonisers in the world, Garfunkel is respected the world over for his uncanny ability to sing anything and make it sound effortless. He’s also known for his idiosyncratic humour and perfectionist tendencies though, which might cause a few dramas for the band (then again, freed from the trials of working with the loved/hated Paul Simon, Art could yet blossom as a group member).

Musicianship – 9/10 Art never played a note on an instrument but then he didn’t have to. He possessed that wonderful voice!

Charisma – 4/10 Never really comfortable on stage, Art would most likely sit down out of view when he’s not singing – but he’ll do very well as a stage MC, delivering the history of the songs in between the mammoth tuning-up sessions.

Relationship – Worked with Crosby and Nash on both their records and his records. Doesn’t really know anyone else, which could be the making or breaking of him – will he get into a perfectionist row with fellow ‘controllers’ McCartney and Stills, blow up at the antics of Moony and Pigpen or rise above it all?

Set Highlight – A magical spine-tingling version of ‘ Mary Was An Only Child’ with C/S/N/Y/Wilson harmonies.



Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys 1961-1986, solo 1988+). The dark horse of the pack, Brian has really gelled with his own live band in the past decade or so, finding redemption from audience applause every night. Just think how great it would be if we could bring Brian’s still pretty miraculous new songs and mix them up with new ones by McCartney, Clarkey and the CSNY mob? Magical I think, especially with another three genius harmony singers in the band – and no sign of Mike Love to make Brian feel nervous! There is a chance the whole thing would backfire though, especially with so many ‘strangers’ in the band.

Musicianship – 9/10. A pretty good bass and keyboard player, a genius of a singer.

Charisma – 3/10  In his day Brian didn’t have to do anything to get the crowds to applaud him. Now a days he sometimes has to work a little harder and. Like Garfunkel, has never really seemed 100% happy on stage though he’s getting happier every tour he does.

Relationship – Big friends with Paul McCartney – rivals in the 1960s, they now often play on each other’s records. Only knows the rest of the band by reputation – we reckon he’ll get on with Garfunkel and Crosby and Nash and be a bit nervous of Moony, Pipgen and Janis.  

Set Highlight – Beach Boys classic ‘Add Some Music To Your Day’, the band’s theme song with its lines about the healing redemptive power of music, with Allan Clarke on lead and individual lines taken by everyone on stage!



So, what will happen to our band? Here’s our guess…After releasing their debut single the Alan’s Album Archives All-stars are the most acclaimed band on the planet! Things go wrong on the rehearsals for the world tour, however, when Neil Young simply doesn’t turn up for work one day (he leaves Stills a note that reads ‘eat a kumquat’!) In the resulting chaos the police are called in after reports that Janis and Pigpen won’t leave the hotel bar and that Keith Moon has just driven his Cadillac through a television and into the hotel swimming pool. Meanwhile, Allan Clarke leaves for a solo career (only to return a few months later), Paul McCartney leaves to record the long-awaited ‘McCartney III’ on a hip-hop DJ machine in his kitchen larder, Art Garfunkel goes on a very long walking holiday, David Crosby leaves to join The Byrds (getting himself sacked again in the process) and Brian Wilson ends up back in bed. Shocked, Gilmour Elliott Entiwstle Nash Tork and Stills carry on under a new name, GEENTS (as in ‘The Ge-ents of rock’) and the whole experience puts back popular music by another 20 years! Well, at least we tried! More madness next issue!


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