Every now and then the BBC Great Lives series pushes out a musical cracker. Here we have Adrian Utley of trip-hop/electronica act, Portishead, explaining why Mr Davis is the one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever graced this planet.
Miles Davis – trumpeter, composer, bandleader – is championed by Adrian Utley of Portishead.
“He’s always been really important in my life, right from early on when my dad used to play him. It was part of the atmosphere of our house.”
From the early years with Charlie Parker and on via Kind of Blue to playing in front of 600,000 hippies on the Isle of Wight, Miles Davis was a musician who never stood still. “Always listen for what you can leave out,” he used to say, and Portishead’s seminal nineties album Dummy seems to have taken advice from the man. According to Adrian Utley, “The darkness and the sense of space is the thing that I have assimilated from Miles … he’s in my DNA.”
With Richard Williams, author of The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music,.
Presented by a sceptical Matthew Parris, and produced by an enthusiastic Miles Warde.
I’ve often found this BBC Radio 4 series to be a little bit hit or miss with regards to their episodes and their focus but there are some gems hidden away that you deserve to listen to. The episode below is from Series 25 and tackles the late Bob Marley classic ‘Redemption Song’ – one of the singer’s last (and finest) songs from the Uprising album. It features some heart-wrenching accounts of the song and its meanings that fans have attached
You can stream the show here and you can download the mp3 here.
“If you’ve never heard of Bob Marley then you must be living under a rock” – Neville Garrick, Bob Marley’s Art Director and friend.
At the time he wrote ‘Redemption Song’, circa 1979, Bob Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer in his toe that later took his life. It is considered one of his greatest works and continues to inspire generations of Marley fans across the world.
For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America. ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh finds the song inspires him to work towards a better life in the Palestinian Territories. For Jamaican Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison, it is a reminder to continue Marley’s call to ‘sing these songs of freedom’ and for Bob Scott, it will forever be heard in memory of his nephew Dominick who lost his life during the 2004 Tsunami.
Featuring interviews with Neville Garrick and Wailers Guitarist Don Kinsley.
BBC 4 has a 3 part series on air at the time of writing that fits in with some of the content we look at in the first couple of weeks on the module. Psychoactive drug experiments by pioneering psychologists and starry-eyed kids combine to create a movement quite unlike anything that came before it.
Here’s the show notes for Episode 1:
The first episode looks at how ideas, music and lifestyles from Asia, Europe and the American Left became entwined in California. It traces the roots of the hippies back to a 19th-century German sect of wandering naturalists called Lebensreform who brought their freethinking ideas about nature to California after the Second World War. There they merged with a growing interest in Eastern mystical concepts of human nature imported to America by maverick British thinkers like Aleister Crowley and Aldous Huxley. Add to this mix a wonder drug first developed by the CIA called LSD and a wave of student activists and anti-war protestors agitating for revolution and you have the astonishing story how these forces came together to give birth to the Summer of Love in San Francisco, 1967.
If that sounds good to you then you can click through this link to watch via the BBC iPlayer.
The second episode can be found on this link. Show notes below:
The second episode explores how the Summer of Love of 1967 set in motion an era of social upheaval that pitted America’s youth against its elders and how the American government responded with a series ofbrutal crackdowns. The hippies failed politically, but their cultural influence changed the world. Everything from the environmental movement to the explosion in alternative health practices to the birth of feminism all grew out of this moment. And most surprising of all, we trace how hippie ideas first imagined on LSD went on to shape the information age itself.
The song ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is a beautiful and whimsical folk track that was written by Sandy Denny (prior to her brief stint with Fairport Convention), when she was only 19 years old and it betrays a much older soul. Her life was tragically cut short, aged only 31.
The tune is the subject of the BBC Radio 4 series, Soul Music, this week and it’s one of those hauntingly beautiful tragic songs that warrants a half hour deep dive. Click this link to go to the show or download an mp3 (26.9mb) by clicking the image below.
Here’s the show notes:
Sandy Denny was just 19 years old when she wrote ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, her much-loved song about the passing of time. Soul Music tells the story behind the song and speaks to people for whom it has special meaning.
The record producer Joe Boyd and founder member of Fairport Convention Simon Nicol remember Sandy and her music. We speak to musicians who have covered the song, including folk legend Judy Collins and the singer Rufus Wainwright, about what the song means to them. And we hear from people whose lives have been touched by the song, including the singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu, who suffered a back break in a freak accident and found strength in the song during her recovery. And neuroscientist and best-selling author David Eagleman explains why the years seem to fly past ever more quickly as we grow older. Also featuring contributions from Sandy Denny’s biographer Mick Houghton and Dr Richard Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Music at Newcastle University.
Producer: Mair Bosworth.
The track has been covered extensively. You can find some of the covers referenced in the show together with a few other notable versions in the playlist below
There’s a fascinating radio documentary on the old BBC dealing with the ways in which musicians played around with gender roles. You can find it here (where you can also download it via mp3). You can find the show notes below:
For centuries musicians have defied gender boundaries to create some of the most evocative and provocative art and music.
Journalist and culture critic Laura Snapes joins the dots of a fascinating musical history that encompasses musical icons such as Ma Rainey, Little Richard, Lou Reed, the Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones and Madonna, and looks at how today’s musicians use music and performance to express who their own gender and sexuality.
In recent years the issue of gender and identity has been a hot topic in the musical landscape and beyond. From niche publications to tabloids and political debate, issues surrounding gender identity and how it influences both personal and social life have been widely publicised.
Amid the deeply complex personal world of gender identity and the often ruthlessly myopic world of the music industry, a new generation of artists are using music for fearless expressions of their gender and sexuality that break beyond the archetypes set by their forebears.
Rock Transition speaks with artists such as garage maverick Ezra Furman, Canadian pop stars Tegan and Sara, musician and author CN Lester, and musician and activist Ryan Cassata to understand why music offers an exciting platform to express and explore gender identity and sexuality – and asks how these artists can resist being marginalised and commodified by an industry keen to capitalise on a hot topic.
If you have an interest in the ways in which music and digital technology are converging then you might want to check out the podcast below. It’s from the BBC World Service show, Click. Be warned, it can be a bit twee in place (very BBC), but it does touch on things like virtual reality and music video art, artificial intelligence identifying music stems and lyrics in order to help creators identify new potential. Here’s the spiel:
At the recent Music 4.5, The New Creative Tech event in London, academics, technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators in virtual, augmented and mixed realities and artificial intelligence came together to explore some of the opportunities and challenges for music opened up by technology.
There are countless examples of advances such as bands collaborating with companies to create Virtual Reality live concert experiences. Notably both Brian Eno and Björk are using Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence in their music videos. New technologies now also enable micro identification of stems of music that allow musicians to be better remunerated for their skill. Click is joined by a panel of experts including, Paul Crick from IBM, Rachel Falconer from Goldsmith College and Martin Gould from Sonalytic to discuss the potential new direction and developments for music.
There’s a wonderful bit of radio here if you like your K-pop and controversy. Radiolab are the hosts and here is the spiel:
In the U.S., paparazzi are pretty much synonymous with invasion of privacy. But today we travel to a place where the prying press create something more like a prison break.
K-pop is a global juggernaut – with billions in sales and millions of fans hanging on every note, watching K-pop idols synchronize and strut. And that fame rests on a fantasy, K-pop stars have to be chaste and pure, but also … available. Until recently, Korean music agencies and K-pop fans held their pop stars to a strict set of rules designed to keep that fantasy alive. That is, until Dispatch showed up.
Taking a cue from American and British paparazzi, a group of South Korean reporters started hiding in their cars and snapping photos of stars on their secret dates. The first-ever paparazzi photos turned the world of K-pop upside down and introduced sort of a puzzle … how much do you want to know about the people you idolize, and when is enough enough?
Produced by Matthew Kielty and Alexandra Young. Reported by Alexandra Young with Brenna Farrell.
Special Thanks to Dispatch, Haeryun Kang, Joseph Kim, Charlie Cho, Hyena, Crayon Pop, Jeremy Bloom, The Kirukkiruk Guesthouse, Choi Baekseol, Jiin Choi, David Bevan, and The One Shots.
Vice have an article on how the police have ‘obliterated’ youth culture here.
Ignoring the hyperbole in the headline, there’s something to be said of the way in which public institutions like the police and judiciary have impacted upon the physical manifestation of youth cultures. There’s also a lot of other material factors (e.g. technology, access to economic/social capital, geography, etc) but this is quite an interesting (if light) read.
This instalment of the ever popular 99% Invisible podcast deals with the longbox – or the most important album in US political history (if you believe the presenter), namely: REM’s Out of Time. They make the case that the music was less important than its packaging.
Check out the show notes below and decide for yourself:
REM’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging.
In 1985, the pop charts were full of Prince and Sheena Easton and the youth of America were being corrupted. Tipper Gore and other elite women of Washington formed the “Parents Music Resource Center” (PMRC) to put pressure on the creators and distributors of “objectionable” music.
There were Senate hearings, and eventually those little black and white Parental Advisory stickers started appearing on albums.
This set off a wave of censorship across the country.
In 1990, a Federal district judge in South Florida ruled that the rap group 2 Live Crew’s album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was so obscene that it couldn’t be sold or performed within his jurisdiction in South Florida. Three days after the ruling, 2 Live Crew played a show in a county within his jurisdiction, and afterwards two members of the group got arrested.
When Jeff Ayeroff, an executive at Virgin Records, watched this all play out on TV, he felt offended. Not by the raunchy lyrics or the twerking on stage, but by the arrests and the blatant censorship of the artists’ work. Shortly thereafter, he got the idea for “Rock the Vote.”
The idea behind Rock the Vote was simple: get young people to vote for politicians who wouldn’t censor music. Ayeroff got about sixty people together in a Los Angeles hotel to talk about launching Rock The Vote. Frank Zappa was there, past and present California Governor Jerry Brown was there, as well as a bunch of record executives, including Jeff’s friend, a record executive at Warner Brothers named Jeff Gold. Gold’s major project at the time was trying to figure out how to package CDs.
Compact Disc packaging was the hot topic in the record world of the late 80s and early 90s. CDs had been around for a few years, but record stores still didn’t have a good way to display them, because their shelves were formatted to display 12” vinyl LPs. The solution was to package CD jewel cases inside of cardboard boxes that were just as tall as a vinyl album but half as wide. This allowed the shelves to fit two “longbox” CDs side-by-side on an LP rack.
Artists, however, objected to the wastefulness of the longbox. In 1991, R.E.M. had a record coming out, and they did not want millions of trees cut down just to create this extra packing. The Warner Brothers sales department knew that this album absolutely had to come out in a longbox if it was going to do well in retail, and that’s when Jeff Gold realized that he could merge the two projects he was working on. Jeff Gold realized that he could convince R.E.M. to use a longbox if they could use the CD longbox to advance the Rock the Vote campaign.
Jeff Gold needed a concrete political cause to connect it to, and Jeff Ayeroff brought him just the thing: the “Motor Voter” bill, which been bouncing around Congress since the 1970s. If passed, Motor Voter would allow people to register to vote at the DMV when they got a driver’s license. It also allowed citizens to register by mail, or when they applied for social services like welfare or unemployment. Basically, the Motor Voter bill would make it easier for lots of people, including young people, to register to vote. By 1991 a few states had already adopted it, but Congress had never been able to get it passed nationally.
R.E.M.’s longbox, printed with a petition in support of the Motor Voter Bill, became a piece of political machinery. When Out of Time hit the record stores on March 12th, 1991, the petitions started rolling in. After 3 weeks, they had received 10,000 petitions, 100 per senator, and they just kept coming in in droves.
About a month after R.E.M. released the album, Rock The Vote’s political director, along with members of the hip hop group KMD, wheeled a shopping cart full of the first 10,000 petitions into a senate hearing.
In May of 1992, after thousands of petitions and the Senate testimony, the Motor Voter bill passed Congress. Then President H. W. Bush, in the middle of his re-election campaign, vetoed it. Bush’s opponent, Bill Clinton, took up Motor Voter as a talking point, and after he won, he signed it into law as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The National Voter Registration Act went into effect in 1995. From that year to 2012, the percentage of the population that is registered to vote went from 69.5% to 79.9%, and over 150 million voter registrations have been filled out at the DMV.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is why no album in the history of recorded music has had as large an effect on politics in the United States as R.E.M’s Out of Time.
Reporter Whitney Jones spoke with Jeff Ayeroff and Jeff Gold about the creation of Rock The Vote and the death of the longbox.
As an aside, 99% Invisible from PRX is a brilliant show about design, presented by Roman Mars. You should subscribe to this podcast feed and follow them – you won’t be disappointed.
The home of med332 – a module about popular music culture