Feb 23

I have returned home from a few days away to find my email inbox flooded with messages of sadness and condolence. It took me a few moments to realise what was going on, then reality hit. Kelly Groucutt was dead.

“Who?”, I hear you ask. Let me explain.

For reasons I will not bore you with, I am currently on a mailing list concerned with the music of the Electric Light Orchestra (a.k.a. ELO). It appears that on the 19th of February, Kelly Groucutt – bass player with ELO from 1975 to 1983 – died suddenly in the UK.

Being the callous, cold-hearted bastard I am, I deleted most of the R.I.P. emails, but I took the time to read through two or three. One of the more emotional messages was from a chemistry teacher in Iowa, USA. He had dedicated that day’s chemistry class to the late Mr Groucutt, temporarily setting aside bunsen burners and the periodic table to pass on to his presumably bewildered students some words of wisdom concerning 1970s symphonic rock.

ELO were one of my favourite bands when I was in my mid-teens. I have all their records and still listen to them occasionally, when the mood strikes. Although Kelly Groucutt was a bit of a gaybean, I appreciate the role he played in the band when they were at their creative and commercial peak. I even bought his crappy 1982 solo record, Kelly.

Here is a video clip of ELO in their prime, circa 1977, performing – well, miming to – one of my favourite ELO songs, “Turn to Stone” from their album Out of the Blue. Kelly is at the right, in blue satin jumpsuit and white choker. His facial hair inspired a generation.

Dec 19

Do you long to play your old vinyl records but don’t own a record player? Well, your favourite discs need gather dust no longer.

The generally accepted means for playing a vinyl record is to place the disc on a rotating surface, then lower a stationary needle on to the revolving disc. This concept is reversed with the Japanese invention known as the Record Runner. Talk about thinking outside the square; with this device, the record is placed flat on a surface and the Record Runner scoots around in circles. Watch this:

At first I thought this might be a hoax, but here’s a better example (not sure about the heavy breathing from 0:36 onwards … a little creepy):

A few things to note about this whacky invention. Firstly, it will surely ruin your precious vinyl faster than a baby with a sharpened Milk Arrowroot biscuit. Secondly, because the Record Runner contains the speaker, and it is moving relative to the listener, the music suffers from fluctuations in pitch owing to the Doppler Effect. Or what I call the Mr Whippy Van Effect. The thing even looks like an ice cream van! Brilliant!

To anyone wondering what to get me for Christmas, one of these will do nicely, thanks.

Aug 5

Recently I posted a critical discussion of the new Rock Band video game, which extends the popular Guitar Hero model (read the post here). In short, I pretty much trashed the concept of the game, and described the people who spend their time playing it as, well, wankers.

I have since had the opportunity to have a go at Guitar Hero (thanks Vern!) and I must say, it’s really a lot of fun. I started with Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, but screwed up the solo and was booed from the stage. I returned, plastic axe in hand, and closed the set with a rip-roaring Paranoid. I even got to put my initials in the high score list (actually Vern did it for me because I can’t work the controller).

So…

I hereby fully retract my original defamatory statements and unreservedly apologise for any harm I may have caused.

Aug 1
Our Aussie Heroes
icon4 Aug 1st, 2008 | icon2 Music | icon3Comments Off

I was browsing the web recently when I came upon a most disturbing video clip, one that made me recoil in horror. It was the Australian swimming team performing their new song “Live It, Dream It”. I barely made it to the toilet bowl in time.

Why must the Australian people be subjected to this form of musical abuse? Apparently this song is supposed to be inspirational. The only thing this musical crime against humanity inspired me to do was chew my own ears off.

It hardly needs stating, but Leisel Jones is not the world’s greatest singer. I would swim 100 metres breaststroke over broken syringes rather than listen to her warble another note. Of course all the voices are drenched in digital effects, but no amount of supercomputer power could correct the Aussie swimmers’ off-key caterwauling.

And all those healthy people in a recording studio doesn’t sit right. Where are the half-empty bottles of Jack Daniels, the lines of coke, the groupies, the drugged-out hangers-on? I only hope they gave the room a good airing after the previous band departed. Imagine the headlines when the entire Aussie swimming team fails a test for cannabis.

I also take offence to the song’s lyrics, particularly the line “We have no fear”. Fear of what, exactly? That someone might’ve done a wee in the shallow end? You’re swimming up and down a pool, what is there to be afraid of?!

I’ve just spent three weeks watching wide-eyed as cyclists fly down mountainsides at 100 km/h with nothing to protect them from an airy death but an inch of rubber and carbon-fibre nerves. These are the guys who truly have no fear.

This country has a long, sad tradition of sporting types being allowed into the recording studio. Back in 1972 the Australian cricket team released a single “We Are the Aussies”. Do you remember it? Of course not, because it was about as successful as Dennis Lillee’s aluminium bat. And don’t even get me started on Warwick Capper and Mark “Jacko” Jackson.

I can’t recall one singer who has attempted the crossover to professional sport. You don’t see Barnsey standing up there on the blocks in his budgie-smugglers (thank God). The only “individual medley” John Farnham is concerned with is his seven minute montage of hits from his LRB days.

So let’s make a deal. Entertainers, you stick to the recording studio and swimmers, you stick to the pool. Let’s leave the singing of inspirational power ballads to the experts. We already have one Vanessa Amorosi, and I suspect that one is enough.

Jun 3

You’re probably familiar with the music video game Guitar Hero, in which the player uses a “guitar shaped peripheral” (sweet Jesus) which interfaces with the game controller. By following on-screen coloured prompts and mashing the corresponding “frets” on the “guitar”, a pre-recorded version of the song is played. In this way, the player gets the impression that he or she is a musician, actually “playing” the song.

Just take a look at the guitar peripheral:

Leo Fender is rolling around in his grave.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, the concept has been extended to create a new game called Rock Band. Now we have multiple instruments: guitar, bass and drums, as well as vocals. As with Guitar Hero, each of the three instruments follows their own on-screen colour-codes thus forming a sort of “virtual band”. If each player follows the colours correctly, once again a pre-recorded version of the song is produced.

Before I start my rant on this ridiculous piece of 21st century shite, have a look at this video of a “rock band” murdering Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” (you don’t have to sit through it all):

As someone who has played the guitar since I was a kid this is a travesty.

In my day, if we wanted to play in a band we went out and bought shitty instruments, and played them ’til our fingers bled. It was the summer of ’69. (Or ’84 in fact). My first guitar was a cheap second-hand Stratocaster copy from Hondo. I got it for Christmas in my 14th year, and it cost a whopping $125, strap and case included. It was fucking beautiful. I had no amp, but would happily plug it into any available electrical device with a 1/4″ input jack.

A couple of my mates were likewise struck with the urge to be a rock demigod, and they both begged, borrowed or (most likely) stole until we were kitted out with guitar, bass, amps and drums. Pretty soon we were rocking the suburbs from New Lambton all the way to New Lambton Heights. Coincidentally, one of the first songs we played together was “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, of which a cassette recording is extant. It sounds pretty awful in retrospect, but our joy and passion shines through the distortion and subsonic rumble.

Something was nagging at me as I watched the video above. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, then I realised what it was. The players are all staring glass-eyed at the screen to follow their colour codes. They aren’t looking at each other. They are missing out on the sense of joy that you feel when you stand in a room and make music with your best mates.

Nobody will convince me there is any skill involved in Rock Band. These players will never know the feeling of mastering a difficult riff or solo after hours of painstaking, callus-inducing practice. They will never create their own music, they will never improvise. I feel genuine pity for this generation of wannabe musicians doomed to stand in front of their X-Box and plasma TV, wanking off on their plastic imitation guitars.

I’ll leave you with a video of the one and only Black Sabbath playing “Paranoid” live circa 1970. If the black t-shirt wearing cock-foreheads from the abovementioned “rock band” ever saw these four hairy geezers from Birmingham they’d run a fucking mile.

May 7

When I was a kid I loved Iron Maiden. I first heard them when I was twelve, during Christmas holidays at Forster in 1982. I was hanging out at a friend’s caravan, and he put on a cassette of The Number of the Beast album. When I heard “Run To The Hills” I felt something move deep inside of me.

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