Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lazy Sunday #407: Vinyl

I'm a sucker for movies about music. For all their flaws, or maybe because of them, I'll stop to watch "Jersey Boys" or "The Buddy Holly Story" every time they come around. 

"The Doors", "Almost Famous", "The Harder They Come", "A Hard Day's Night". Saw them all multiple times in theatres and pretty much in every format since. 

These were my heroes growing up, the musicians who not only created the soundtrack of my life but informed it in so many ways.

Among these favorites are also films about how the music got on the radio in the first place. Films viewed in almost empty theatres that most people still haven't seen. "American Hot Wax", "The Idolmaker" and "Stardust" (the David Essex version of that title).

Thus, I've been immediately hooked by HBO's "Vinyl", a brilliant recreation of the New York music scene of the 1970's created by some of the people who lived through it. 

Executive producer Mick Jagger's anecdotes of the time alone would've been worth the price of admission. But they are appended by those of Martin Scorsese, an inveterate New Yorker who, despite his film cred, was immersed in that city's music scene from the moment he edited hundreds of hours of concert footage into "Woodstock".

Added to these creative elements are Terrence Winter, writer of "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Boardwalk Empire" and the 50 Cent bio "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"; not to mention such always reliable directors as Allen Coulter.

"Vinyl" is about the eternal clash between Art and Commerce, told in this case from the point of view of a bunch of sleazy record executives. And it is riveting.

While society and the media focus on those who rise to the top, the successful artists and the celebrities, the story of what goes on in the trenches, where and how the music is made, is much more complex and revealing.

The mob run record companies, payola, artists pistol-whipped or drugged into destitution for trying to collect their royalties. Songs stolen from gullible writers. Hits created by studio accidents. Iconic bands whose diverse sounds were really the work of small packs of studio musicians with names nobody has ever heard.

This week I heard another of these lost stories from a guy who was also part of the New York scene -- Tommy James of "Tommy James and the Shondells". 

Following a string of gold and platinum records, James and his co-writer Richard Cordell went into the studio to record what would become another hit for the group entitled "I Think We're Alone Now". 

Pleased with what they'd accomplished, they sat down to play the master tape for a fellow record producer, who put the reel-to-reel tape on his tape deck backwards and pressed play.

Of course they immediately knew there was a problem. But Cordell, ever alert to a catchy Rock riff, insisted the tape keep playing so he could copy down the inverted chord progression. 

He added lyrics and The Shondells had their next hit, "Mirage". 

As an acknowledgement of where the record came from, the embedded heartbeats inserted in "I Think We're Alone Now" were added to the final track of "Mirage" -- but reversed.

If you haven't yet done so, please watch "Vinyl". Yes, it's flawed. But its imperfections are also part of its beauty. Interwoven in the myriad plots are revelations on where inspiration is found and how creativity blossoms. 

Creativity like that found in two hits by "Tommy James and The Shondells".

Enjoy your Sunday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


You'd probably like "Still Crazy" with Billy Connolly, Bill Nighy, Timothy Spall, Jimmy Nail and Stephen Rea. Songs were written by Mick Jones of Foreigner, all but Spall (playing a drummer) played and sang live, and Bruce Robinson (writer of "Withnail and I") has a major role.