Watch Joni Mitchell Sing an Immaculate Version of Her Song “Coyote,” with Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn & Gordon Lightfoot (1975)

Joni Mitchell doesn’t like to do interviews, but once she starts to open up, she really opens up, not only about her own struggles but about her feelings towards her fellow artists. These are often decidedly negative. Maybe she took a cue from her personal hero, Miles Davis (who, it turned out secretly owned all her albums). Mitchell matched his level of caustic commentary in 2010 when she told the L.A. Times that Bob Dylan “is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

Attempts to clarify fell flat with the most backhanded of compliments. “I like a lot of Bob’s songs, though musically he’s not very gifted.” If any musician has earned the right to criticize him… In any case, whatever she thought of Dylan during her mid-seventies period, when she recorded and released her densely experimental The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Court and Spark, she was happy to join the 1975 Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue.

Martin Scorsese captured the tour, which played smaller, more intimate venues than Dylan had in years. The documentary, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, was only released last year. Dylan may have been the headliner, but this is also a Joni Mitchell story, and a Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, and other artists’ story. In the clip above, Mitchell plays a new song, “Coyote,” at Gordon Lightfoot’s house, with Dylan and McGuinn joining in on guitar. Her performance is immaculate, full of confidence and nuance. McGuinn leans forward before she begins to introduce the song for Joni, mansplaining into the mic, “Joni wrote this song about this tour and on this tour and for this tour.”

Mitchell says nothing, but fans will know she wrote the song about Sam Shepard and first introduced it onstage during The Hissing of Summer Lawns tour. They’ll also recognize it as the first song on Mitchell’s 1976 album Hejira. The studio version, above, is still driven by her acoustic guitar but incorporates percussion and Mitchell’s serpentine vocal line entwines with Jaco Pastorius’s bass. Lyrically, the song is full of dusty, forlorn images like the settings of Shepard’s plays. How McGuinn could have thought that it was about Dylan’s tour is beyond me. But Mitchell never needed anyone else to speak for her.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How “Strawberry Fields Forever” Contains “the Craziest Edit” in Beatles History

The story of “Strawberry Fields Forever” is more or less the story in miniature of the Beatles' reinvention after they swore off touring in 1966 and disappeared into the studio to make their most innovative albums. It was not, as some Beatles fans might remember, an easy transition right away. Some of their fans, it turned out, were fickle, easily swayed by gossip as the latest TV trends. “While unsubstantiated break-up rumors swirled, some music fans became disenchanted with the group,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock. “You need only watch a 1967 clip from American Bandstand to see how many teenagers in the audience thought the Beatles were has-beens.”

Eager to get something out and fight the whims of fashion, Parlophone and Capitol both released John Lennon’s latest, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” with Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane” as the B-side, in 1967. Since the band no longer toured, they were “directed to make film clips to accompany each song and promote the single.”

Here, they debuted their new psychedelic look, and in the singles they demonstrated the new direction their music would go. Thematically, both songs are nostalgic trips through childhood, with Lennon taking a mystical, psych-rock approach and McCartney diving headlong into his sentimental music hall ambitions.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” also firmly established the band as studio wizards, thanks to the wizardry, primarily, of George Martin. In the video at the top from You Can’t Unhear This, we learn just what a marvel—as a technical achievement—the band’s new single was at the time, containing “the craziest edit in Beatles history.” The song itself went through a very lengthy gestation period, as Colin Fleming details in Rolling Stone, from sketchy, ghostly early acoustic demoes called “It’s Not Too Bad” (below) to the wild cacophony of crashing rhythms and looping melodies it would become.

Recording take after take, the band spent 55 hours in the studio working on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Nothing seemed to satisfy Lennon, though he was leaning toward a darker, heavier take, Fleming notes:

This was a version approaching proto-metal. Lennon couldn’t decide if he wanted to go the ethereal route, or the stomping one, and famously told George Martin to combine the two versions. This was less than practical. 

“Well, there are two things against it,” Martin informed Lennon. “One is that they’re in different keys. The other is that they’re in different tempos.”

But for a man who had started his most personal, honest musical journey, within the parameters of a single song, back in Spain, this was merely part of the process. 

“You can fix it, George,” Lennon concluded, and that was that, with Martin now tasked with finding a solution to a problem that seemingly violated the laws of musical physics.

Martin's solution involved slowing one version down and speeding up the other until they were close enough in pitch that “only a musicologist, really, would know that there was that much of a difference,” Fleming writes. Speeding up and slowing down tracks was common practice in the studio, and is today, but given the incredible number of instruments and amount of overdubbing that went into making “Strawberry Fields,” the endeavor defied the logic of what was technologically possible at the time.

While the time spent on the song might seem extravagant, we should consider that these days bands can pluck the sounds they want, whatever they are, from pull-down menus, and splice anything together in a matter of minutes. In the mid-60s, Brian Jones, Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and other studio pioneers dreamed up sounds no one had heard before, and brought together instrumentation that had never shared space in a mix. Producers and engineers like Martin had to invent the techniques to make those new sounds come together on tape. Learning the ins-and-outs of how Martin did it can give even the most die-hard Beatles fans renewed appreciation for songs as widely beloved as “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch 36 Beastie Boys Videos Now Remastered in HD

The Beastie Boys are still the only group to have their music videos receive a Criterion Collection release, having delivered a steady stream of hilarious and fun promo spots since “She’s on It” in 1985. As the documentary Beastie Boys Story recently dropped on AppleTV, the remaining B-Boys and their record label remastered 36 of their videos, now re-uploaded to YouTube in HD. And now’s as good a time as any to restock and rethink their impact on the art form of music video.

The first videos are silly, cartoonish slapstick, with a fratboy sense of humor that played better then than now, especially with several references to faux-aphrodesiac Spanish Fly. But the sped up action and costume changes placed them in a lineage usually associated with British acts like The Beatles and Madness.

The Beasties always poked fun at themselves, which other American acts rarely did, especially in the very macho worlds of hip-hop and metal. Even in their final videos they were slapping on wigs and fake mustaches.

But if the Beastie Boys really had one main legacy it was the use of the fish-eye lens. Used first in the "Hold It Now Hit It" video (an afternoon’s filming intercut with shots from their Dionysian first world tour), it would return for 1989’s "Shake Your Rump", where the group have learned exactly how to work its distorting powers (MCA’s fingers feel like they’re going to reach through the screen). This style reaches its apex in “So What’cha Want” where the distortion is matched with a slowed motion (the band miming to a sped up version, then the video slowed to the correct speed). The music’s THC-laced grind is matched with decayed visuals. Rap videos ever since have used the immediacy of the direct-to-camera performance, and directors like Hype Williams made a career of turning a fisheye lens onto performers like Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot, with even more surreal results.

But the Beastie Boys really flourished when they teamed up with director Spike Jonze, who directed the Beastie Boys Story and would direct six of their videos. A rising photographer and director connected with the skateboarding scene, his first collaboration with the group was 1992’s “Time for Living,” a punk rock non-single from Check Your Head. But things really took off with “Sabotage,” one of the band’s best videos, a parody of 1970s cop shows. Watching the Beasties and their friends play dress-up, run rampant through the streets of Los Angeles, jump across rooftops, and toss a dummy off a bridge is like the platonic ideal of a home movie made with your best friends. Absolutely silly and hilarious, but life-affirming at the same time, a distillation of what made the band great.

You probably have your own favorites too, as there’s so many: the Godzilla tribute of “Intergalactic,” the parody of Diabolik for "Body Movin'", the psychedelic paint explosion of “Shadrach,” the homage to Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii with "Gratitude", the celebrity lovefest of "Make Some Noise", and the years-before-their-time ‘70s disco-and-polyester indulgence of "Hey Ladies” where Jean Cocteau and Dolemite share a cokespoon-ful of influences.

The playlist also features a number of non-album tracks done for the hell of it, some real rarities even for the fan. Good God y’all.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

A Soul Train-Style Detroit Dance Show Gets Down to Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” in the Late 80s

Imagine Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter in his robot voice, saying, as he once said to his friend Boris Venzen, “Our music is good if blacks and whites can dance to it at the same time.” This statement is the essence of Kraftwerk. Despite their early 70s avant-garde phase and their famously satiric Teutonic look, the robotic German techno pioneers settled early on their “practice of fusing European electronic music with black American rhythms, forging an aesthetic that reached critical mass with the release of Trans Europe Express.

So writes John Morrison at The Wire, in an essay that explores this fusion in some depth. Morrison also quotes former Kraftwerk percussionist Karl Bartos on the band’s debt to black music: “We were all fans of American music: soul, the Tamla/Motown thing, and of course, James Brown. We always tried to make an American rhythm feel, with a European approach to harmony and melody.” The experimental method emerges even in their earliest work, in which they begin working with the “’Bo Diddley’ beat… that dominated rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s and early 60s,” Morrison notes.

Black DJs in the states picked up on what the Germans were doing, and started playing Kraftwerk—along with Gary Numan, Yello Magic Orchestra, and New Order—in the discos. Meanwhile, Kraftwerk started incorporating early American house music with their 1981 album Computer World. The response to Kraftwerk in black clubs was huge, and they became even more famous after Afrika Bambaataa sampled “Trans Europe Express” in his 1981 track, “Planet Rock,” a song that had a seismic impact on electronic dance music around the world.

Kraftwerk’s most singular impact in the U.S. happened in the city of Detroit. As Morrison writes:

[Kraftwerk]’s influence took a particularly strong hold in Detroit with Urban radio DJs Like Electrifying Mojo introducing the European electronic sound to the generation of black youth that went on to create techno. In recent years, several clips have been uploaded of The Scene (and its spin-off The New Dance Show), a Soul Train-style dance show that aired from 1975–87 on Detroit’s WGPR TV 62. In these videos, black youth from Detroit can be seen dancing to Kraftwerk and a variety of progressive electronic dance music, giving us a glimpse into Detroit’s scene at the time.

If you ever needed to know how to dance to Kraftwerk, writes Dangerous Minds of the exuberant Soul Train-like dance line above, “this is how it's done”—or at least, how it was done in Detroit in the late 80s on The New Dance Show. From the early 80s on, Morrison writes, “Kraftwerk became increasingly aware of the black music scene,” and legendary Detroit techno DJs like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson became increasingly aware of Kraftwerk, a situation cultural scholar Paul Gilroy might fold into his concept of “the Black Atlantic,” but which could also be called something like The Trans Düsseldorf-Detroit Afrofuturist Techno Express.

"All of the city latched on to" Kraftwerk's sound, says May in a 2010 interview above. Atkins put it this way in a 2012 tribute to Kraftwerk published on Electronic Beats:

[T]he first time I heard ‘Robots’ I just froze. My jaw dropped. It just sounded so new and fresh. I mean, I had already been doing electronic music at the time, but the results weren’t so pristine—the sound of computers talking to each other. This sounded like the future, and it was fascinating, because I had just started learning about sequencers and drum programs. In my mind, Kraftwerk were, like, consultants to Roland and Korg and stuff because they had these sounds before any of the machines even appeared on the market.

I mean, there were other funky electronic bands around—Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan and all that—but none were as funky as Kraftwerk­. I mean, you could actually play the stuff on black radio, and that wasn’t a small feat. You could go to an all black club in Detroit and when they put on ‘Pocket Calculator’, everybody just went totally crazy.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

“Prince and the Revolution: Live,” the Historic 1985 Concert Is Streaming Online

A quick heads up. The Prince Estate has released Prince and the Revolution: Live, a historic concert captured at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY on March 30, 1985. Streaming to support the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, the video revisits the Purple Rain tour, when Prince was at the height of his powers. You can find the 20-song setlist right below. Enjoy the free fundraising stream while it lasts.

1. Let's Go Crazy

2. Delirious

3. 1999

4. Little Red Corvette

5. Take Me With U

6. Yankee Doodle Dandy

7. Do Me Baby

8. Irresistible Bitch

9. Possessed

10. How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore

11. Let's Pretend We're Married

12. International Lover

13. God

14. Computer Blue

15. Darling Nikki

16. The Beautiful Ones

17. When Dove's Cry

18. I Would Die 4 U

19. Baby I'm A Star

20. Purple Rain

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Robert Fripp & King Crimson Perform a Stirring Cover of “Heroes,” Shortly after David Bowie’s Death (2016)

In 2016, King Crimson performed "Heroes" at the Admiralspalast in Berlin, just after David Bowie’s death, and nearly forty years after the song was written and recorded next to the Berlin Wall. It was "a celebration, a remembrancing and an homage," gentleman guitarist Robert Fripp wrote in a statement. The following year, they released the live version on an EP called Heroes, in honor of the classic Bowie album's 40th anniversary.

King Crimson sounds absolutely amazing in the concert recording. Yet it’s Fripp’s keening guitar line—part violin, part theremin—that most calls out to us, a gorgeously heavenly wail. Like many Bowie songs, the writing and recording of “Heroes” produced many a fascinating story. Fripp’s contribution, as a legendary character and prog-rock genius, is no exception.

Fripp's angelic tone on "Heroes," as Tony Visconti tells it above (at 2:15), came about mostly by happy accident. Visconti explains more fully in a Sound Opinions interview:

Fripp was available only one weekend. So he came to Berlin, brought his guitar, no amplifier. He recorded his guitar in the studio. We had to play the track very very loud because he was relying on the feedback from the studio monitors. So it was deafening working with him.

Whereas everyone thinks it's an ebow, this magical guitar gadget called an ebow. In fact it wasn't an ebow, it was just the feedback–Fripp playing this "dah uhhhh dahh uhhh" that beautiful motif. And Fripp recorded a second time without hearing the first one. It was a little bit more cohesive, but still quite wasn't right, and he said, "Let me do it again. Just give me another track. I'll do it again." And we silenced the first two tracks and he did a third pass, which was really great. He nailed it. And then I had the bright idea: I said, "Look let me just hear what it sounds like with the other two tracks. You never know."

We played it, all three tracks together, and you know, I must reiterate Fripp did not hear the other two tracks when he was doing the third one so he had no way of being in sync. But he was strangely in sync. And all his little out-of-tune wiggles suddenly worked with the other previously recorded guitars. It seemed to tune up. It got a quality that none of us anticipated. It was this dreamy, wailing quality, almost crying sound in the background. And we were just flabbergasted.

It was a typically Eno-Visconti way to find a new sound. That sound, Visconti says above, is all over the track. For this reason, Fripp has been engaged in legal battles with David Bowie’s estate over his credit, insisting that he should have “featured player” status, a legal designation that would give him greater rights to remuneration. Always a shame when wrangling over money comes between the creators of great music, but in this case, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti both support Fripp’s claims, and so perhaps would Bowie if he were here.

Whatever it takes to be a “featured player,” Fripp sailed over the threshold on “Heroes.” He demonstrates it again in the King Crimson tribute, making one guitar sound like three onstage, and in the video above, which he released with his wife Toyah for VE Day. The backing track is from the Berlin performance at the top, with dubbed vocals by Toyah and guitar, of course, by Fripp, playing the same Gibson Les Paul he flew into the studio with in 1977, and looking just as singularly unimpressed by the proceedings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

1930s Phonograph Doubled as an Alarm Clock, Letting People Start Their Day with Their Favorite Record

The Deutsches Uhrensmuseum introduces the French-made Peter Pan clock above as follows:

Even as early as 1930, people were trying to find a way to replace the unpleasant sound of the alarm clock. The inventor of this gramophone alarm clock had a brilliant idea. The gramophone works like the standard alarm clock of those days; however, instead of a bell, the gramophone motor switches on when the alarm goes off and your favourite record begins to play to the lively crackling sound of a typical gramophone. The motor plays this side of the record twice in succession. The opened lid of the box serves as a resonator. Even the name is what dreams are made of: Peter Pan Alarm Clock. Who would not want to be a child again and fly off to Never Never Land?

This great find comes from the always interesting Twitter feeds of jazz critic Ted Gioia and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. You can watch the clock in action below.

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