The Grammys: Don’t Believe The Hype

It’s been almost a quarter century since Public Enemy famously asked “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” on their classic album It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and we’re still referencing that line every year when we write these reminders that the Grammys are garbage.

Everyone knows it’s an industry-insider’s popularity contest; an annual pat on the backs for the big boys; a reason to roll out a red carpet and sell TV ads. So I won’t waste too much time rehashing and chronicling all the reasons to ignore the Grammys. If you still need evidence, this is a great list of some of the all-time snubs at the Grammys. There are countless great artists who’ve never won or been nominated, but I’ll simply rest my case with this list of just some of the most famous musicians who never took home a statue:

Beach Boys
Bjork
Bob Marley
Chuck Berry
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Curtis Mayfield
Diana Ross
Gram Parsons
Grateful Dead
Janis Joplin
Jimi Hendrix
Led Zeppelin
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Parliament and/or Funkadelic
Nas
Notorious B.I.G.
Queen
Run DMC
Rush
Sam Cooke
Sly and the Family Stone
Talking Heads
The Byrds
The Doors
The Kinks
The Sex Pistols
The Who
Tupac Shakur

Meanwhile, Phil Collins has won 8 times. Oh, and Public Enemy never won one either…

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Don’t Say a Word: The Passion of the Instrumentals

Assessing instrumental music can be an especially challenging endeavor for some reason. Seems more difficult to wrap our heads around this stuff, perhaps because we’ve been trained to rely on labels and descriptions and an overt “this is what it’s about”-ness that is often provided by the lyric as well as the vocal performance of those lyrics.

One might try to argue that it’s “easier” to write/record great instrumental records, because you don’t have to finish it. You don’t need to write words or find a good singer. But the flip side (there’s always a flip side) is the challenge of holding a listener’s attention with just instrumentals. And nothing here sounds “unfinished” by any means. I’m a fan of the kinds of albums flexible enough for a roadtrip or for sitting around a fire, indoors or out. And many instrumental albums fit that bill, the kind of records that are welcome company on both Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. We’ve not included jazz or classical for the purposes of this list, only because they are obviously major genres of their own and their most famous works would easily fill several Top 10’s before we got to any of the other “instrumental albums” we’ll be listing here. And, with apologies to Jeff Beck and King Crimson and Dick Dale, this is not a comprehensive list of the most important or influential instrumental recordings, simply my favorites.

Peter GabrielPassion: Music from The Last Temptation of Christ
One impetus for making this list was Peter Gabriel’s Passion, the music he did for Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ. At the time (and since), Gabriel was known as the man who made hits with his “Sledgehammer,” the former Genesis singer who’d given us quirky modern pop gems like “Games Without Frontiers” and “Shock the Monkey.” By the time John Cusak lifted that boom box above his head and blasted Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in the movie Say Anything, it was obvious that Peter Gabriel was capable of being a goose-bump giver. [And yes, Cusak’s character lifted a boom box over his head with intentions of impressing and winning over a girl.]

Enter Scorsese and his bold new film project based on the book by Nikos Kazantzakis. The subject matter and hype around the movie passed for controversial at the time (portraying Christ as a human man I guess? Is that what the fuss was?), but the film itself turned out to be a beauty, for those of us not offended. And the ebbs and flows of the film are not only captured and accentuated by Gabriel’s rustic, tribal score, Passion can stand on it’s own as a musical work, it’s pacing and dynamics worthy of repeated listenings whether you’ve ever seen the film or not. Interestingly enough, Passion managed to not only further popularize world music, it also landed a Best New Age Album Grammy award. Continue reading →

Stephen Marley’s Roots Rock Revelation

Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley feelin' it.

Bob Marley once said that, while he knew he’d only be remembered for his music, his children were his true gift to the world. Bob Marley, a poet and a prophet.

With the recent release of Stephen Marley’s great new album, Revelation Pt. 1: The Root of Life, it’s time to start taking a closer look at the Marley kids, and the talents of Stephen Marley in particular.

Since Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers debuted in the mid-80s, and had a hit with Conscious Party in 1989, everyone has accepted and taken for granted that “Oh yea, Ziggy’s pretty good. Not quite his daddy but that’s ok cuz Bob was a legend.” And while most fans knew and appreciated Stephen’s presence and contribution to ZM&MM, the masses viewed the Marley kids as Ziggy and all the rest of ’em.

I don’t have the time or resources to research the 11 or so official children fathered by Bob Marley. With apologies to Ziggy, Bob’s beautiful-voiced daughters Sharon and Cedella, and his sons Rohan (who played football at University of Miami, has 5 children with Lauryn Hill, and runs the Marley Coffee business [seriously]), Julian (a few surprisingly decent albums to his name), Ky-Mani (a book and 6 [SIX!] albums to his credit), and even Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, he of the smash hit Welcome to Jamrock and recent collaboration with Nas, Distant Relatives… (did I miss anyone?)… I’d really like to shine the light on Stephen.

As much as most casual fans probably thought Ziggy “looked and sounded just like Bob Marley,” it was always Stephen whose voice really sounded eerily similar to Bob’s. Cherry-picking the Melody Makers CD’s and assembling all the tracks featuring Stephen on lead vocals would probably be a worthwhile endeavor.

It turns out that Stephen isn’t just a pretty voice and good musician. His production skills have blossomed over the last decade, as he was the maestro pushing the buttons behind the various high points of the Marley kids recent output (Damian’s Jamrock and Nas albums, Julian’s Grammy-nominated Awake, and both Stephen’s own solo albums). Add that to his contributions to some of the best tracks from Ziggy’s heyday (91-99, in my opinion), and you can see why I’m writing this article.
Continue reading →