Sunday, March 05, 2006

Monkeys Over America

“All great popular music is based on cool riffs.”—Dave Davies.

So the Kinks lead guitarist (and less famous brother of lead singer Ray Davies), now in his 60’s and slowed by a stroke, tells this month’s Mojo, the British music magazine that does what Rolling Stone long ago stopped doing: it actually covers what’s going on in the music world.

Dave, the unheralded co-leader of one of the 60’s most adaptable and long-lived bands makes that profoundly simple observation when discussing the origin of “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks’ first hit single 40 years ago—yes, forty years ago.

The way Dave tells Mojo, his teenage brother Ray walked into the room at their sister’s house where Dave was practicing guitar chords, said “What about this?” to his brother, and played, one fingered on the piano, “Da-da-da-da-da.”

When Dave played back the riff on his fuzzy electric guitar, he says, “The hairs just stood up.” He knew they had created a hit song.

Lest grey-hairs like me bemoan the passing of time and the decline of music “today” from those fertile years of our youth by insisting that no two teenage kids from nowhere could create a song and a sound like that ever again, I’m happy to report that not only can it happen again, but it just did, in Sheffield, of all places.

The teenagers call themselves The Arctic Monkeys, and I'd read about them in a flattering New York Times story a couple of weeks ago.

They sounded interesting, but when I asked my younger daughter if she’d ever heard about them, she said no, and I forgot about it—until the next day, when she dragged me upstairs to her computer, saying “Dad, the Arctic Monkeys are great.”

She played me the four or five songs she’d downloaded the previous night after checking them out thanks to the magic of iTunes, and the very first, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor,” made, as Dave Davies says, the hairs stand up.

Better yet, the band’s first CD just came out, and proves the Monkeys have a lot more in them than those first few songs that appeared on iTunes.

The singer, Alex Turner, has a voice that sounds like early David Bowie at times, only ragged and with a thick accent which makes the very sharp and often funny lyrics that much more interesting. (I’m willing to bet there aren’t too many songs in your own personal archives with the line, “’Cos he’s a scumbag, don’t you know?”)

The music is mostly fast and has a sort of sloppy Nirvana-type feel of guys actually playing instruments as opposed to session men covering songs for a producer attempting to create a Sound.

You can hear influences ranging from The Pretenders to Squeeze to Rage Against the Machine to early Beatles and even very early Genesis, but the minute you think the song settles into a certain style the music shifts direction and goes somewhere else.

Maybe the most interesting and encouraging thing about the CD itself, from the point of view of good things to come—is the narrowness of the songs’ subject range: it’s about what happens at night in Sheffield, England, involving pubs and bouncers and dance floors and under-aged drinking and birds and blokes and toffs, and not much else.

It will be very interesting to hear what they’re writing about when their horizons open up—say, after the coming tour of the United States.

Unfortunately for the Monkeys, word-of-mouth about the band exploded after the tour was planned, and tickets that went for $12.50 at the Paradise Lounge in Boston—a Dive with a capital D—are now offered at $110 online.

(Lest the Paradise consider legal action for that remark, let me state unequivocally that the Paradise is, in fact, one of the all-time great places to see a band play, and I’ll be bringing my daughter up early so we can get a good spot at the edge of the stage, which is not hard because almost anywhere you stand you’re ten feet from the drummer.)

My prediction—and I hope the SEC understands that I make this forecast without having received any illicit payments from journalists or stockbrokers or record companies—is that the Monkeys take America by storm.

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


tahoe kid said...

Financial commentary AND rock music reviews!YOU ROCK MAN!

john lichtenstein said...

While the Arctic Monkeys are good, there is a lot of that sound (slightly high voiced male singer, cheery tune, simple beat) going around (Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, whatever Tom from Blink182 is doing). Now touring the UK is a band from San Clemente with a similar but somewhat less cheery sound fronted by a woman with a low voice, Giant Drag. I bet that this time next year, Giant Drag is in the news more than the Arctic Monkeys.

DaleW said...

These guys will be on Saturday Night Live this week.

FWIW -- I abandoned the iTunes store a couple years ago -- I buy the plastic then rip it. I don't need Apple telling me how many CPUs can have access to my music given I go through more than the alloted number of CPUs (work machine, home, laptop, wife's CPUs) very quickly. Plus I don't want to mess with stripping the rights protection code.

Jeff Matthews said...

John, I'll take that bet.

Blink is good, but a kid's band. Killers are likewise good.

The Monkeys are totally different, the way I hear the music--certainly not "cheery tune, simple beat."

(How many cheery tunes has Blink written about Johns who abuse prostitutes!)

Let's bookmark this and see what happens a year from now. Meanwhile I'll check out Giant Drag. Thanks for the feedback.

Gone to the blogs said...

I must respectfully submit that the main riff from The Kinks breakout hit "You Really Got Me" was but a mere fraction of the alchemy that made for a truly timeless tune. If you really think back, the riff itself "da da da da da...da da da da da" was pretty basic stuff. It's really the arc of the vocals and the simple order of the drum chart that makes the song work so well. If the two fabled brothers were prescient enough to envision the whole work (and have the "hairs stand up") just from digging the raw two note guitar part, then they truly deserve to walk tall in the annals of great songwriters.

ostiguy said...

When was the last time you went to the Paradise? It hasn't been a dive in the past 10 years. It isn't more or less divey than any of the places on Lansdowne - they are all corporate owned.

Jeff Matthews said...

I was there three weeks ago.

What does corporate ownership have to do with anything?

Jreev said...

My brothers girlfriend seems to have caught the same thing, Jeff, so I had a chance to hear some of their music. As much as I really wanted to think they are great I wasn't all that impressed. They don't sound bad, but they aren't very distinctive and do sound like a lot of other stuff out there. I would never discount a powerful hype machine or the collective tastes of the masses though, to turn them into a hot thing for awhile, but I didn't hear anything that made me think they'd be anything beyond that.

kevinmr said...

Jeff -

The songs I have heard (I did not purchase their CD) did not have that "cool riff" that would guarantee them a place in the canon of classics. Beyond the obvious influences (Bowie, T. Rex, etc...) the overall feel of their music is closer to the Strokes. Another band that is quite good but as of today hasn't made the leap to a level where they will be discussed a few years out.

ostiguy said...

The "corporate" places typically worry about the dance crowd revenue with live music taking a distinct back seat. So, they generally keep up appearances whereas the independent places tend to fall apart while having live music 7 days a week.

Not arguing that one should have one's wedding at one of these "corporate" places, but that they are a different world than the rat was, the middle east is, etc.

shows the live nation impact in Boston

StealthMouse said...

I saw The Cult in Tempe on March 8, and Ian Astbury referenced Arctic Monkeys during the set (not necessarily in a good way). I believe what he said was "C'mon, let's hear some noise. If you don't want to rock, you can just have Arctic Monkeys or [some other band whose name I did not understand] play for you, and we can just F off!"

Pretty funny stuff...and interesting that they referenced them in their diatribe...