Tag Archives: Hash’s Faves

Hash’s Faves: “Heroes” by David Bowie

18 Jan

By now I’m sure you’re all aware that musician/actor David Bowie died on Monday. Although I was never a dyed-in-the-wool fan, I’ve always respected his courage to explore new artistic directions, sometimes at the risk of alienating his fans. Many of his decisions were truly courageous, and he always bucked the prevailing winds. When everyone else had long hair and denim was de rigeur, he became Ziggy Stardust. When glam and flash took over during the disco years he became the Thin White Duke. When many rock stars had trophy blonde companions, he married the Somalian model Iman. He collaborated with John Lennon, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Queen, Niles Rodgers and Trent Reznor. His canny public-relations savvy was evident from the start, when he changed his name from David Jones, knowing that the danger to his career from being confused with teen-pop idol Davy Jones of The Monkees would derail any chance at being considered a serious artist. Bowie’s acting career actually predates his musical career; as one might expect from someone who inhabited so many different personas as a musician, he was very good in front of the cameras. He was 69, and he leaves an enduring and fascinating legacy.

This week’s pick is kind of a duplicate; on Oct. 4, 2010 my Hash’s Fave was David Bowie’s “Heroes.” This is a live performance from 1996, at the benefit concert for Pegi Young’s Bridge School, an educational program aimed at serving the needs of children with severe physical and speech impairments. He sings some new lyrics here, and he’s joined by Gail Ann Dorsey on bass and vocals and Reeves Gabrels on guitar.

Although this is an acoustic version, I think it’s worth revisiting what I wrote about the initial recording of the song:

This week’s entry is rock. It’s David Bowie’s “Heroes”, a song never released on any proper Bowie album. It was released as a single in 1977, and has subsequently been released in a bewildering number of versions and languages, as singles, parts of EPS and on Greatest Hits compilations.

The song was produced by Tony Visconti; King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp contributed heavily-processed guitar and Brian Eno played synthesizer. The other musicians are Carlos Alomar on guitar, George Murray on bass and Dennis Davis on drums (Visconti has occasionally claimed that he played drums and sang backup on the track).

Bowie did not write lyrics for it until the track had been completed, but Eno says that they always had the concept of “heroes” in mind. The song was recorded at Hansa Studios in West Berlin; the studio overlooks the Berlin Wall, and the lyrics that Bowie wrote refer to that proximity. Visconti was conducting a dalliance with the vocalist Antonia Maas; they had slipped out of the sessions and were kissing, literally up against the Wall, providing the central imagery for the song.

I first read about Visconti’s unusual production methods for this track many years ago, and I continue to be impressed with the intuitive flash of genius that gives the track it’s vibe. The room they were recording in at Hansa was a large, stone room, with great natural reverb and ambience (Visconti especially loved using it as a live drum room). Rather than recording Bowie’s overdubbed vocals close and dry, as was the prevailing studio methodology of the time, Visconti put Bowie in the live room (rather than in the vocal booth). He then set up three microphones; one close, as was usually done; another 20 feet away, and the last 50 feet away (like I said, it was a LARGE room). He then put noise gates on the two far mics, set to open up when Bowie’s vocals passed pre-set volume levels. And rather than listen to the recorded track on headphones, the track was played back in the room through speakers. Bowie sang the first verse fairly quietly, so only the close mic was activated. Bowie sang the second verse a little louder, opening up the 2nd mic, and allowing more of the backing track and the room’s air and reverb in. The third verse was sung at maximum rocking level, opening up the final mic; of course from 50 feet away not much of the vocal came through clearly, but the room’s ambience did, resulting in a sound completely unlike what prevailed in the industry at the time.

You can listen to it at the link below:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

Hash’s Fave’s: “The Idiot Bastard Son”

17 Oct

We_re_Only_In_It_For_The_MoneyThis week’s pick is Frank Zappa’s “The Idiot Bastard Son,” from the 1968 Mothers Of Invention album ”We’re Only In It For The Money” (my memory was jogged because my old friend John Melnick sent me a copy of the extremely rare Frank Zappa Songbook, which I’m going to clean up and maybe put into Finale for him, and me). The version here is the original album version, although it’s slightly different from the version that I initially heard (explanation below). The primary performers are the original Mothers band – Zappa on guitar and vocals; Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood and Bunk Gardner, saxophones; Ian Underwood, keyboards and saxophones; Don Preston, keyboards; Roy Estrada, bass and vocals; and Billy Mundi and Jimmy Carl Black, drums and percussion.

Most of the recording sessions took place in New York city, after the Mothers relocated from L.A., pretty much fleeing what they perceived to be a repressive societal matrix where the police routinely harassed them and prevented them from playing gigs, but I wonder if some of the session were begun in L.A., and may have utilized members of L.A.’s ”Wrecking Crew” group of studio players. This record was part of a four-album conceptual suite, consisting of ”Lumpy Gravy,” “Cruisin’ With Ruben and The Jets” and ”Uncle Meat.” Cameo appearances by various members of the L.A. groupie scene as well as rock stars Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Tim Buckley in some of the musique concrete pieces foreshadow Zappa’s relation to the world of mainstream rock (Flo and Eddie, Lowell George, etc.); Jimi Hendrix also appears in the original cover photo, a parody of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” iconic photo.

The version of this song that I’m more familiar with (and the differences are slight, but definite) was from a sort of greatest hits compilation called ”Mothermania,” released by MGM/Verve. Several of the recordings on that record are either different mixes, different edits or different performances altogether than the albums from which they’re ostensibly drawn from; it’s all a bit confusing. Zappa had notoriously contentious relations with all of his record companies and was constantly getting into censorship trouble. The Mothermania compilation is worth seeking out if you’re a Zappa completist.

It angers me that so many people only think of Zappa in terms of his bathroom humor material (“Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” etc.). He was a sharp commentator on the social and cultural scene, and he was definitely a total non-conformist, just as disgusted with the hippies as he was with Nixon/Agnew et al. His song ”Trouble Every Day” is a scathing indictment of almost every aspect of American society, and should be played on every college radio station, every day. He had aspirations to be a classical music composer, and although many have mixed feelings about his work in that field, I’ve always enjoyed it. He had a well-known disdain for jazz (he literally hated the ii-V-I chord change, which is the bedrock of jazz), but he continually hired musicians either from the jazz world (George Duke, various Brubecks) or rock players with jazz chops (Steve Vai, Scott Thunes). In short, I always felt that he felt free to do whatever he felt was important regardless of how any action might contradict his perceived public persona.

I finally achieved one of my bucket list wishes, playing this song in John Kimsey’s Twisted Roots Ensemble. Thanks, John.

You can listen to it here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.