Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If you like Grizzly Bear, thank The Beach Boys

Astute LTF reader Stanford Chiou sent me an email the other day after noticing a striking similarity between a popular Grizzly Bear song and a classic Beach Boys song. An excellent observation, Stanford! Thanks for the tip.

So first, listen to Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" from their 2009 release, Veckatimist:

Beautiful, haunting multi-part harmonies really define this song, as they rise gorgeously above the quarter-note piano chords, and then seem to soar into their own atmosphere for a moment before coming back down to earth, drawn by the steady rhythm.

That kind of studied, chorale treatment of vocal harmonies in pop music was arguably invented by The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, as he wrote ever more complex music that allowed the classic surf band to evolve into cutting-edge pop artists. (Paul McCartney once famously said that The Beach Boy's 1966 Pet Sounds was his favorite album, for that very reason.)

That masterful blend of high vocal harmonies, almost madrigal in style, is on its greatest display in The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" from the aforementioned Pet Sounds:

Much like the Grizzly Bear song, the soaring vocals are bound to earth by the steady quarter notes (in this song played on an organ rather than a piano, but still a clear inspiration.) The transcendent, ethereal quality of the vocals was the clear inspiration for the Grizzly Bear song. To quote, "The end result is a song that has the orchestral loveliness of a ballad but all the power and forward drive of a good pop tune." I would say the same of Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks."

So remember, if you like Grizzly Bear, thank The Beach Boys. (And thanks, Stanford!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

If you like The Head and the Heart, thank Peter, Paul and Mary

First, of course, there are the obvious similarities between The Head and the Heart's Charity Rose Thielen and Peter, Paul and Mary's Mary Travers: icy blonde hair, an arresting grace and vulnerability, a uniquely throaty voice. But the echoes of PP&M's influence are found woven throughout The Head and the Heart's sound in more complicated ways as well. Listen, for example, to the hauntingly pretty "Winter Song:"

Listen to the perfectly synced three-part harmonies (two baritones and a soprano). To the lilting and spare acoustic guitar backing. To the sadness.

These are all elements found in the music of pioneering folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960s. What we think of as 1960s folk music was really a rediscovery (or revival, in the preferred vernacular) of the concept of "traditional music." The sound we associate with Folk Revival actually blended everything from British medieval court music to Appalachian bluegrass and created something new that sounded earthy and authentic and familiar; in essence, it was a new sound that seemed as though it had been around forever.

And no one encapsulated that new sound better than Peter, Paul and Mary. When Travers, Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow recorded their first album together in 1962, they weren't creating a new sound; they were simply absorbing the elements of the Folk Revival that had begun in the 1950s and polished them to a pretty and widely palatable sheen, combining elements of humor and political statement into a familiar-yet-fresh folk sound. Their voices were untrained and unbalanced (they also had two baritones and a soprano), and they had their biggest hits either recording other people's songs or recording traditional tunes that had been around for decades. And yet despite their simplicity (or more likely because of it), they became so hugely popular that their influence continues to resonate 50 years later.

For example, compare "Winter Song" to Peter, Paul and Mary's "500 Miles:

You'll hear the same complex harmonies, the pleasantly uneven vocal balance, the resonating guitar accompaniment. And of course, the sadness. (Folk Revival was nothing if not beautifully sad.) So many of the elements that make Peter, Paul and Mary sound like they do manifest in one way or another on The Head and the Heart's self-titled debut album.

So remember, if you like The Head and the Heart, thank Peter, Paul and Mary.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

If you like Stornoway, thank Nick Drake

I stumbled across the song "Zorbing" by British indie band Stornoway (who are, ironically, not from Scotland), thanks to the Song of the Day project that actor/director/fellow Kenyon grad Josh Radnor has been doing on Twitter (which I cannot recommend highly enough):

It has the haunting, harmonic beauty of the British folk revival of the '60s (which ultimately inspired the corresponding folk revival in America). But there's also that infectious brass band riff that comes in halfway through the song, which is an element of the folk revival that is distinct to the U.K.

Which is why I was immediately reminded of one of the last British folk revivalists to have a national following -- the incomparable Nick Drake. Compare "Zorbing" to the song "Hazey Jane II" from Drake's 1970 release, Bryter Later

You'll hear the same haunting vocal quality, though admittedly with less harmonizing than Stornoway applies. And yes, those are electric guitars rather than acoustic. But the brass band riffs take on a leading role in this song, driving the whole rhythm and energy forward, and it's suddenly easy to hear where Stornoway got the inspiration for "Zorbing."

So remember, if you like Stornoway, thank Nick Drake.

Friday, September 07, 2012

If you like John Legend, thank the Staple Singers

Heard this classic soul gem on the oldies station by the incomparable soul/R&B family, The Staple Singers:

It ran around my brain all day, sounding so very familiar. Where, where, where had I heard that string arrangement before? Just before bed, it came to me: it was the sample John Legend used in his breakout hit collaboration with Kanye West, "Number One":

Hear it? I think it's sampled directly from the Staples. And in borrowing the loop, John Legend turned the sentiment of the original song on its heel -- what was initially a song about getting busy with the one you love is inverted to a desperate apology for cheating on the one you love. By doing this, it's almost as though he's questioning the authenticity of the sentiment of the original song, calling the notion of faithfulness into question in the most dulcet possible way. Which I guess shouldn't be so surprising. John Legend is an Ivy League grad, after all.

So remember, if you like John Legend, thank the Staple Singers.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

If you like Jet, thank The Who

It is almost passe to declare The Who one of the greatest rock bands of all time. But their blend of pitch-perfect pop hooks and blistering, no-holding-back, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll inspired an entirely new genre of music (hard rock/heavy metal) and their influence can be felt across almost every genre. Ask any musician to name the quintessential rock star, and they will likely mention Pete Townshend.

But some modern bands are more careful students of The Who than others, and in my opinion, no one apes The Who better than Jet.

Take, for example, their ubiquitous 2003 single, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?":

Despite the fact that it was extremely overplayed when it was first released, this song more than holds up. That infectious, complex bass line. The rollicking, fuzzy guitars. The raw, impossible-to-resist, get-up-out-of-your-seat-and-dance ENERGY of this song. (It is no wonder Apple chose this song for the first and best of their iconic "dancing silhouettes" ads.)

Musically, it is a page straight out of The Who's playbook. Listen to what is perhaps The Who's most famous song, "My Generation" from 1965:

Hear it? To quote Allmusic: "[This song is] a good nominee for rock's most explosive expression of adolescent rebellion. Guitar feedback, crashing drums, power chords..." All hallmarks you'll hear on an equally rebellious, explosive song by Jet almost 40 years later.

So if you like Jet, remember... thank The Who.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

If you like Carly Rae Jepsen, thank Annie Lennox

This is too easy, but I can't stop listening to this mashup, so I had to post it. Big tip of the hat to Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij for spotting the similarities between the song of the summer, "Call Me Maybe," and Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass:"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

If you like Fleet Foxes, thank Neil Young too

After reading my post, "If you like Fleet Foxes, thank Crosby, Stills & Nash," alert LTF reader Edley Naylor-Leyland pointed out that Fleet Foxes owe a musical debt to CSN partner Neil Young as well. To quote Naylor-Leyland, "Check out the similarities of Ohio (Young) and Mykonos (Fleet Foxes)- they use the exact same bit of Ohio at about 2min15secs."

So let's all take a listen. First, Neil Young's tragic anthem to the Kent State riot of 1970:

The sound is electric, minor-key heartbreak. But pay special attention to the vocal harmonies in the verse, especially "Gotta get down to it/ Soldiers are cutting us down."

Now listen to "Mykonos" by Fleet Foxes, paying special attention to the bridge around 2:15:

Well, I'll be damned. That is, in fact, the exact same vocal harmony and melody, especailly at "You go wherever you go today." So spot on that it sounds like an intentional homage to Kent State in my ear. Proving yet again that the indie rock so popular today takes great inspiration and sustenance from the classic rock that came before.

Great ear, Edley!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

If you like Colbie Caillat, thank Fleetwood Mac

Okay, admittedly this one is a little too easy. Colbie Caillat is, of course, the daughter of famed music producer Ken Caillat, who gave some of Fleetwood Mac's best albums (including Tusk, Mirage and multi-platinum-selling Rumours) their distinctive warm-California tone. So it should be no surprise that Colbie harnesses the same likeable, breezy melodies as Fleetwood Mac, and adopts their focus on intimate relationships combined with the appealingly maximalist production tone that defined that megagroup of 1970s folk-rock. According to Fleetwood Mac fansite

[Ken Caillat's]  knowledge about how to get sounds recorded made Caillat an integral part of the team behind the mixing desk during those recordings. Lindsey Buckingham remembers the recording of "Go Your Own Way": "I really think Ken Caillat did a great job of getting the sound that solo needed. It defined an approach for years to come." 

Buckingham was right in more ways than he intended: Caillat's distinctive production is a very successful approach that he is still putting to good use in the 2000s by producing all three of daughter Colbie's albums to date. Perhaps nowhere is his method more recognizable than in her song, "Falling for You:"

There are the warm, jangly, multiple-tracked acoustic guitars. There are the soft vocal harmonies. It's a pleasant, familiar, appealingly vintage sound. But then, when you get toward the end of the song, he drops in a signature riff, the one that sounds like birds flitting around the corners of the sonic landscape. You hear it after the bridge, when the vocals sing, "I can't stop thinking 'bout it, I want you all around me, and now I just can't hide it." Hear the subtle, dancing riff that's laid down over that? Does it sound familiar?

That's because Caillat and Buckingham first used it on Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks-penned "Gypsy" from 1983's Mirage:


Still the warm, jangly tone. An even richer spectrum of background harmonies. And at the very end of the song, you'll hear a synthesizer riff that should sound very familiar.

So remember, if you like Colbie Caillat, thank Fleetwood Mac, and their consistently successful producer Ken Caillat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If you like Rufus Wainwright, thank Judee Sill

Back in the halcyon musical days of 2001 (that same year would see the release of Ryan Adams' Gold, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Cake's Comfort Eagle), Rufus Wainwright released Poses, an album that is so revered among critics, fans and fellow musicians that it established Wainwright as a top artist of his generation, a footing he still maintains to this day. Listen first to the title track from that album, a gorgeously symphonic, polyphonic elegy that blends elements of classical music, Broadway and folk revival:

It's tempting to believe that a sound as distinctive as Wainwright's, blending so many traditional influences in his creative way, has no predecessor. It's tempting to want to believe he has forged a unique sound. But in music, there is rarely such a thing, and in this case, Wainwright has taken a page directly from the playbook of folk-era innovator Judee Sill.

Who, you ask? Judee Sill's story is tragic and now mostly forgotten, which is unfortunate, because the music she wrote during her brief, troubled life has gone on to influence countless musicians -- Shawn Colvin, Joanna Newsom and, most relevant here, Rufus Wainwright.

As a point of comparison, listen to Sill's symphonic, elegiac ballad "The Kiss" from her 1973 album Heart Food:

To quote Alex Stimmel's excellent biography of Sill on, "Lushly orchestrated, the album featured Sill's voice in multiple overdubs, often in a four-part chorale or fugue." This could as easily describe Poses, which sets itself apart with these exact same hallmarks.

So, if you like Rufus Wainwright, thank Judee Sill, may she rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you like Justin Townes Earle, thank Dr. John

Maybe it's the horns. Since his last album, Justin Townes Earle (Steve Earle's son, for those keeping score) has mellowed and, well, funkified. In an eclectic-influences-from-New-Orleans kind of way.

Listen to "Baby's Got a Bad Idea," from last month's Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now:

If you're familiar with Dr. John, the godfather of the unique pastiche of blues, funk, R&B and second-line brass marching band that he dubs "voodoo music," then no further explanation is needed. Earle's track is a study at the feet of the master.

But if you're less familiar with the musical institution that is Dr. John, listen to this 2009 live version of one of his best-known tracks, "Iko Iko":

(Or better yet, get on the Spotify and listen to the original album version of that song, technically a cover of an old 1950s Bo Didley-style blues, one that he has all but co-opted and made his own after 40 years of playing it.)

Hear it? The horns, of course. The adventurous, improvised stride piano. The funky rhythm. The bluesy growl of his voice. All a direct inspiration for the Justin Townes Earle track.

Dr. John has a new album out this week, too, produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, (which I mention only to demonstrate that the hipsters appreciate this legend as much as the legends do.) There's a nice little in-studio preview here.

But in the meantime, remember: if you like the new Justin Townes Earle, thank Dr. John.

Friday, March 09, 2012

If you like Fun., thank ELO

So, you've heard this hit single from the indie-pop band Fun. I promise you have. It's everywhere, even in a Chevy superbowl ad. It's called "We are Young" and it features Janelle Monae, a revered R&B artist in her own right. It combines Fun.'s (yes, the period is part of the band name) clever pop songwriting prowess with one of hip-hop's top producers to create a sound similar to that of the smash Alicia Keys/Jay-Z collab, "Empire State of Mind," but more theatrical, more intricately melodic. (For more on how this sound came about, check out this feature from the New York Times.)

Hear the right-hand piano chords keeping time with quarter notes on the chorus? Hear those dramatic tempo changes? Hear the complex production, the multi-tracked vocals, the choir? The way the song ends, on a slower, quieter note than anything before it? If this sounds familiar, it's because all of these elements are an homage to 70s prog-rock pioneers Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO.

British band ELO mostly flies under the radar today, only occasionally getting airplay on classic rock stations. But in the 1970s, they were HUGE. Their 1977 double-LP Out of the Blue went platinum, meaning it sold one million copies. They had numerous top-10 singles, all of which combined their symphonic-yet-experimental arrangements and solid pop songwriting to create a sound that defied categorization and predicted by almost a decade the lush production that would become so prevalent in the 1980s (when the new portability of the Moog synthesizer would revolutionize the sound of pop music.) Out of the Blue also produced the hit "Mr. Blue Sky," (itself the soundtrack for a car commercial from the early 2000s) which seems to serve as the source material for "We Are Young."

Hear it? The way the song opens with piano chords keeping a steady marching beat, and how the synthesizer picks that up again during the chorus. The way the tempo shifts. The way the instrumentation drops out significantly during the chorus, to emphasize the multi-tracked vocals. There's a choir. The song even ends on a slow, quiet note.

So remember, if you like Fun., thank ELO.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

If you like Gotye, thank The Police

Belgian-Australian performer Gotye (pronounced GO-tee-ay, like the French "Gauthier") burst onto the scene earlier this year with the wildfire-like success of his single "Somebody That I Used to Know," a collaboration with Kimbra from his 2011 release Making Mirrors. The song's mass appeal is understandable; it combines an unusual beat with multi-instrumental accents like xylophone, distorted surf guitar, and a strange, haunting guitar effect that sounds like a theremin. The song is primal in its subject matter, but manages to express a very familiar human emotion over a sound that feels fresh and cutting-edge.

But if you're at all like me, the first time you heard this song, you thought, "Who's doing this great cover of a Police song?"

Because every single element that Gotye uses to his advantage in "Somebody That I Used to Know" was pioneered by Sting and company in the late '70s and early '80s. These elements can be found in just about any song by The Police from that era, but perhaps no song better illustrates this point than "Can't Stand Losing You" from their debut album in 1978:

First, the obvious parallels: these two songs are in exactly the same key and are powered by the same unusual, reggae-inspired beat. They are both about lost love. (Nothing terribly amazing there; half of the songs ever written are about lost love, the other half are written about love not yet realized.) Both use the technique of a restrained, single voice on the verse before opening up into a full-chord harmonization on the choruses.

But then there are the subtler similarities, like the way Gotye apes Sting's phrasing (both plaintive and powerful) when he goes full-throated on the choruses, or the way the drums come in splashy toward the end of the song to kick up the energy level.

In almost every way, "Somebody That I Used to Know" sounds like a direct reference to "Can't Stand Losing You." So if you like Gotye, remember... thank The Police.

Monday, February 20, 2012

If you like Bon Iver, thank Steve Winwood

Okay, I know you're thinking I'm crazy with this one, but bear with me. I'm not suggesting that the parallels between this year's Best New Artist Grammy winner and the classic blues-rock wunderkind are the overt kind. Part of Bon Iver's appeal is that the music doesn't quite sound like anything else you've heard.

Justin Vernon, the creator/songwriter who essentially is Bon Iver, layers multi-tracked falsetto vocals over lilting-yet-catchy melodies, and then he adds in just enough sonic interest to be appealing to the modern ear. This sonic interest usually takes the form of synthesizers, strings and beats. And it's through the application of those elements that a reverence for the 80s-era blues-pop of Steve Winwood manifests itself.

Listen first to the song "Calgary" from Bon Iver's 2011 self-titled album:

The song opens with a synthesizer playing an unresolved minor chord and the tracked vocals creating the shape of the melody over that sound; it isn't until more than a minute in that drum beats and distorted guitars enter the mix. The overall sound is one of stripped-down maximalism, as if there were once a hundred other elements that made up this song, all of which are now only hinted at through the few that remain.

Now listen to Winwood's "Don't You Know What the Night Can Do?" from 1988's Roll With It:

There are a lot of similarities here - unresolved minor chords on the synthesizer, multiple-tracked vocals, a relatively restrained arrangement (for the '80s) that relies heavily on synthesizer and beats. The melody itself is more traditional R&B than anything Bon Iver writes, but when Winwood sings, "And we turn into music," it is with the same raw emotion that Bon Iver sings, "Oh the demons come, they can't subside."

(This relationship between Bon Iver and '80s blues-pop is less crazy than it at first seems - Vernon readily confesses to a love of Bonnie Raitt, once an undisputed star of 80s-era blues-pop herself. He even works a gorgeous cover of Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" into his set.)

So consider the fact that if you like Bon Iver, you can thank Steve Winwood.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

If you like Ryan Adams, thank The Faces

I could write reams about the chameleon-esque tendencies of enigmatic rocker Ryan Adams and the debt he owes to a wide swath of early rock and soul pioneers. (In fact, I did write a very comprehensive review of my favorite of Adams's albums, 2001's Gold. It is still available online here.)

But today, let's talk about a very specific debt Adams owes to Rod Stewart who, along with the rest of the lineup that called themselves The Faces, made four albums that have gone on to influence countless bands that followed, though they were never particularly commercially successful.

The Faces evolved in 1969 from an earlier incarnation called The Small Faces. It was not until they added Stewart and a pre-Rolling Stones Ron Wood to the lineup (and dropped the "Small" from their name) that they really hit their stride. They only released a handful of albums together before Stewart's burgeoning superstardom did them in -- their 1973 album Oooh La La, with its legendary cover art, was their last offering as a group.

But to this day, their influence is undeniable, and can be heard distinctly in at least one of the tracks Ryan Adams laid down on Gold.

Listen first to The Faces' biggest commercial hit, "Oooh La La," paying particular attention to the acoustic guitar lick immediately following the words "Oooh La La," which are finally uttered for the first time toward the end of the song:

Now listen to Ryan Adams sing "Rescue Blues":

You should immediately be able to pick out a very familiar guitar lick, this time played on an electric guitar, but repeated throughout the song like a kind of love letter to The Faces and 1973. The whole album is a love letter to a bygone era and this connection is just one small homage, but it is possibly my favorite moment on the album for its obvious reverence. So, if you like Ryan Adams (this song, at least), thank The Faces.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If you like Adele, thank Etta James

Legendary blues singer Etta James passed away yesterday at the age of 73 (remarkably just three days after the death of Johnny Otis, the man who first discovered her singing with a girl-group called the Creolettes as a teenager.) Her incredible talent sustained a six-decade-long career and produced one of the biggest blues hits of all time, the inimitable "At Last." Her influence on modern music is probably immeasurable. She laid the groundwork for an entire generation of female R&B artists, and has been immortalized on film by no less than Beyonce in the greatly underappreciated movie, Cadillac Records.

But perhaps no current artist owes a greater creative debt to Etta James than Adele. Adele has had enormous success in the past few years by adhering very closely to the blueprint that Etta James first set down in the 1950s: throaty, impassioned vocals mixed with symphonic blues arrangements.

Take for example, the song "Turning Tables" from her latest album, 21:

Listen to the strings arrangement. The sad, defiant lyrics. The throaty push of her husky vocal tone. (This in particular is pure homage to Etta James, right down to the signature glottal rasp.)

Now compare that to Etta's 1961 hit "Fool That I Am:"

This song is rhythmically smoother than almost any Adele song (it was made for an era when men and women still swayed in each other's arms on dance floors occasionally), but otherwise every element of Adele's interpretation can be traced to this song, and others just like it.

Etta James was unparalleled at channeling raw emotion through her voice, a mantle that Adele has assumed, and which (I would argue) is the key to her success. So if you like Adele, thank Etta James. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If you like Mumford & Sons, thank... America

I think it's fair to say that the band America is best remembered (if they are remembered at all) for their 1972 AM radio hit "Horse with No Name," which is somewhat unfortunate, as that song has not aged as well as the rest of their catalog. That particular song sounds more trite and gimmicky now than it did when it was released, whereas the rest of their songs achieve a timeless blend of acoustic hooks and breezy vocal harmonies that evoke 70s-era California in the best possible way.

No song better illustrates their appealing folk-pop sound than "Ventura Highway," from their 1973 release Homecoming:

In this song, you hear a driving rhythmic insistence, complex minor-to-major chord progressions, a perpetual, jangly background guitar and beautiful vocal harmonies employed only on the choruses.

And if you're thinking any of that sounds familiar, it may have something to do with Mumford & Sons. Listen now to the ubiquitous "Little Lion Man" from their 2009 release Sigh No More:

Again you hear a driving rhythmic insistence paired with complex chord progressions. Again you hear beautiful vocal harmonies employed primarily on the choruses. And where America used a jangly, high-capoed guitar, Mumford & Sons famously uses a banjo to achieve the very same sound.

(It bears noting that America has influenced many bands that have come since. Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger cites them as a huge influence and even helped to produce their 2007 "comeback" album Here & Now.)

So if you like Mumford & Sons, remember... thank America.

Monday, January 09, 2012

If you like The Avett Brothers, thank The Band

The now-iconic Canadian rock band was still called The Hawks when they first met Bob Dylan in 1965, but by the time he asked them to join his tour as backing band later that year, they had already become simply The Band. In the roughly eight years they performed together under that name, The Band (including prolific songwriters Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm) amassed an extensive catalog of songs, all of which combined R&B-based rock and roll with Southern folk-country to forge a new sound that complemented the direction Dylan had taken since going electric.

It's a recipe that still works today, as evidenced by The Avett Brothers. Listen, for example, to "And It Spread" from their 2009 album I and Love and You:

That slight twang in the vocals. The confident, almost defiant acoustic guitar rhythm. The mournful, wandering fiddle line.

Now listen to The Band's version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," from their self-titled 1969 album,(a song written by Robertson and covered extensively ever since):

You'll hear the same twang in the vocals. The very same confident, defiant acoustic guitar (right down to the same rhythmic structure.) No mournful fiddle here, but a mournful, wandering harmonica instead.

This was the album that elevated The Band to the pantheon of classic rock gods, influencing all of their peers and, subsequently, countless bands that would follow. Including, evidently, the Avett Brothers. So if you like the Avett Brothers, remember... thank The Band.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

If you like Fleet Foxes, thank Crosby, Stills & Nash

The term "supergroup" didn't quite exist yet in 1969, when Crosby, Stills & Nash released their debut album. But if it had, they certainly would have qualified. All veterans of other successful rock bands of the early and mid-60s, the three founding members of CSN (they would not add Neil Young to the roster until later that year) pioneered a lush, vocally harmonic, folk-rock sound that continues to influence the most cutting-edge bands today.

Case in point? Fleet Foxes.

Listen first to "Bedouin Dress" off of Fleet Foxes' 2011 release, Helplessness Blues:

Listen to the acoustic guitar, the ever-expanding harmonies, the melody and the lyrics reminiscent of an old English folk song.

Now compare it to CSN's "Helplessly Hoping" from their self-titled debut in 1969:

The arrangement is a little more spare, yes. But you'll hear the same acoustic guitar, and most importantly you'll hear the same hauntingly gorgeous vocal harmonies, harmonies that were first adapted and perfected by this group. CSN builds toward a musical peak at "We are one... We are for each other," using the power of stacked vocal harmonies. Similarly, Fleet Foxes build toward a musical peak at the line "One Day at Innisfree," opting to drop out all the instruments at that point and let the vocal harmonies ring out a cappella.

Because in both cases, when vocals are this beautiful, nothing else is necessary.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

If you like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., thank the Rolling Stones

One of the inalienable truths about music is that it all comes from somewhere; even the most revolutionary, innovative new sound will ultimately reveal an influence in something that has come before. But with the rapid cross-pollination of sound enabled by the explosion of music in the internet era, those influences are sometimes lost, or forgotten, or overlooked. So welcome to a new feature here at Lost Things Found: If you like __________, thank ___________.

To start the series, take a listen to this charming Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. song, "Simple Girl:"

That whistling! The ringing glock! The whimsical lyrics! The expanding harmonies! The polyphonic themes!

Where have we heard this before? Well, if you like "Simple Girl," by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., you can thank... the Rolling Stones.

Listen now to "She's a Rainbow," from the Rolling Stones' 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties' Request:

Sound familiar? Where you hear whistling in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s version, the Stones play a ringing piano. There are "ooohs" instead of "da-das," yes. But the overall effect? Almost exactly the same song, right down to the lyrical content, "She's a simple girl" vs. "She's a rainbow." And in either incarnation, regardless, she's got a great song.