Johnny Hallyday, Céline Dion, Adele: a few thoughts and reflexions about good and bad taste in music

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that“. I could easily adapt Bill Shankly’s legendary quote by replacing football by music. I had in mind never to write bad things in this blog, whose aim was to share my enthusiasm and love of music and make friends or readers discover new sounds and records. However, writing about things one does not like can also be an interesting exercise.

As a French citizen and considering myself as attached to my country for what I am and to the UK for my pop culture tastes (music, movies, literature and football between others), I have weirdly faced difficult times recently. I will try to explain these feelings below and write a few thoughts about it…

  • Johnny Hallyday’s recent passing

“Le Rock est mort” (eg “Rock is dead”) is one of the things you could find in magazines a few weeks ago in France. For those not familiar with the guy, Johnny Hallyday (real name Jean-Philippe Smet) was a superstar in France and considered as THE French rocker. He acted in a few movies as well and was overall a celebrity everyone was aware of in France. He passed away in early December from lung cancer at the age of 74 and the whole nation mourned for a few days. It looks there was more than 1 million people in the streets of Paris to celebrate and give him a last farewell.

0a11baf8f4fb30651c37bd3f864ecd10

Although I had nothing against the man who had his flaws but no more no less than all of us, I felt really not at ease with what happened after his death. Once again, I do respect people mourning his leaving this Earth and to be more precise, there is nothing more sad than seeing all these people dying from cancer. The issue was not there: to make it short, Johnny Hallyday’s music is for me the enemy and I remember having put his name on the black list given to the DJ of my wedding’s party twenty years ago… I guess his music is everything I do not like in music: no subtlety in words which are piling up layers after layers of clichés, strong and “in your face” voice which does not give room from compromise (hate or love it), very poor music which is neither rock nor pure French chanson. I do recognize his importance in giving a bit of blues and rock culture in France in the early 60’s and this is amazing to realise that The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix opened shows for him or that Jimmy Page played on a few of his records, knowing that this was during his pre-Led Zeppelin golden age and that he was basically playing with everyone. But having said this, Johnny Hallyday is to me the epitome of what is not cool in music especially when I was younger: how could you love The Jesus and Mary Chain, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane or again The Clash and find a drop of interest in Johnny Hallyday’s music? With age, and having learnt to have a different view of what is cool or uncool (cf. my recent gig’s review of Daryl Hall & John Oates), I still think his music remains very poor in a world where one could listen to thousands of good records. And to me having a Harley Davidson bike and wearing a perfecto does not mean you have a “rock’n’roll attitude”… Eric Cantona is certainly much more rock’n’roll in his behaviour.

I guess I made my point here. In a nutshell: can we respect such a national event whilst having a different opinion as well? The madness felt on social networks was really symbolic of our current age and to me did not allow any different views…

  • Adele: good or bad?

Once again, not sure if a) I can give a clear answer to such a reply b) my contribution will an impact bigger than that of a micro fly… Anyway, let’s give it a try. Adele has been seen as the saviour of the music industry in the last ten years as she has been selling millions of records, especially in the UK and the USA. I do not want to be snobbish but I had never heard one of her songs (maybe portions of a song called “Hello” on the radio a few months ago) so I thought it was the right moment to use my streaming service and listen to her records without prejudice. One of my closest music buddies with excellent taste is a fan of hers so I thought that it could not be that bad a moment to spare.

However, I must say I was quite disappointed overall. I quite enjoyed her first record (“19” – released in 2008) as I found a certain freshness and originality in songs and musical structure. A bit boring sometimes but a great voice indeed and not a cliché in sight. Rating of 6.5/10.

This is on the second album (“21” -released in 2011) that things started to be a bit more difficult for me as a listener. One can feel in this record a certain lack of innocence, probably coming from the huge success of her first record and the pressure on her artistic and social life. There are a few good songs (“I’ll be waiting“), a few boring ones (“LovesongThe Cure cover, really?) and a few awful ones (“Don’t you remember“) in the atrocious Celine Dion / Whitney Houston style. Rating of 5/10.

adele-topline-bb37-2015-billboard-650

The least one could talk about her latest album (“25” released in 2015), the better. There is no musical personality in this record anymore and she sings as if she would like to prove us she has deep lungs. A few songs are really atrocious (“Hello“, “I Miss You” and “Sweetest Devotion“) and a rating a 4/10 is quite generous.

…but once again, who am I to judge? Her music is considered complex and full of soul by many and I can recognize this. This is just that I personally do not like singers and musicians who overstate so I guess this is not for me.

  • Celine Dion: can a singer be less cool?

..well, I guess not but once again all this is relative. Johnny Hallyday was a good and generous guy, Adele is probably a good person and mother and Celine Dion is a very good person.

41CYFu9QN6L._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_

At least, this is what this book reveals and what a shocker for an indie rock / deep soul / hip-hop / free jazz fan! “Let’s talk about love” by Carl Wilson is part of the great 33 1/3 series (cf. a post done a few years ago about this fantastic book series).

Carl Wilson is the kind of person who has similar taste as mine I guess and in particular a found adoration for the late great Elliott Smith. The starting point of the book comes from the infamous Oscar ceremony of 1998 when a very awkward Elliott Smith played on stage his beautiful song “Miss Misery” from Gus Van Sant‘s movie “Good Will Hunting“. What made this performance difficult to watch was the unbalance between  Elliott in a weird and too large white suit, alone on stage, very frail, in front of all these very rich and successful Hollywood moguls who were thinking “What the heck?…”. As expected, bad taste and power won that night and Celine Dion was the winner with the “Titanic” horrendous song.

What is more interesting is what happened backstage. The only natural, warm and friendly person of all with Elliott was actually Celine Dion. This simple fact gave to Carl Wilson the envy to go further and discover more about Celine Dion, her past, her family stories, what made her songs so successful, etc… At the end of the day, this is probably one of the best music books I read and I must say I would not have envisaged it while reluctantly buying it.

  • What next?

Well,…nothing I guess and these few thoughts probably did not add anything to this debate. But as The Byrds once said, I’ll probably feel better after writing this post.

See you soon to talk about (hopefully) good music!

Rock city : Alan Parsons’ master class at Abbey Road, The Rolling Stones exhibitionism & The Kinks’ musical

Abbey Road Studios

I read so many books and magazines on rock music and its history/stories that at one stage considering cities such a New York, Austin, Chicago, Berlin or London as key rock places is really obvious. However, as one knows, there is sometimes difference between theory and reality…but this is not the case for London. This is not obvious at first although you realise quickly there are more quality gigs than anywhere in the world. Then although a few of them have been closed throughout the years there are probably more record stores than any city in the world. But the real difference comes from the other options available when one is looking closely and the fact that this is not fake but really part of the culture of this city.

Abbey Road, Studio 2

One of the best moments I experienced last year was to attend a Master Class held by Alan Parsons at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios. Alan Parsons is better known by the general audience for a few hits he had in the late 80’s with the Alan Parsons Project (hello “Eye in the Sky” for instance) but for rock aficionados he is famous for his role as young sound assistant on The Beatles “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” LP’s when he was only a 19-year old young man and later as the main sound engineer on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” album. Many hifi sellers from the late 70’s and early 80’s own this man a few quids as this album was very often used in stores to show the quality of the hifi equipment. Quite moving and unique opportunity also as the conference was taking place in Studio 2, where the Beatles recorded around 190 of the 210 tracks they have in total (I count on Beatles geek fans to precise the exact number).

Abbey Road, George and John

Interviewed by the excellent journalist David Hepworth, the 90 minutes I spent there were a complete joy, especially when he played on the original piano the “Lady Madonna” intro or when he showed us how he and Pink Floyd created the sounds heard on their worldwide hit “Money”. There is a cool Abbey Road store full of memorabilia nearby and you can of course walk on the famous zebras!

Abbey road, zebras

Choosing between the Beatles and the Stones is like choosing between mum and dad so let’s embrace them both (although depending on the mood of the day one clearly prefers of these two bands). I went to the Saatchi Galery to visit Exhibitionism, the Rolling Stones exhibition curated and closely followed by Sir Jagger. The man is currently more active than ever these days as he is also a co-producer with Martin Scorcese of the excellent “Vinyl” HBO series, held in the mid-70’s in NY city. Putting the Rolling Stones in a museum may look like a weird idea as they were probably the antithesis of such a thing when they started their career…but the times they are a’changin’.

The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism

Do not get me wrong here, the exhibition is clearly recommended for Stones and rock music fans as the curators have gathered an impressive collection of guitars, clothes, movies, etc… The studio room in particular is a delight by the way it has been re-created and by the number of beautiful guitars owned by Keith Richards and Mick Wood throughout the years. My only problem is that I have been having with the Rolling Stones for many years now ; they want so much to control all business around their names that the exhibition lacks a bit of authenticity. I would have liked to know more about the real role of the late Brian Jones during his last years in the band or for instance more context about what the band has been in England during the 60’s and 70’s. Funny as well how Bill Wyman has been almost erased from their history. Once again, clearly recommended if you are in London but could have been even better.

Musicals on the West End are a key thing to do when you visit the city as a tourist and are the equivalent of Broadway shows in NY. I have always been sceptical about the quality of these shows but I think it was more contempt and ignorance on my side than anything else. I must admit that my only experience was the amazing “Love” musical by the Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas in 2009 so I thought it was a good moment to check this. I had read great reviews on the “Sunny Afternoon” musical based on the story of the seminal band The Kinks lead by the two Davies brothers. Ray Davies (genius songwriter) has always had a love and hate relationship with brother Dave but they really made their best work when collaborating together, not that dissimilar from a certain 90’s Mancunian band…

The Kinks, Sunny afternoon

Held in the nice Harold Pinter theatre, literally 300 yards from Piccadilly Circus, the show was the best homage one could find in such a musical. I think  Ray Davies has been closely consulted for the show as it describes so well what London was between 1964 and 196, showing at the same time the energy and optimism of the swinging 60’s without forgetting the fact that the working class was quite far to live the same kind of thing. The actors playing the band are particularly amazing bringing fresh air with an amazing quality in the musicianship (specific mention to the actor playing Dave Davies on guitar). And the songs… “Dead End Street”, “You Really Got Me”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Lola”,…the list is endless. Not sure why they did not make my Top 100 as I have always been a huge fan… Anyway, if you spend a few days in London, go and see this play.

On top of these two examples, a couple of pictures below taken near home and showing that London will never forget great musicians. Unlike what James Murphy would sing on NY with LCD Soundsystem, London I love you and you are never bringing me down.

To read more on London, please go to the post I did last year on the Jam at the Somerset House or to the great week-end I spent a few years ago to attend the “David Bowie is…” exhibition at the V&A museum.