The Best Rock Band In The World

Queens of the Stone Age are a band that continue to go from strength to strength. The band have been active in the music scene for more than 20 years and there isn’t many who could argue their place amongst rock and roll royalty. I had the absolute pleasure of seeing them live as they stopped by the Hordern Pavilion on the back of their Splendour In The Grass appearance, and they pulled all the right punches in one of the shows of the year.

With their 7th album ‘Villains‘ due to be released next month, Australia was lucky to witness a pre-release tour, with sideshows in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne before their headline set at Splendour. The Sydney leg was held at the Hordern Pavilion on Wednesday night, selling out tickets within minutes. A band of this calibre deserves a much larger venue, so it was a real treat to see them in a somewhat smaller venue. Having last toured Australia in 2014 on a co-headlining tour with Nine Inch Nails, Queens treated fans to a setlist that spanned their entire catalogue.

Opening with the somewhat odd choice of ‘Turning On The Screw‘ from ‘Era Vulgaris‘, it’s immediately obvious that the band haven’t skipped a beat during their downtime. The band plays with a precision and aggression that just can’t be beaten. Frontman Josh Homme is on point from the get-go. The way he commands the stage and demands attention from the crowd whilst still managing to tear it up on guitar needs to be applauded. Before the crowd has a chance to breathe, ‘Monsters In The Parasol‘ closely follows and the crowd is in a frenzy. Fan favourite ‘Little Sister‘ soon follows and it’s already clear that the show has exceeded expectations already.

One of the reasons why Queens are held in such high regard is the musicianship. Bandmates Troy Van Leeuwin, Dean Fertita, Micky ‘Shoes’ Shuman and absolute madman Jon Theodore (best known for his animalistic drumming on The Mars Volta’sDe-loused In The Comatorium’) are all such perfect musicians and each member contributes in their own way throughout the night. Van Leeuwin is such a pleasure to watch. He adds so much class to the guitar parts, switching between lead guitar, lap-steel and 12-string throughout the night. Theodore is as crazy as ever, getting to showcase his chops throughout the night on various cuts – none more so than the well-known ‘No One Knows’.

What I love most about Queens is how little is needed to put on a fantastic show. A simple light show, no backdrop, no gimmicks – just good old rock and roll. Songs like ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’, ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire’, and ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer‘ just don’t need it. The songs are strong enough to stand on their own – and when Queens bust them out, the crowd knows exactly what to do.

Closing with the obvious but completely perfect ‘Songs For The Dead’, the whole band puts everything into the final piece before waving goodnight. It’s a perfect set, a flawless performance and one of the best shows I’ve seen.

Queens Of The Stone Age are in a league of their own. They aren’t slowing down, so if you’re not on board – get on board.

4.7/5

Queens Of The Stone Age, Hordern Pavilion, Wednesday 19th July 2017.

  1. Turning On The Screw
  2. Monsters In The Parasol
  3. Little Sister
  4. The Evil Has Landed
  5. Smooth Sailing
  6. I Sat By The Ocean
  7. Sick, Sick, Sick
  8. Feel Good Hit Of The Summer
  9. If I Had A Tail
  10. Burn The Witch
  11. The Vampyre Of Time and Memory
  12. Make It Wit Chu
  13. The Way You Used To Do
  14. My God Is The Sun
  15. You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire
  16. Go With The Flow
  17. No One Knows
  18.  Songs For The Dead
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Don’t Think About It Too Much

Sampha.

Relatively unheard of unless you’re heavy into electronica and knowledgable around producers. He’s been in the music business for a long time, providing vocals for plenty of SBTRKT songs and producing for such artists as FKA Twigs, Drake and Solange. Finally in February 2017, ‘Process‘ is released, and we get to hear the artist on his own terms. It’s a fantastic record start to finish, shifting through electronic beats and synthesizers to classical piano and falsetto vocal. The guy is super talented, and Australia were lucky enough to be treated early to a national tour on the back of his debut album.

The Drama Theatre seats 544 patrons right in the heart of the Sydney Opera House. It’s a great little venue that, as the name suggests, normally holds stage actors and singers as opposed to electronic artists. Sampha has been invited down to be a part of Vivid Live, performing two shows which sell out in a flash. Despite the outcry, the shows are not upgraded, and lucky fans such as myself get to witness what will hopefully be an incredible night in an intimate venue. No one is sure what to expect, being his first Australia tour, but the anticipation is high. As the smoke machine fills the room, the lights dim and crowd let out an “Oooooh” before erupting in applause. Enter Sampha.

The first thing I notice is how the silhouette of the British artist reminds me of Hey Arnold! Wild, frizzy, thick black hair sits on top of a mountain of a man. He lumbers across the stage as his band members set the scene for opening track ‘Plastic 100C’. From the get-go I know this will be a memorable night, and I can’t take my eyes off what is happening on the stage. There are 4 members in total, each sat in front of an array of electronic music instruments in the form of keyboards, synthesizers, trigger pads, drums and other whatnots. Each band member has a specific role tonight and they all play it to a tee. It’s meticulously rehearsed without sounding robotic.

Personal favourite ‘Timmy’s Prayer’ soon follows and it just keeps getting better. The standout without any doubt is the vocal performance of Sampha. That intense and warm mixed voice is so powerful tonight, even more commanding than on any of his releases. It’s astounding how charming and encapsulating his voice is – no wonder he has skyrocketed to fame. There is rarely a bum note throughout the entire set, and the crowd hangs on every note.

Speaking of – the crowd. The love, the gratitude and the sincerity of which everyone welcomed and applauded every song with was palpable. You could just tell how excited everyone was to be finally seeing their hero. The next time Sampha returns you can be sure it won’t be in a small theatre like this one.

Sampha races through his small catalogue, opting for the majority of album tracks with a couple of fan favourite b-sides. It’s somewhat predictable but for a guy with only one album, you can’t expect him to fill the setlist with covers. Having said that, a re-worked SBTRKT song would have been a nice surprise, considering that the majority of his songs have been given a work over for a little more band orientated live performance.

Highlights of the night were the well-known ‘Blood On Me’, the classy ‘Too Much’ and show closer ‘Without’, starting with a 4-man drum circle. I can’t fault anything about the show, it was a great introduction to someone who will be around for a very long time.

4.1/5

Sampha @ The Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Saturday May 27th, 2017.

  1. Plastic 100C
  2. Timmy’s Prayer
  3. Under
  4. Too Much
  5. Take Me Inside
  6. Reverse Faults
  7. Incomplete Kisses
  8. Happen
  9. Kora Sings
  10. Blood On Me
  11. No One Knows Me (Like The Piano)
  12. Without

Women In Music!

I’m going to start off by telling you a truth. Women are better singers than men. Period. There is nothing that you could tell me which would convince me otherwise. Women can do something so unique with their voices to convey every last drop of emotion that I have rarely heard in male singers. Why is this? I honestly have no idea, but does it really matter?

The female voice can add something so succinct and precious to a track that can’t be done by men. Take dance music. There are plenty of male producers out there, but rarely do you ever hear them use a male vocal sample. It is almost always female. Take pop music. The charts are completely dominated by female artists, with a few exceptions. There are always collaborations between male and female singers. Why? Because most male singers just can’t get that emotion and feel from their voices.

I rate artists mostly on their voices. There’s always exceptions to the rule, but when I listen to an artist the first thing I’m listening to is their singing voice. The range, the control, the timbre. It is what makes or breaks an artist for me. Sure, there are plenty of artists I listen to now who don’t have a fantastic singing voice, that I absolutely love – but an artist with a set of pipes, male or female, has me in a heartbeat.

I want to take a look at some of these female artists, and talk about why I love them. I’ll give some reference tracks (for those you may not know of, which should be highly unlikely!), but mostly I just want to talk about the talent. The female singers who when they start to sing can make you completely forget where you are. The type of singer who makes you feel what they feel. The type of musician who leaves everything out there when they sing. Also, I would like to acknowledge my favourite female-lead bands and the women at the front.

  1. Norah Jones – I have to start here. Her style, the smoothness of her voice, the feel, the emotion, the piano-skills – she has it all. Her first full length album has been the backdrop to many a quiet night at home. That perfect mix of jazz/lounge and pop is just pure genius. Plying her trade with jazz bands for years, Jones finally decided to record an album and the rest is history. Songs like ‘Don’t Know Why’, ‘Come Away With Me’ and ‘Don’t Miss You At All’ are the best places to start.
  2. Tina Arena – Australia’s best female singer in my opinion. If you don’t know her, then you’re either extremely ignorant or have been living in isolation for the past few decades. Such a powerhouse vocal, one that is instantly recognisable. ‘Heaven Help My Heart’, ‘Wasn’t It Good?’, ‘Chains’ and ‘Sorrento Moon’ should kick things off for you.
  3. Alicia Keys – I am convinced that Keys will go down as the greatest singer of our time. There is nothing this woman cannot do. I shouldn’t even need to begin to tell you just how talented this woman is. It doesn’t matter which song I name, you’ll instantly be hooked. Keys should be right up there with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey in terms of influence of a generation. Pick a song, any song – and enjoy.
  4. Sarah Blasko – I wouldn’t call Blasko a powerful vocalist, but definitely one of my favourites. A little shy and awkward, but extremely talented, Blasko has been doing the rounds on the Australian scene for almost 15 years. Her first two albums ‘The Overture and the Underscore’, and ‘What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have’ are definitely worth the listen.
  5. Regina Spektor – I think it was her cover of The Beatles Real Love’ on Triple J that made me sit up and pay attention. I had heard her previously but never really sought out more of her work. A fantastic vocalist, completely unique and left-field. How someone can get famous on ‘Fidelity’ is beyond me, but it was that quirkiness that thrust her into the limelight. ‘Samson’ is simply unbeatable.

Some of my favourite female lead bands:

  1. Daughter – An England-based band led by the timid Elana Tonra, Daughter are a unique type of indie-rock. Little bit of a gothic influence at times, and Tonra likes to sing about some strange subject matter, yet producing some very memorable tracks. I wouldn’t say Tonra has an amazing voice, but it’s perfectly suited to the style of music they play. Have a go with ‘Youth’, ‘New Ways’, and ‘Numbers’. 
  2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Two words – Karen O. Such a charismatic and entertaining front-woman. This band has no doubt been on your favourite music festival line-up and will continue to be for a long time. Seeing them live was a real treat! Try ‘Maps’, ‘Heads Will Roll’ and ‘Zero’. 
  3. Fleetwood Mac – Pushing it a little here to include them in this list, but can you ever leave Stevie Nicks off a list of great female artists? I couldn’t. The hits are endless, the songs are timeless and the legacy enduring. Nicks was responsible for leading some of their best work – including ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Landslide’, ‘Dreams’ and countless others.
  4. No Doubt – The first female lead band I ever got into, way back when. ‘Don’t Speak’ was on every cassette that I recorded from the radio. Gwen Stefani embodied the punk/rock movement and took the reins from that left behind by Joan Jett and Janis Joplin, eventually moving on to a very successful solo career. Never forget where it all started – and No Doubt were a refreshing change from the male lead grunge that was dominating the mid to late 90s.

Other great individual songs by female artists that I love:

  1. Michelle Branch ‘Everywhere’ – One of my favourite pop songs of all time.
  2. Sixpence None The Richer ‘Kiss Me’ – An extremely close second.
  3. Sara Bareilles Manhattan’ – A perfect jazzy piano song.
  4. The Cranberries ‘Linger’ – Timeless.
  5. Kelly Clarkson ‘My Life Would Suck Without You – Those harmonies – wow!
  6. Tracy Chapman ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ – Another great vocalist.
  7. Garbage ‘When I Grow Up – Just a solid rock song.
  8. Kate Miller-Heidke ‘Words’ – Quirky and glorious.
  9. Goldfrapp ‘Happiness’ – How good is the film clip?
  10. Sia ‘Soon We’ll Be Found’ – A real gem.

No doubt there are countless others which I have missed. The list of female artists who I haven’t mentioned but have made their mark on the world is astonishing – Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Adele, Nina Simone, Cyndi Lauper, Lauryn Hill and Roberta Flack. I could go on…

Who are your favourites? Who should I be paying more attention to?

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“The Colour And The Shape”

On the 20th of May 1997, after one of their most difficult recording processes, and through a sling of line-up changes, the Foo Fighters released what many believe to be the band’s true debut album ‘The Colour And The Shape’. Although the discography records will show that the 1995 self titled release is the first collection of recordings under the name the Foo Fighters, it was largely a solo record by frontman Dave Grohl released under the aforementioned moniker to distance himself from the events of 1994 and the breakdown of grunge pioneers Nirvana. This phenomenal record cemented the Foos place on rock radio and set up the incredible legacy that the band have now gone on to see, becoming largely responsible for keeping rock and roll alive and relevant. The album spawned the huge singles Monkey Wrench‘, ‘My Hero’ and undoubtedly their magnum opus ‘Everlong’. On the 20th anniversary of the album’s release, I take a look back on the album, and reflect on some of my own personal memories.

I remember the exact moment when ‘The Colour And The Shape’ really struck a chord with me. I had been listening to the main singles for a while and had really begun to love the band quite significantly, but was not familiar with any of the deep album cuts, and to be honest because of my age, I was more familiar with their 1999 release ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’ than I was with this album. On a school camp down to Canberra, I had taken a disc-man down with me, armed with a couple of albums I had bought recently. It was on the bus as we made our way around town that I had thrown in TCATS, and for the first time, really give it a listen from start to finish. By the end of the trip I had listened to the album more times than I could count, and for years I considered it to be my favourite album of all time.

What is so great about the album is how in encapsulated the one-two punch that inevitably become the band’s signature. Whether you listen to an album or go and see them live, it’s a wall of destruction right off the bat. The album opens with a little ditty intro called ‘Doll’ and then launches straight into lead single ‘Monkey Wrench’ before continuing on through personal favourite ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’, ‘Wind Up’ and ‘My Poor Brain’. It’s a relentless opening to an album, which was followed up in future releases. Their live set packs the same wallop. It’s normally not until 5 or 6 songs into their set that Dave stops for a break to welcome the crowd.

The other great part of this album is just how many truly fantastic songs it introduced to the world. The singles off this album are still live staples and fan favourites, despite more than 60 songs being released after it. The album is just timeless.

Everlong’ is the prime example. The pinnacle of the Foo Fighters catalogue. One of the best rock songs of all time. David Letterman personally requested the band to play this song as the closing act of his final Tonight Show appearance, citing it as ‘his favourite song by his favourite band’. The song has been lauded by everyone from Billie Joe Armstrong from Greenday to Elton John. It’s hard to break down exactly why it has resonated with so many people for so long. The incredible sense of dynamics throughout the song. That glorious opening riff that Bob Dylan asked Grohl to teach him. A feel good song that was recently requested by Neil Young to be played by the band at a benefit concert. The drums – those drums! For a balls-to-the-wall rock album this sat beautifully in between all out and subtle, something the Foos would emulate to great effect on their follow up album.

On the other side of the coin, are songs like ‘February Stars’, one of the first tracks that Grohl and ex-Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic recorded when waiting for Cobain to arrive at a demo session prior to 1994. A song that Grohl had been tinkering for years. Or there’s ‘Walking After You’ – a song Grohl recorded on his own when he was so frustrated with the result of what the album recordings had ended up sounding like. This recording session eventually led to then-drummer William Goldsmith leaving the band after a well-documented recording process where Grohl would have him record takes for over 13 hours, never satisfied with the outcome (Grohl eventually scraps all but a handful of Goldsmith’s work for the album and records the drums himself). These two ballads on the album show a mature side to the band and much like ‘Everlong’ were the perfect introduction to the band’s next album where songs like ‘Aurora’ and ‘Next Year’ would shine.

Or there’s the incredibly random but somehow perfect ‘See You’. A song that was never supposed to make it to the album ends up tying all the loose ends together. An upbeat, bluegrass-feel acoustic song, which is just complete fun and got a new lease in life of the acoustic tour and follow up CD/DVD ‘Skin and Bones’.

It is an album that holds so many memories for so many people. For me, it brings me back to high school quite a lot (for good reason). Jamming the songs from the album with the Horse or Bisho after school, stealing Leggers MP3 player to listen to the album, pretending I could air-drum perfectly to ‘Up In Arms’ with Burkey. When I first saw the Foos live at a free concert at Channel V in 2005, it was ‘Everlong’ and ‘Monkey Wrench’ I was dying to hear. The memories go on and on..

When you listen to this album now, 20 years on from it’s release, it hasn’t lost any of it’s meaning. You still try and not take a breath when screaming the bridge to ‘Monkey Wrench’. You still air-drum to ‘Everlong’. You still get it wrong every time you try to guess just when the outro to ‘New Way Home’ will kick in. The chorus to ‘My Hero’ still makes you a karaoke champion.

Find a copy, strap yourself in and take your mind back to a better time where rock bands were more about music than appearance – and enjoy, ‘The Colour And The Shape’.

 

The Search For Everything

There’s part of me which loves when an artist drip feeds little tidbits of a new album over an extended period of time. There’s also a part of me which loves to be completely surprised by what I hear when I first listen to a new album. With John Mayer’s new album, The Search For Everything, I got the best of both worlds.

Mayer’s 7th studio album was released in three parts. Wave One, containing four tracks. Wave Two, containing another four tracks. Finally, the entire album, with four more new tracks accompanying the previously released eight. A unique way of doing things, but justifiable when you think about the short attention span of most listeners these days. Dumping 12 tracks (which I honestly feel is too long for an album) at once can distract listeners from each track, and things are missed – something Mayer has been very vocal about during the lead up to the release. I completely agree, and this is an interesting way to keep anticipation high as well as satisfy thirst for new music.

The Search For Everything is one of Mayer’s strongest showings, sitting right up alongside his debut release, Room For Squares, and fan-favourite album Continuum. We get the full spectrum of Mayer’s abilities on the new release – a mix of acoustic songs, electric blues song, piano ballads and an interesting attempt at a ‘theme’ song. Mayer flexes all his muscles here, falling short in some regards, but ultimately giving us an extremely enjoyable listen.

  1. Still Feel Like Your Man – The album kicks off with this funky D’Angelo-esque song which begins with a piano and falsetto improvisation before the main groove kicks in. A great piece, showcasing Mayer’s now preferred layer guitar technique. Try not to sing along the chorus of this one – a fantastic little hook.
  2. Emoji Of A Wave – A terrible name for a song, but a nice acoustic number which centres around Mayer’s earnest and troubled lyrics. Mayer has since admitted this was the most difficult song to record, with plenty of layering heard again. Overall a good song but an awkward choice for second track after such a strong opening.
  3. Helpless – One of the more bluesy numbers on the album, and more akin to his John Mayer Trio work. I find the chorus vocals to be a little lazy, but the main riff and solo are enough to make up for it. The rhythm section gets a good working here throughout the song which helps move it along nicely.
  4. Love On The Weekend – I’ve really grown to love this song. It’s a slightly different style to what Mayer has produced over the years, but with enough of his unique touch to let it rest nicely with his more accessible work. It’s a cruisy anthem which focusses on Friday/Saturday/Sunday feelings towards spending time with a lover. Great use of reverb for the main guitar line.
  5. In The Blood – The highlight of the album, but in my opinion too soon on the album. Nevertheless this song resonated with me the second I heard it. What drew me in straight away was something we have rarely heard from Mayer – singing in the low register. It was a real surprise, and very refreshing. The verse vocal melody line is absolutely genius for this song. I can’t praise just how good this song really is – a wonderful insight into just how good of a songwriter Mayer can be.
  6. Changing – My least favourite on the album unfortunately, which is a shame after what came before it. The beginning just kills it for me. It’s a lazy intro, and a sloppy melody. It has its moments but most of the time I find myself skipping this one.
  7. Theme From “The Search For Everything” – This is a cool little acoustic song, with a bit of a country twist. The layer vocal line sounds similar to the Summer Heights High intro which always puts me off. Either way, it’s a good instrumental piece and serves as the segue-way into the second half of the album.
  8. Moving On and Getting Over – Another great groovy song in a similar style to ‘Still Feel Like Your Man’. More D’Angelo and Prince influences can be heard here, and more of that layered guitar goodness. If this is the direction Mayer wants to go over the next few years then I am on board!
  9. Never On The Day You Leave – The album ballad. Every album needs a good one, and this does the job nicely. Mostly focussed on the vocals/lyrics but the piano/strings do a suitable job. Every man should read the lyrics to this song as a warning.
  10. Rosie – In a similar vein to ‘Helpless’, with a more blues influence. The influence of Eric Clapton can be heard mostly through this song, in my opinion. The lyrics are a little bit absurd, but when he’s singing it over that groove, who really cares? I can hear this song being a great live feature.
  11. Roll It On Home – Possibly left over from the Born and Raised/Paradise Valley era? This is bluegrass/country Mayer that we’ve heard recently. This type of genre doesn’t really resonate with me all that much, but it has some good moments and is a fun sing-a-long.
  12. You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me – The so-called ‘Toy Story ripoff’. The vocal melody has been ripped straight out of 1970s playbook, but ultimately this song will divide opinion. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either. It’s different, but it’s definitely not what Mayer thinks it is. A piano piece which is supposed to wrap up the events/feelings of the album but feels a little egotistical in some respects. Make up your own mind.

 

Overall, Mayer delivers a strong record which will have something for everyone to love. The subject matter is pretty clear throughout, which will ensure there are plenty of people who can relate to it. The album is set out almost chronologically which is a subtle twist, and one that I really like.

I’ll be happy if Mayer doesn’t touch songs like ‘In The Blood’ live so that it can stay as perfect as it is, but I’m really excited to hear songs like ‘Helpless’ and ‘Rosie’ with the backing of his star-studded touring line-up (featuring the likes of David Ryan Harris, Pino Palladino, Steve Jordan and Isaiah Sharkey – phew!).

The best of Mayer can be heard on this album, but unfortunately some of his short-comings are also heard too. Nevertheless it’s an album that will keep you discovering nuances about it for years to come.

John Mayer, The Search For Everything. 8.5/10

The Unreleased Mayer

Yesterday, I counted down my personal favourite John Mayer tracks, which were all taken from albums/EP’s. Now I want to count down my favourite tracks that haven’t made an album appearance (excluding live, AS/IS bootlegs etc).

7. ‘Hummingbird’ – This song is an old Mayer b-side which made an appearance on the 2004 Philadelphia/Hartford run of As/Is, but was only heard before that through bootlegs and various acoustic performances. Mayer didn’t run with this song for very long, which I guess is understandable – it is wildly different from anything heard from him before. That transition from the straight arpeggiated riff into the almost Jon Gomm-like section is sublime. Worth a listen.

6. ‘Who Did You Think I Was?’ – The staple of the John Mayer Trio live set, maybe this is cheating a little to have this here. A great blues song, with a killer main riff. Very underrated song which gets to stretch its legs on the live album/DVD ‘Where The Light Is’. Lyrically, a real backhanded slap in the face to all his pop fans (whether they know it or not), but done in an almost tongue-in-cheek way. Steve Jordan always kills it playing this.

5. ‘Good Love Is On The Way’ – Another JMT song (sort of), this song was first introduced on the ‘Try!’ live album, but also making future appearances on the previously mentioned ‘Where The Light Is’ CD/DVD, and on the ‘Village Sessions’ CD (which has my personal favourite version – acoustic!). This is another fairly strange outing for Mayer, opting for a hammer-on/pull-off main riff which is not always his style for main riffs. Great little bridge/solo at the height of the song.

4. ‘Sucker’ – Again, another of his early b-sides which has barely shown the light of day. This song hasn’t shown up on any live albums, or bootlegs etc, and could probably only be found as an audio only from some basement gig in the early 2000s. A cracker of a song, and fun to play.

3. ‘Covered In Rain’ – The sister of ‘City Love’, musically and lyrically. This song was built around the chord structure to the bridge of City Love, and then grew from there. First heard on ‘Any Given Thursday’ (which is still a mind-blowing version), this only gets played occasionally, however I did see an acoustic version pop up this year. This is mostly about the improvisational guitar solo, but the lyrics in the body of the song are fantastic.

2. ‘Man On The Side’ – Originally an acoustic number which had been around for a little while in his early days. While filming ‘Any Given Thursday’, on a whim Mayer decided not to play his version of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and launched into an electric solo version of ‘Man On The Side’. For a very long time, this was my favourite Mayer song.

1. ‘In Your Atmosphere’ – Sometimes known as the ‘LA Song’, this could almost be my favourite Mayer track of all time. Again, it was heard as an acoustic b-side very, very early on. I remember having to listen to a very muffled, distant live version in high school for years, until it was given the royal treatment on ‘Where The Light Is’ and I couldn’t have been happier. A great track – quintessential Mayer.

There are many, many more unreleased songs that Mayer chooses to pop out occasionally, most are from the 2002-2005 era but some tend to find their way back into his repertoire. Others include ‘Come When I Call’, ‘Tracing’, ‘Why Did You Mess With Forever’, ‘This Will All Make Perfect Sense Someday’, ‘Portable Home’, ‘Distant’, ‘Lifelines’ and so on.

 

The Mayer Ten

It’s no secret I’m a John Mayer fanboy. I have been for years. When I heard Mayer play ‘No Such Thing‘ on The Panel in October 2002 I was transfixed. I went out and bought a copy of ‘Inside Wants Out’, and the latest edition of Guitar One magazine and set about learning how to play it. I remember listening to ‘Neon’ and wondering how one person could possibly be playing that glorious main riff. The first song I ever sung for a live audience was ‘3×5’. The first concert I attended was John Mayer at the Hordern Pavilion in 2003. I have never been ashamed to say how much of a fan I am of his work.

Mayer has just dropped his new album ‘The Search For Everything‘, and in appreciation I decided to dig back into his catalogue and pick out my top 10 songs. As the new album has only just released, I will refrain from choosing any that appear on it (although In The Blood could easily make this list).

10. ‘Badge and Gun’, (Paradise Valley) – Almost nobody would know why this song is so special to me, and the story that goes behind it. I like it that way. This song is my personal gem, something I get to keep without anyone else tainting it. It’s one of the few highlights from Paradise Valley, a simple fingerpicking acoustic number that could fit onto any blues highway collection. Mayer’s earnest and honest vocals really get a chance to shine here.

9. I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)’(Continuum) – One of Mayer’s most underrated tracks. Perfect guitar tones, a mix of smooth falsetto and speech vocal, and a simple yet effective rhythmic groove provide the platform for this bluesy number. No doubt it was songs like this one (and admittedly the Continuum album in whole) that cemented Mayer’s place amongst blues royalty, and opened the doors to interactions with Clapton, B.B. King, Herbie Hancock and more recently, Dead & Company.

8. ‘St. Patricks Day’, (Room For Squares) – The beauty of this song is how it sounds exactly like the holidays that Mayer is describing. It sounds like a Christmas song. His knowledge of jazz to colour the acoustic chord progressions really resounded with me, and something that can be found littered throughout Room For Squares. This song is a monster to play on the guitar, but it’s also one of my favourites. Also, the use of mellotron and Hammer organs really typified that New York City winter feeling, feeding right back into the Christmas/loneliness/winter canvas that Mayer is painting on in this song.

7. City Love’(Room For Squares) – Another song that encapsulates that New York feeling. This song took a long time to grow on me, I remember skipping it all the time in favour of the more accessible numbers on the album when I was much younger. Now it’s one of the few I listen to from it – how times change! Again, Mayer’s jazz/blues knowledge shines through here, using unusual chords and shapes to enhance the emotion of the song (try playing his fingerings of CMaj7 and GMaj7, ha!).

6. ‘Love Soon’(Inside Wants Out EP) – I’ve listened to this EP more times than I care to remember. On the surface, its a great little insight into an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, but underneath is so much more. The chord progressions, the colour, the unusual fingering shapes, Mayer’s unique take on Travis picking etc. This song is an upbeat acoustic track, as Mayer pleads with a lover to take things more seriously.

5. ‘Back To You’(Room For Squares) – This is probably one of Mayer’s more straight down the line songs, and no doubt one of his more popular early singles. Very accessible, but with enough happening to move away from the cliche mould. Oddly, one of the reasons I enjoy this song is actually the rhythmic section (drum and bass), and nothing to do with the guitar. Even now as I listen to it, I’m enjoying it immensely, but I can’t explain why.

4. ‘Edge of Desire‘, (Battle Studies) – The best song off an album that fell short of most people’s expectations after a few years off. The restraint in this song is what makes it so great, and how Mayer can use the back end of the song to really cut loose and drive home that emotion he’s been singing about. The conversationalist tone of the lyrics really help to nail that ‘desire’ and end the song before any listener would want it to.

3. ‘Clarity’(Heavier Things) – Every non-Mayer fans favourite Mayer track. A fun, groovy and upbeat track with a clever mix of layered acoustic/electric guitars, electronic piano and brass. Also, quite refreshing to hear a positive outlook to waking up on the wrong side of the bed. This could have easily taken number 1, it’s just such a great song. Everything about it is likeable.

2. ‘Wheel’(Heavier Things) – Yes, I love the obscure album tracks. This one qualifies in every sense of the word. A guitar player’s dream, this song captures the maturity of Mayer’s ‘slowhand’, and showcases a softer, moodier side, and foreshadows an entrance into the blues circles which would follow. Also – THAT SOLO.

1. ‘3×5’, (Room For Squares) – Was it ever going to be anything else? The perfect Mayer track. Strange to think that this song was not originally on the first release of Room For Squares, and that is was added when re-released by Columbia the following year. It’s as though Mayer/Columbia knew that this record was not complete without it. I’m almost happy that Mayer has left this track to be told from the album, rarely getting a live appearance, it is just perfect as is.

Of course there are countless others. ‘No Such Thing’, ‘Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey’, ‘Neon’, ‘Gravity’, ‘Wildfire’, ‘Comfortable’, ‘Who Did You Think I Was’, ‘Why Georgia’, ‘Perfectly Lonely’, ‘Born and Raised’ and so on. With a catalogue as extensive as his it was never going to be easy. It’s also fairly obvious that I much prefer his earlier work. I never really connected with ‘Born and Raised’ or ‘Paradise Valley’, apart from a few tracks. With the release of ‘The Search For Everything’ however, I think I’m going to have to find more room for some new favourites.