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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

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.

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