I’ve seen a mention of this term online that pigeonholes the Hobbit Rock subgenre as part of the prog era that peaked in the ’70s. Myself, I believe that the term is more far-reaching than that definition, not that I can exactly define it.
Hobbit Rock seems to always have a vaguely Celtic feel, or be in some way similar to folk music of some part of the British Isles. And … that’s it. At least until enough examples can show a more definite pattern.
Anyhow, as part of this not very serious study, this month’s song for the appreciation of Hobbit Rock is Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin song of the same title. At one time a member of Thin Lizzy, Moore was an accomplished guitarist and no slouch as a vocalist either. And this video shows that he could lip sync to himself pretty well too.
There was a musical variety show for hipsters called NIGHT MUSIC somewhere around ’89 through ’90. I can’t remember if this was syndicated or if it was an NBC show that was on after SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (which I rarely watched after 1991). Anyhow, at this point when alternative rock music was still not heard much on the radio and the mainstream explosion of Nirvana was still a ways off on the horizon, there were some rock groups that fit pretty well into a line-up that included jazz players, old blues musicians, and artsy experimentalists. The never mainstream Pere Ubu was at their most mainstream right then, and showed up in an episode that I missed at the time. This is a pretty catchy song for such a weird band, and they perform it well. The singer’s stomping of invisible, imaginary bugs is a hoot.
To the best of my knowledge, Guadalcanal Diary never showed up on NIGHT MUSIC, but they should have. By the late ’80s there were a number of alternative jangle bands like The Katydids, Let’s Active, and the sometimes philosophical Guadalcanal Diary, named for some reason after the movie and novel that documented one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ key moments in WWII. All of these bands were at least as good as R.E.M., with mostly better vocalists, and without the self-pity tendencies that sometimes brought down The Smiths. Some people claim that this song was borrowed heavily in another song by country mega-band Alabama, but I haven’t explored that and have no opinion.
I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin from 8th grade through 10th grade, still enjoyed it afterwards, and developed an appreciation for singer Robert Plant’s solo material. Now and Zen made a big mainstream impact in 1988, and I loved Manic Nirvana in 1990, not so long before a band named Nirvana brought the hair metal era to a close.
1985’s Shaken ‘n’ Stirred was known as the bargain bin album that carried within it the somewhat eerie radio track “Little by Little.” I admit that I hated this album when I first heard it in mid-9th grade . . . and by somewhere around the end of 9th grade I absolutely adored it. It was dense, it was weird, time signatures and song structures were unpredictable, but once my brain unlocked this little package of oddness, it was one of my all-time favorites.
Robert Plant’s solo material has been a worthwhile thing all on its own and I was a fan (even seeing him in concert in fall 1990), so how did I avoid hearing his debut album Pictures at Eleven for all these years? All I know is that I can’t get enough of the opening track:
In 2012, the soundtrack album I had always wanted came out, Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There had been an expanded edition in January 1999 (“Get a life? No, get this instead!” said a sticker on the album when I bought it at Best Buy) and, while it was an improvement on the original album, it still left out far too much.
So La-La Land Records finally came through and released their magnificent three-disc edition with the complete score, the 1979 original album, early attempts, outtakes of the orchestra being shushed by the conductor, Shaun Cassidy’s surprisingly manly vocals on a pop version of the main theme, a Bob James instrumental, and oh, yes, a track of isolated Blaster Beam.
Seriously, it’s just awesome. The best album ever released. Just buy it already.
Anyway, a year or more later I was able to part with a cruddy old piano that never stayed in tune because thanks to Craig’s List I found a much better free piano. But because disposing pianos is not that easy, I had the old one around for a while and developed a seriously stupid idea. This was to remove the sound board of the piano and try to somehow make it into a blaster beam.
Now, the stupidity comes from the fact that piano strings are very large and tense enough that they can actually be deadly if snapped. I knew that I didn’t want to mess with the strings once I read about them a little, but I thought about removing the sound board whole and attaching bass guitar pickups to it for amplification. But after seeing how thoroughly attached it was to the wood of the piano, I abandoned the idea as impractical and just plain stupid.
But there are some intrepid souls out there who have tried to build their own. And this guy has done a magnificent smaller version with mostly ordinary household items. Check it out: