Monday, September 22, 2014

Wails From the Crypt (An Occasional Series)

[Attentive readers will perhaps recall that I have from time to time, since NYMary first gave me the metaphorical spare set of keys to this here blog, reprinted various pieces I originally wrote for the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review. If truth be told, however, I've done it less often than I originally anticipated, mostly because a lot of my old stuff -- especially from the '70s -- kind of creeps me out for various reasons (god, I could be an annoyingly opinionated blowhard back then -- as opposed to now, hah!) but also because to a large degree the pieces are simply dated. Also, I really hate transcribing the damn things.

That said, I chanced across this column...from the February 1977 issue...

...and upon re-reading it I decided it wasn't totally embarrassing and decided to share. I've done a little rewriting to eliminate a couple of really egregious dumb pronouncements, but by and large this is how it appeared back in the day. I should add that the photo of Graham Parker is the very same one that ran with the essay originally; god bless the intertubes for the picture's easy accessibility. I should also add that I do not stand by my assessment of the George Harrison song in question, although in my defense, I was prematurely correct about George's ultimate artistic renaissance. In any event, enjoy if possible. -- S.S.]

It's a strange time right now for pop music. Oh, sure lots of interesting things have been going on -- the remarkable return of Brian Wilson, the Led Zeppelin film, the second (and I hope the last) Rock Awards TV show, and punk-rock festivals in (where else?) France -- but it's a hard to get a fix on what it all means. A new sensibility seems to be emerging out of the ashes of the slowly sickening Seventies, but there's a vagueness about it, a tentative slippery kind of feeling that resists analysis. For myself, I find that most of the records I'm listening to now are retrospectives of one kind or another -- the Faces Snakes and Ladders, a lovely memorial to a band that never really got it together the way the could have; Leo Kottke's 1971-1976; even the latest reissue of Phil Spector's sublime Christmas album -- and that's got me muddled even more. So rather than try to make sense of all of this, I'm cribbing an idea from Simon Frith, who cribbed it from Charlie Gillet, who cribbed it from god-knows-who. Here is this month's Big Six.

1. Patti Smith Group: Radio Ethiopia

Before Patti's new album came out, I was fortunate enough to stumble across an excellent live bootleg featuring some of her new songs, as well as to catch an unannounced low-profile gig she did at a bar in SoHo, and I think I've finally figured out why she gets to me: As knowingly as she comes on, she really is an innocent. It doesn't matter that most of the criticisms that have been leveled at here are true. Sure, her singing is fairly limited, her band isn't virtuoso, her poetry is at times laughably overripe -- but she's still open enough to fit Smokey Robinson and Dolly Parton in there among the fever dreams. Radio Ethiopia, different as it is from Horses, has just as many problems, but she's getting closer to whatever it is she's chasing, and for the moment at least the ride she's taking us on is the most exhilirating one in rock.

2. George Harrison: "This Song" (from 33&1/3)

That little old cringe-maker is back, but with a difference. Not only has he shaved his beard and started eating meat again, he seems to have regained both his sense of humor and his songwriting chops. I have not yet heard the whole album, so I will have to restrain my enthusiasm, but on the basis of the single -- inspired by his recent loss in court, it's his first rocker in ages and works both as a novelty tune and a love song -- George may finally be able to demonstrate that his work with the Beatles was not the fluke the intervening years have indicated it might be.

3. Graham Parker and the Rumour: Heat Treatment

R&B lives! No sooner had I speculated that Southside Johnny's passion for Sixties Soul might be contagious than Mr. Parker and a fine group of refugees from the London pub-rock scene show that the English might have caught it too. The Rumour isn't quite as flashy as the Asbury Jukes, nor is it as purist, but the groove is similar and Heat Treatment might just be the best original soul revivalist album since, oh, let's say the Beach Boys Wild Honey.

4, Elton John: Blue Moves

Gosh, but it must be lonely at the top! It seems that it isn't enough for poor Elton that his records sell by the zillions, that he's adored by both the fans and other pop stars -- those nasty old rock critics just keep picking on him, and its ruining his breakfast. Insensitive bastards. The odd thing is that although Blue Moves is, if anything, more numbingly turgid than anything he's done previously, it's also, in a peculiar sort of way, the most honest; it's full of the peeved petulance he demonstrated when, in a recent radio interview, he vented his spleen at a poor New York Times reviewer who had confessed to being only moderately enthused over his last concert. The Rock Star Self Pity Syndrome claims its least likely candidate; can Peter Frampton be far behind?

5. Boston: More Than a Feeling

This song, of course, has been the left-field smash of the year, coming seemingly out of nowhere from a first album by an unknown group of musicians who have only just quit their day jobs. It really is good; a soaring riff out of Lou Reed by way of Joe Walsh, stunning playing and production, and the best job of adapting the George Martin/Beatles approach to heavy metal that anyone has come up with in ages; Todd Rundgren, not to mention Eric Carmen, must be reaching for the razor blade every time they hear it. But, like most left-field smashes, it's a one shot. There isn't another song remotely as memorable anywhere on the rest of the album, and, unsurprisingly, the group's singing is as faceless as all the rest of the metal bands. Still, in a period when imaginative rock-and-roll hit singles are getting harder to find than practicing Druids, it's nice they're around. File with "The Boys Are Back in Town."

6. Bruce Springsteen: "Rendezvous"

It's been over a year since Born to Run put the Bard of Asbury Park on the covers of Time and Newsweek, and Springsteen, embroiled in a lawsuit with his old manager that prevents him from recording anything new, must be wondering if rock stardom is all it's cracked up to be. He doesn't act like it, thought, or at least he didn't during a recent six-night stint in New York City. Instead, he put on the most sweeping, ambitious and deceptively spontaneous shows I have ever attended, including one that reduced several extremely skeptical friends of mine to actual tears. Two of the new songs he introduced are obviously still being worked on, but the third -- a hypnotically compelling teenage lament called "Rendezvous" (that is also the most English-sounding thing he's ever done) -- is clearly a Bruce Springsteen Song for the Ages. Incidentally, he dedicated a tune at each performance to Patti Smith, and actually pulled her onstage during one version of "Rosalita." If Springsteen is the New Dylan, does that make Patti the Baez of the Seventies? Well, why not? -- though I admit to being a little uncomfortable with the idea of Revelations taking place in New Jersey.

UPDATE: The video for the Harrison track.

Amusing enough, I suppose, but as for the song itself -- all I can say is "what was I thinking?"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Listomania's Greatest Hits: Special Carpe Diem, Bitches! Edition

[I first posted this one back in 2008, which is apparently four centuries ago in dog years. In any case, I've substituted a couple of new entries and done some minimalist re-writing, just so you won't get the idea that I'm resting on my well-apolstered laurels in my old age. Enjoy! -- S.S.]


Completely arbitrary rule: The word "season" is allowed. Also days of the week.

Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Ten.

10. Six O'Clock (The Lovin' Spoonful)

For my money, their best record -- a great song, stunning production, and the crack in Sebastian's voice is almost a metaphor for their good time vibe running headlong into the heart of darkness of the late 60s.

9. Time of the Season (The Zombies)

I know, I know, I've never posted this song before.

8. Quarter to Three (Gary US Bonds)

Some of our younger readers (by which I mean those born between the invention of the blowdryer and the premiere of the television series Manimal) may not believe this, but back in the day, my buddies and I killed hours playing the opening few seconds of this over and over again in a fruitless quest to discern the rumored dirty words. Think of that as a sort of hormonal adolescent version of the myth of Sisyphus.

7. Midnight at the Oasis (Maria Muldaur)

I have from time to time over the years been surprised by the intensity of the loathing this song evinces in so many of even my most mild-mannered friends. I gotta say, I don't quite get it -- to me, it's always been just a mildly annoying Adult Contemporary novelty tune, almost rendered listenable by a spectacular guitar solo from the underrated Amos Garrett. On the other hand, after re-hearing it, for the first time in ages, for the purposes of this post, I have to admit I have no desire to ever fucking hear it again ever.

6. A tie:

Yesterday (The Beatles)

IIRC this is the world's most covered song. No further point to make about that; I just think it's interesting.


Yesterday's Gone (Chad and Jeremy)

I should add that I was surprised to learn Chad actually played the cool acoustic guitar stuff on their records. Hey -- it was a big deal for me!

5. Good Times (Jimmy Barnes and INXS)

The great and often covered Easybeats classic, obviously. None of the covers has ever come close to the original, IMHO, and I was never particularly an INXS fan, but finding this clip on YouTube the other day reminded me that the late Michael Hutchence really was one charismatic SOB.

4. Monk Time! (The Monks)

Pussy Galore is coming down! Fifty years later the world STILL hasn't caught up with what these crazed ex-GIs stranded in the land of the Hun were doing to the noble muse of Music.

3. Time Has Come Today (Chambers Brothers)

More cowbell!!! True sad story: My skinny tie band had a sort of year-long residency at a club in the Village in the 80s. It was several weeks before I realized that the maƮtre d' was the guy singing this song.

2. Business Time (Flight of the Conchords)

For NYMary, obviously, but also because I wanted something recorded in this century. Plus it's a great song.

And the absolute coolest 4th dimensional ditty, it's so obvious why the frick are we even arguing about it, is --

1. She Don't Care About Time (The Byrds)

Genius songwriting by Gene Clark and Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn playing "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" on the break. It doesn't get any better.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Your Thursday Moment of Words Fail Me

Unsightly box troll master of the obvious rock "critic" Bob Lefsetz went to a One Direction show at the Rose Bowl a couple of days ago and posted this report.

It was incomprehensible.

Furthermore, if you weren’t there you probably didn’t know it happened, despite the act selling out two dates and nearly a third, on a Thursday, a school night.

And that was who were there. Students. Girls. Wanna get laid? Go to a 1D show. You won’t see odds this good at the prison of “Orange Is The New Black.” An endless sea of barely pubescent girls, screaming their heads off. You’d think it was the new Beatles.

Only it wasn’t.

I would like to remind you all, at this juncture and for the record, that the guy who wrote the above is in his early 60s and looks like this.

Jeebus, what an asshole.

You can read the rest of it here if you have the stomach.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Your Wednesday Moment of NO GOOGLING!!!!!

From 2013, please enjoy the appropriately titled "The Man Who Never Was" by...well, actually I'm not going to tell you who it's by, which is why it's appropriately titled.

In any case, it's a great kick-ass rock song by people you've probably heard of, and the whole point is for you to guess who it is.

Have I mentioned no Googling?

Anyway, if you already know please don't give it away in comments.

I should also add that if you didn't know in advance and still managed to guess right strictly because you're too cool for school, you will win a coveted PowerPop No-Prize and all the gloating privileges that entails.

You're welcome.

UPDATE: For those of you who didn't cheat, that track is, of course the more interesting than I thought Rick Springfield collaborating with Dave Grohl and company, from the soundtrack to the quite splendid music documentary Sound City, which I had somehow missed when it came out last year. A terrific movie, BTW, and I highly recommend it. Here's the trailer...

...and you can stream the whole thing at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Closed for Monkey Business

Sorry, a certain very old person is making me homicidal today, so no posting. And praise Jeebus New Jersey doesn't have an open carry law.

Regular, debonair, stuff resumes on the morrow, and yes -- Friday will bring us the return of Weekend Listomania's Greatest Hits.

You're welcome.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Lion is in the Streets

From the 2006 PBS Legends of Jazz series -- specifically, the episode entitled "The Golden Horns" -- please enjoy Clark Terry and his spirited ode to utter incoherence, the incomparable "Mumbles."

That's great, obviously, but nowhere near as great as a certain hand puppet...

...lip-synching it on a kids TV show of yore.

You know, there are days when I think that Pookie the Lion is my favorite fictional character of all time.

This is one of those days, obviously.

I should add that those of you in the New York City and Los Angeles areas can see more of Pookie, Thursday night's at 8:30pm and five days a week(!) during the afternoon, on basic cable's Jewish Life TV channel. Those of you elsewhere should consult your local listings.

You're welcome.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I/You Gotta Move Week, Part III: Special Istanbul or Constantinople? Edition

From 1970, and their misunderstood and perhaps unfairly maligned album Looking On, please enjoy the incomparable The Move -- featuring the first appearance of Jeff Lynne in their saga -- and the remarkably hard rocking "Turkish Tram Conductor Blues."

I've always loved this song, not least because of the coy "Oh yes" Roy Wood interjects just before the guitar solo begins, but also because the combination of Zeppelin riffage and oboes or saxes (or whatever the hell the woodwind instruments are on the track) is just so wonderfully bozoid.

I should also add that, back in the day, my old garage band chums The Weasels used to warm up by playing this as an instrumental, sans the lyrics. It sounded like some kind of mutant surf song, and it always used to crack us up.

We were easily amused, obviously.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

We Interrupt This Move Week Already in Progress to Bring You a Special Message

You know, when people ask me what my all time favorite band is, I usually default to the Holy Trinity of the 60s -- Beatles/Byrds/Beach Boys.

But then I see something like this the other night on Jimmy Fallon's show....

...and I think -- maybe its The Replacements.

Seriously, that's everything rock-and-roll should be in one four minute package. Words otherwise fail me on how great it is.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I/You Gotta Move Week, Part II: Special Visionary Heavyosity Edition

Live'r than you'll ever be, from 1968 at the legendary Marquee Club, please enjoy in breathless wonder the original five-piece incarnation of The Move and a blistering cover of Eddie Cochran's "Something Else."

Okay, I'm not sure it's the five-piece -- guitarist Ace Kefford was discharged from his duties in the group around the time this was recorded -- but to my ears it sounds like he's there.

In any case, the track is fricking great.

I actually owned a copy of this EP -- found it in some mom and pop record store in Jersey circa 1972-- and for years, it was among my proudest possessions. If truth be told, BTW, I probably hadn't even heard of the Eddie Cochran original until I bought it.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I should also add that I hadn't heard a note by The Move until I read John Mendelssohn's 1970 review of Shazam in Rolling Stone, and was motivated to seek out the rest of their oeuvre as a result. With life-changing results.

In case I haven't said it before -- thanks, John.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Closed for Monkey Business

Sorry, I need a day off to work on my forthcoming memoir -- "Unusual Matricides."

Could be a hot one!

Move Week postings resume tomorrow.