Friday, May 27, 2016

Weekend Listomania: Special Pining for the Fjords Edition

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental fille de whoopie stenographer FAH LO SUEE and I are off to beautiful downtown NYC -- and more specifically, to Trump Tower. I'm gonna be checking out the apartment recently vacated by Keith Olbermann, who rightly decided that he couldn't put any more money in the vulgar talking yam's pockets. With any luck, also, I'll be able to pilfer some of the bathroom fixtures before we skedaddle.

In any case, as a result, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days, especially if law enforcement is involved.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:


This is pretty much open-ended, but one arbitrary rule: No death songs (teenage or otherwise) are eligible. So if you nominate something like "Leader of the Pack" or "Tell Laura I Love Her," I will come to your house and give you a stern talking to.

That said, my Totally Top of My Head Top Six is/are:

6. Del Shannon -- Hats Off to Larry

He wants her back -- he thinks she'll change. Yeah, right, pal.

5. The Beatles -- No Reply

"I tried to telephone/they said you were not home/that's a lie." Indeed it is, John. Indeed it is.

4. The Rolling Stones -- Just My Imagination

Yeah, yeah, I know this is actually a Temptations song. But as much as I like the original, as I've noted here before, it's terribly urbane -- you can practically see the tuxedos the Temps are wearing as they sing it. The Stones version, on the other hand, is pure aching romantic longing.

3. The Searchers -- Needles and Pins

What kind of sick, sadistic world do we live in where a truly great song can be co-authored by Sonny Bono?

2. Rick Springfield -- Jessie's Girl

A/K/A Othello with guitars, as somebody cleverer than I once described it. By the way, I love Rick Springfield and I don't care who knows it. And just because, I'm appending the song he wrote and recorded with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters not so long ago, despite the fact that it has little if anything to do with the weekend's theme.

So there.

And the numero uno "If I can't Have You" song of all time -- it's not even close, so don't bug me about this -- is....

1. Fountains of Wayne -- Stacy's Mom

C'mon -- you KNEW it was gonna be that one.

Alrighty then -- what would YOUR choices be?

[h/t Brooklyn Girl]

Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1965, [corrected -- S.S.] and the epochal For Your Love album (at least in America), please enjoy the most blues-wailing Yardbirds and their inimitable rendition of "I Ain't Got You."

As always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize© will be awarded to the first reader who gleans the song's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

And incidentally -- for the life of me I can't figure why that Yardbirds album cover looks so familiar. Oh, well, I'm sure it'll come to me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Cat in the (Jiffy Pop) Hat

From sometime in the mid-80s, please enjoy the comedy and musical stylings of the late great Rusty Magee...

...and his definitive reggae send-up "Rasta Magee."

That's another clip from the West Bank Cafe, of which there are now a lot on YouTube; I can't tell you how many brain cells I killed at a ringside table for some of those midnight shows over the years (yes, that's Lewis Black doing the intro). At the risk of gloating, being in New York City back then really was a special time.

In any case, you can find out more about Rusty, who on top of being ridiculously talented was also a sweetheart of a guy, over HERE. For somebody who wasn't a household word, and who died so tragically young, he really did have a remarkable career.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Monsters of Rock

Meanwhile, while the rest of the citizens of our noble republic were obsessing about historically insignificant pishers like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, THIS was going on at a bar in Burbank, California last Saturday.

Priorities, people!

[h/t Nelson Bragg]

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Guilty Pleasures: Special Fountain of Sorrow My Ass, Motherfucker Edition

So the other day, the Incomparable Eddie©...

...jumped off a window sill in our bedroom and landed atop the On button on our bedside radio...

...and suddenly I found myself awakened by a song I hadn't heard in quite a long time.

I happen to really like that record; I've never been a huge Jackson Browne fan, but when he isn't being Mr. Sensitive Mellow Guy, he has a real knack for old-fashioned Brill Building-esque 60s pop stuff. (Listen to "Tenderness on the Block," which he co-wrote for Warren Zevon's Exciteable Boy album, if you doubt me.) In fact, I've decided that my summer project -- in the company of my old garage band chums The Weasels, if they're agreeable -- is to record a cover of this, with the annoying "What a Fool Believes" piano riffage replaced by Keith Richards' style rhythm and chiming power pop guitar stuff. I'll keep you posted as this develops.

Incidentally, an old (now sadly departed) pal of mine was a comedian and piano player (Lewis Black's musical director in the early 80s) who used to do a hilarious bit stringing together every damn hit song -- of which there were approximately a zillion -- that featured the "What a Fool Believes" piano. Mercifully, I seem to have forgotten most of them, with the hellish exception of "Steal Away" by Robbie Dupree.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Video Roundup

[As I've said in previous installments, it is perhaps a wonderful testament to the essential goodness of human nature that there are still publicists at various video companies who continue to send new product to an undeserving scribbler at an obscure blog. Herewith, then, in an attempt to justify this largesse, are my thoughts on a couple of the more interesting cinematic artifacts to have crossed my desk of late; unless otherwise noted, I viewed them all on DVD. -- S.S.]

1. The Hateful Eight (2016, Anchor Bay, Blu-ray)

I absolutely lurved the last two Quentin Tarantino flicks, which were basically brilliantly over the top revenge fantasies in which, respectively, the Jews won WWII...

...and the slaves won the Civil War. So I had really high hopes for his latest, which, alas, merely recycles stuff from his earlier films with no discernable point and a palpable air of weary desperation. To be fair, star Kurt Russell is very good, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that large ambulatory slab of beef Channing Tatum can actually act. Also: the film is, in its outdoor scenes at least, pictorially lovely and Ennio Morricone's bracingly post-modernist score deservedly won the composer a long over-due Oscar. Other than that, I think the word for this is "meh." Anchor Bay's video transfer is gorgeous; there are some extras included, but frankly I couldn't care less. Your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for the film itself.

2. Phoenix (2014, The Criterion Collection)

And speaking of the Holocaust. Set in Germany just after WW II, director Christoph Petzold's latest collaboration with astounding actress Nina Hoss is, without giving anything away, a sort of cross between a meditation on the whole unpleasantness with the Final Solution (Hoss plays an Auschwitz survivor) and an homage to Hitchcock's Vertigo, i.e. a thriller with more on its mind than suspense. It's pretty much the best film I saw last year, and Criterion's characteristically superb video transfer does it full justice (the new English subtitles look particularly good). Extras include a revealing conversation between Petzold and Hoss and a more or less generic making-of doc.

3. The Manchurian Candidate (1962, The Criterion Collection, Blu-ray)

There's not much new to be said about John Frankenheimer's way ahead of its time Cold War thriller masterpiece, although for what it's worth, with the benefit of hindsight it's now obvious that if the film has a weak link, it's Frank Sinatra, who -- while mostly appropriately tortured as one of the GIs brainwashed by those perfidious Commies -- delivers line-readings that occasionally betray his membership in the Rat Pack. That aside, Criterion's brand new video transfer looks incrementally better than any other version I've seen, i.e. pretty fabulous. Extras include an audio commentary (from a previous 1997 Criterion release) featuring Frankenheimer, a brand new interview with star Angela Lansbury, still delightful at age 91, and a video essay by documentarian Errol Morris, who has very perceptive things to say about the film's cinematic innovations and its continued relevance to American politics in 2016.

4. The Easybeats: Easy Come, Easy Go (1968, Umbrella Entertainment)

Director Peter Clifton's documentary on the Easybeats' pilgrimage to London -- where among other things, the band recorded their classic world wide smash "Friday on My Mind" -- was assumed lost for several decades, so when it resurfaced in Australia a few years ago, it was greeted, rightly, as essentially the discovery of the Holy Grail of Australian rock. I'm a huge Easybeats fan -- and you should be too; these guys were right up there with the best of the Brit Invasion bands -- but the reality of the thing is that it's a moderately interesting period piece, with a very high Too Groovy for Words quotient. Still, there's a lot of terrific music in between the more calculatedly whimsical moments, including some fascinating scenes of the band working in the studio with genius producer Glyn Johns, who turns out to have been even cooler than I had previously assumed.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, Lucasfilm)

The good news: J.J. Abrams' reboot of George Lucas's Flash Gordon pastiche franchise gets the look and feel of Lucas's 70s originals down to the proverbial T. The bad news: J.J. Abrams' reboot of George Lucas Flash Gordon pastiche franchise gets the look and feel of Lucas's 70s originals down to the proverbial T. Which is to say, Abrams' Chapter VII is so slavishly detailed and accurate about recreating the whole Star Wars esthetic that his movie is essentially a remake of the 1978 first episode. That said, the film benefits from better acting than any other installment in the saga so far, and once Harrison Ford shows up, it's almost impossible not to get caught up in the charm of the thing, even if it is completely second hand. Bottom line, at best a reasonably diverting time waster. Bonuses include several zillion making of--documentaries, and apart from an actually interesting one featuring composer John Williams I can't think of a reason to bother watching them any of them ever again.

6. Bad Influence (1990, Shout Factory, Blu-ray)

A sort of Bush I era remake of Strangers on a Train. James Spader, who really was the most interesting young American actor around when this was made, and Rob Lowe are very good in, respectively, the Farley Granger and Robert Walker roles (Lowe surprisingly so) and the whole thing is twisty enough to be diverting. But the characters as written are paper thin and in the end this is just another okay psycho-sexual yuppie thriller of the period (exemplars of which are too numerous to mention; if you want to see one that's actually great, check out Nick Kazan's unjustly forgotten Dream Lover, also with Spader, from 1993). Director Curtis Hanson, of course, went on to better things with L.A. Confidential. Shout Factory's print and video transfer are first-rate; the sole bonus feature is an interview with screenwriter David Koepp.

Have a great weekend everybody -- regular musically themed postings resume on Monday.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Your Thursday Moment of Compare and Contrast: Special America's National Pastime Edition

From 1982, and the great Live at Bedrock single, please enjoy the incomparable Bruce Springstone and his take on the venerable "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

And from 2016, and their just released Holy Ghost album, here's post-emo faves Modern Baseball and "Wedding Singer."


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Your Wednesday Moment of Phoning It In: Special Top of the World, Ma! Edition

Jimmy Cagney in White Heat -- a movie that has my favorite screen finale ever.

True fact: In the 70s, I was in a garage bar band named Cody Jarrett, after Cagney's character in this movie. We'd open our shows with the clip below and then go directly into a really loud version of "Street Fighting Man."

Play the two clips back to back and see -- it's fun!!!

Cue SCTV's Farm Film Report.

"That blowed up real good!"

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When I Grow Up

[Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beach Boys' landmark "Pet Sounds" album. Better late than never, then, here's a slightly rejiggered version of a Beach Boys piece I originally did here in '06, back when the world and this blog were young. I first wrote it as a comment in response to something NY Mary had written -- she was a bit puzzled that I rated the group so highly -- so it's a little rough around the edges. I stand by every word of it, however. Enjoy! -- S.S.]


I must confess I find it a little odd to be writing this -- the Beach Boys music is pretty much my lingua franca, and the idea that they need defending feels weird to me given how much I love them (although I understand your skepticism, at least in the abstract. After all, Mike Love is a humongous dick).

In any event, here's why I think they deserve respect from
mere mortals like you and me.


1. They invented an instantly recognizable sound of their own,one that practically defines a genre. Very few rock artists can make that claim. (Chuck Berry with "Johnny B Goode", The Byrds with "Tambourine Man," the Ramones, and maybe U2). That alone should guarantee the Beach Boys immortality.

2. What Raymond Chandler did for California in prose the Beach Boys did in music. They reflected a place and a time and made a kind of poetry out of it. They were not fake.

3. Five part harmonies, astoundingly gorgeous. And Brian's conception -- mating progressive jazz voicings a la the Four Freshman with classic doo-wop -- was totally unique. Here's a 1965 live clip that proves the point -- and if this a capella version of the Freshman's "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" doesn't put a lump in your throat, you need to check your meds.

4. From their inception in the early 60s, they were pretty much the only self-contained rock band in America. Wrote all their own songs, produced their own records. Who else was doing that?

5. They were a kick-ass live act. If you doubt it, listen to "Beach Boys Concert," get a video of their closed-circuit show from '64, or find "The TAMI Show" video, in which -- performing on the same bill with the Stones, James Brown and most of the Motown acts, they tear the audience to shreds. Carl Wilson was a killer surf guitarist, and the rhythm section was as good as anybody in rock at the time.

Here's their British TV debut on Top of the Pops -- from 1964, totally live versions of "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up."

6. Contrary to myth, they were not white bread at all. Carl and Dennis Wilson were as soulful singers in the r&b sense as anybody else working in the mid-Sixties. And that includes Stevie Winwood or Felix Cavliere.

7. The car and surf songs are actually quite brilliant. Who else ever conceived of writing love songs to a carburetor? And has any rock song ever conveyed as much sheer teenage elan as "Fun Fun Fun" or "I Get Around"?

8. Brian's best songs from the early period anticipate the confessional singer/songwriter LA genre. "Don't Worry Baby" may be as nakedly emotional and self-revealing as anything Joni Mitchell ever wrote. Ditto "Warmth of the Sun" or "In My Room" or "When I Grow Up."

9. The albums that preeceed the sainted "Pet Sounds" and "Smile" are masterpeices. "The Beach Boys Today," Brian's first real studio concept album, is a mind-boggler; "When I Grow Up" isn't even the best song on it (try "Don't Hurt My Little Sister" or the astounding Sinatra goes r&b of "The Back of My Mind" sung by Dennis). It's every bit as good as "Rubber Soul." in terms of consistency and melodic invention. The follow-up --"Summer Days and Summer Nights," of which "California Girls" is simply the icing on the cake, is even better -- it's every bit Brian's "Revolver." He never used the studio more impressively than "Let Him Run Wild" or emulated the Beatles with the riffy brilliance of "Girl Don't Tell Me."

10. The album that follows the sainted "Pet Sounds" and "Smile" is another masterpiece. "Wild Honey" is one of the handful of great white r&b albums of the period, and if you doubt it check out the title song or Carl's gorgeous reading of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her." And in it's back to basics way, it's very much of a piece with the Beatles "White Album."

I could go on about the Beach Boys early 70s output -- you could make a fabulous comp album with songs like "Marcella" (one of their best ever rockers), "This Whole World" (Brian's canniest pocket symphony), "All I Wanna Do"(the most glorious use of reverb in history), "Bluebirds Over the Mountain" (progressive rockabilly, if you can believe it), "Do It Again" and any number of others up through "Trader" on HOLLAND.

The decline after that was appalling, to be sure, but you get my point....the Beach Boys have a huge body of really transcendent work, and Brian wasn't the only big talent in the band.

Have I mentioned that Mike Love is a humongous dick?

[NYM replies: I have actually reconsidered my position in light of Steve's arguments. I expect my attitude was based on limited knowledge and access, plus coming up in the later, crazy Brian days. But I've listened more carefully now, and I see what Steve sees. Also, the fact that he did the Barenaked Ladies' "Brian Wilson" in concert tickles me no end and speaks to a healthy self-image and sense of humor.]

Monday, May 16, 2016

And So You See...Ennui!

Had a very long, exhausting weekend.

Regular posting -- including that video round-up I've been threatening (running on Wednesday -- swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster!!!) -- resumes tomorrow.