Sunday, September 30, 2007

No Snark Sunday Blogging

My review of the new Bruce Springsteen album will be up at the website of The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review late tomorrow or early Tuesday.

In the mean time, here's Bruce and company doing their explicitly anti-war thing on the Today Show Friday.

What a fucking tragedy it is that he actually had to write it....

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday Night Glam Blogging

I'm a sucker for the lesser known denizens of the glam rock era and Alvin Stardust, at least in the States, fits that bill in spades. As Shane Fenton, he had a couple of hits in England with his band The Fentones. He hit in 1961 with I'm a Moody Guy and then again in 1962 with Cindy's Birthday. By the mid-sixties the band was no more and Shane soldiered on until the early 70s when he recast his musical persona as the brooding, dangerous, Alvin Stardust. Think of a homicidal Elvis '68 impersonator as imagined by David Lynch. As Alvin, he immediately scored a number 2 hit in England in November of 1973 with this nifty slab of glam rockabilly, My Coo Ca Choo. Alvin went on to have five more hit singles in England, but he remains a total obscurity here in the States.

Here's Alvin in all his menacing glory. Also, here's hopin' you have a great weekend with your own Coo Ca Choo!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Weekend Listomania (Total Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are off to our nation's capital. It seems the Antiques Roadshow folks will be in town, and I'm taking my dear friend Senator Larry Craig's autographed Tom of Finland posters over to be appraised. So posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a few days until we return.

In the meantime, here's a little brain teaser for you all:

Best Pop/Rock Band/Artist Whose Records are in a Language Not Their Own -- Usually (But Not Necessarily) English!!!
(Wow, I think that's the longest headline for one of these things yet).

Okay -- my totally top of my head Top Six.

6. ABBA [Sweden] -- Incomparable pop confections rendered with endearingly goofy accents. (My skinny tie band used to do a killer cover of their SOS -- unaccented, of course).

5. The Outsiders [Holland] -- An amazing band who by rights should be mentioned in the same breath as the Stones or Byrds. Absolutely world class stuff.

4. Los Bravos [Spain] -- Their "Black is Black" sounds just like Gene Pitney -- who knew they were Latins? (Oh wait -- according to Wiki, the lead singer was German. Weirder by the minute).

3. Laibach [Slovenia] -- Politico/conceptual weirdo provocateurs extraordinaire. Their Sympathy for the Devil album consists of seven different deeply distrubing/annoying versions of the Stones song.

2. Magma [France] -- These guys invented their own language for a series of prog-rock concept albums about outer space. Some people actually like them, I'm told, including the always perverse Johnny Rotten.

and last (and obviously) not least --

1. Shocking Blue [Holland]

I really love these guys, and not just because lead singer Mariska Veres (who died last year, alas) had the cuts-like-a-knife vocal moves of Grace Slick as well as a rather smoldering sex appeal (she was a full blooded Gypsy, actually). More important, guitarist/songwriter/producer Robbie van Leeuwen was a gifted pop craftsman with a real ear for the three minute pop single; it's no accident that World's Greatest Rock Critic Greil Marcus was an early fan, as was Kurt Cobain (Nirvana covered SB's "Love Buzz" on their very first album). If you're curious about them, there's a terrific two CD set which collects all their singles (A and B sides) and I highly recommend it.

Incidentally, just about every note they ever recorded is currently available on import CDs -- with the notable exception of their 1973 "Live in Japan" album, which I've been trying to hear now for three decades without success. If any of our Dutch readers cares to burn me a copy, I''ll be their best friend forever.

Anyway -- who's your choice?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

An Early Clue to the New Direction

From Holland, it's Shocking Blue, 1970, and the haunting "Never Marry a Railroad Man."

Most folks think they were one-hit wonders, but actually they had scads of hits outside the US. Of course, Robbie van Leeuwen, the band's genius songwriter-guitarist-producer could give a shit what most people think, considering that he's been able to live like a king all these years off the royalties to "Venus," which has probably been used in more TV ad campaigns than any song of the last forty years.

More important, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who gleans the video's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

After Hours on Pico Boulevard

Somebody was asking for some Peter Case?


BTW -- you may not want to click the link for the Wiki entry; it features what just may be the most hideously unflattering Portrait of the Artist ever digitzed.

Skinny Ties Rule

Someday when I have a little more energy I'm gonna post something at length about Tom Robinson. In the meantime enjoy "2-4-6-8-Motorway."

Robinson really is one of the great lost figures of the early punk/New Wave era. Did the Clash almost one better by being as relevant as all get out and yet all over the radio (at least in England). A terrific songwriter AND a righteous dude.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jewing Me, Jewing You

The Phil Spector jury has delivered a mistrial. In its honor, we present perhaps Phil's strangest collaboration ever.

Words fail me on this one....

A Wednesday Quickie

I've been meaning to post this one for ages, for no other reason than I think the song is just cute as a button.

Velocity Girl's "Sorry Again."

Remember when if a band was on SubPop they were cool by definition?

Good times....

Garage Bands of the Gods

Okay kids, this is the way we oldtimers used to enjoy the rock and roll.

Yes, you're listening to the actual 45 of The Gestures' "Run, Run, Run," scratches and all, just as you would have back in 1964. None of that transferred-to-CD crap.

We bring it up -- and we swear this is the last post about something Paul Westerberg related for the forseeable future -- because it's one of a bunch of garage rock classics (some obscure, some less so) that made the cut in this very interesting list from the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages of Minnesota's Fifty Greatest Hits.

In the article Peter Jesperson (who discovered the Replacements) describes it thusly:

"The band was from Mankato, the single went to #1 locally and Top 50 nationally in the summer of 1964 (even got a spin on American Bandstand!) and sold over 100,000 copies. Sure, there were bigger hits by local groups of that era, but "Run, Run, Run" was the one for me--an exciting and dynamic arrangement, just the right amount of reverb, great harmonies, fabulous drumming, and a knockout guitar solo. Even the hint of a fake British accent on the word "Baby" was cool. A perfect rock 'n' roll single."

Less, shall we say, frenetic songs in the survey include a lovely Leo Kottke twelve-string guitar instrumental and Lipps Inc.'s ubiquitous "Funkytown," but the whole thing is well worth checking out, even if you didn't grow up down the block from Prince.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bastards of Young

And speaking as we were yesterday of Paul Westerberg, here's a trailer for First Avenue: Heyday, a music documentary I'd really like to see.

Every generation gets its own Cavern Club, apparently, and in the mid-80s First Avenue in Minneapolis hosted the likes of the Replacements, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks and (my personal cult favorite) Trip Shakespeare (a coveted PowerPop No-Prize to the first reader who can tell us the connection between TS and the folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000).

Why isn't this on DVD?

Morning World Music

Here's a cool track from the Atlantics, who are primarily known in Australia as that country's premier surf instrumental group. They scored a massive number one hit with their classic of the genre Bombora in 1963. As the surf craze died down in the mid-sixties they picked up lead singer Johnny Rebb and proceeded to release a number of singles over the next few years that covered a wide range of musical ground from folk rock to tough R&B, but it was not until 1967 that they released this scorching addition to the 60s garage/punk canon, Come On.

Yep, Johnny Rebb is the dude with the incredible hair helmet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Oh Those Wacky Internets!

Got involved in a conversation about Phil Ochs this morning over at the Crack Den. In attempting to learn whether he had had his legs broken by anti-Allende forces in Chile (he didn't, or if he did it didn't make his Wiki entry), I found this totally weird piece of infomation:
In October 1970, he performed with Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and the Canadian band Chilliwack at the first Greenpeace Benefit Concert, organized to raise funds to send a ship to protest a planned underground hydrogen bomb test by the US at the Aleutian island of Amchitka.

Chilliwack? Seriously? This Chilliwack?


As Good As It Gets

Paul Westerberg on Saturday Night Live back in '93.

I remember watching this from a barstool when it first aired and thinking "That's what rock n roll is supposed to look and sound like."

Not the Nirvana Song...

...but possibly the most annoying video in rock history.

And to think Peter Wolf was actually married to Faye Dunaway for a while.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Across the Universe

I was expecting to hate it. Hell, I was planning to hate it.

To my utter surprise, it's actually quite moving. Visually amazing, as well, although that part isn't a surprise; Julie Taymor really is a bit of a genius, as it turns out. Of course, T-Bone Burnett, who supervised the music, most of which is exquisite, is the real hero of the piece.

I was hoping that the gospel version of "Let It Be" was on YouTube, but while we're waiting this clip gives you a pretty fair idea of what the film is like.

Obviously, this is gonna be a real pop culture Rorschach Test....

Postscript: I seem to have read somewhere that the studio mucked with Taymor's edit; don't know if it's true, but the happy ending does feel totally tacked on. Has any reviewer noticed?

Another postscript
: My former colleague Maitland McDonagh -- one of the sharpest film critics wearing shoe leather -- nails the movie here.

Oh, Fer Cute!

Clicking around various videos on YouTube, I went looking for my favorite song off The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema. Most of the clips are live and feature drunks screaming "Hey LA! Hey LA! Hey LA!"--quite dismaying. But this video is the album track with a very cute little film made by some high school students. Maybe it's the insomnia speaking, but I found this really adorable.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Bad Day Blogging

Well, no habeas corpus and a meaningless vote on an ad, but you can always take comfort that no one calls you Ginger Balls.

Unless, of course, they do. If that's the case, well, I'm sorry, man.

Weekend Listomania (Give 'Em Enough Rope Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are booked on a flight to Las Vegas, where we will be having a clandestine rendezvous with some vendors of possibly suspect sports memorabilia. Hop-Sing tells me one of the dealers starred in the Naked Gun movies, so naturally I'm beside myself with the thought of meeting that silver fox Leslie Nielsen. In any case, posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic until we return.

In the meantime, here's a little puzzler for you:

Worst Album Ever Made by a (Theoretically) Important Pop/Rock Artist!!!!!!

You know -- an album so skull-crushingly annoying and/or stupid that it's very existence is an assault on human dignity. Or else one that just sorta sucks in a "what where they thinking?" kind of way.

My totally top of my head Top Seven:

7. Elvis Costello -- Almost Blue (Almost dreck is more like it)

6. U2 -- Zooropa (Note to Bono, the Edge, et al: If you feel the overwhelming need to totally reinvent yourself, break up and start a new band)

5. Bob Dylan -- Self Portrait (although the version of "The Boxer," where Dylan duets with himself in his protest era and "Nashville Skyline" voices is pretty funny)

4. Elvis Presley -- Having Fun With Elvis on Stage (I know it's shooting fish in a barrel, but still...)

3. Lou Reed -- Metal Machine Music (ditto)

2. Paul McCartney -- just about any record he made from the late 70s till now (although the current album is kind of cute)

and last but not least --

1. Guns N' Roses -- Use Your Illusion I and II

Why does UYI suck? Well, for starters, the songs seem endless (see "November Rain," whose nine minutes feel more like ninety). The production's a subaquatic mess. Axl's vocals, when they're not so over the top they sound like a Jim Brewer parody, suggest the yowlings of a meth-crazed ferret but without the charm. Slash's vaunted guitar moves are mostly anemic sounding and/or cliche squiggles (Slash, you're no Johnny Thunders if you know what I mean). And the overall theme and feel of the thing is best described as a gigantic pre-adolescent temper tantrum; it's less the sound of a band than that of a bratty two year old banging on a highchair. In short, UYI is awful on multiple levels, with numerous demerits added for the chutzpah of releasing it as seperate albums rather than a double (and we all know that as a rule most double albums suck).

So -- over to you, kids. What's your worst?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You're Soaking In It

From 1991, here's America's Sweethearts Guns N' Roses, with their epic power ballad "November Rain" (from Use Your Illusion).

A coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who divines its relevance to tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

NYC Power Poppers Take Note!

Philly's Milton and the Devils Party are traveling again, and will be in the Big Apple next week. Here are the particulars:

Monday, September 24
Fat Baby
112 Rivington St. (lower east side, between Ludlow and Essex)
New York City
8 p.m.

The Present Day Garage Band Refuses to Die

Alert readers will recall that last week I posted a clip of a relatively obscure Flying Burrito Brothers tune and opined that "The eighth-note feel makes it almost seem like a proto-New Wave song, something these guys -- about whom much more in a post tomorrow -- noticed and made explicit in a terrific cover back in '93."

Even more alert readers (perhaps those on crack cocaine -- hey, you know who you are!) will recall that tomorrow came and went (due to the pressures of the Jewish holiday) without such a post.

So...better late than never, here they are, the Pride of Springfield, Missouri -- the fabulous Skeletons!

If you don't know them, the deal is that they're essentially an American version of Rockpile, but with way more catholic taste; if there's a cool song in just about any rock related genre from rockabilly to girl group to Brit Invasion to punk, they not only know it but can play the bejeezus out of it (especially roots-rock guitarist extraordinaire D. Clinton Thompson, as you can tell from the video). They've been at it in various incarnations (including a stint as the Morrells) now for close to thirty years, releasing scads of brilliant singles and albums, including an astounding one where they backed up downtown alt-rock chanteuse Syd Straw. Just how great are they? Suffice it to say, if I was throwing a party and I could afford to hire any band in the world, I'd hire these guys, and I say that as someone cognizant of the fact that NRBQ is still doing business.

You can find more about them here and let me just add that if anybody wants to get me the Morrells album shown on the right for my birthday, I wouldn't say no.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Today's Noise is Tomorrow's Hootenanny!

One of the sharpest rock critics currently working has come up against an interesting pop cultural phenomenon: a lot of apparently reasonable people are saying the Beatles weren't really very good.

From TNR Online this week:

I Have to Hide My Love Away? Help!
by David Browne

In case you hadn't heard, the Beatles blow. They're overrated lightweights who aren't as influential as certain pivotal punk bands, and they're to blame for all that soft rock commemorated in the latest Time Life Music infomercial. And those Sgt. Pepper costumes are, let's face it, cornier than any boy-band outfit of the '90s.

Of course, what you have heard and already know is that Beatle-bashing is as old as the Beatles' music itself: They've been derided by everyone from Lou Reed to incensed Christians. Lately, though, rampant Beatle-dissing has taken on an intensity and force it never had before. The impetus for much of it has been the fortieth anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which produced not only the expected media nostalgia wave but a storm of revisionist thinking. And the backlash will only grow louder when Julie Taymor's eye roll-inducing movie musical "Across the Universe" arrives on September 14.

In a New York Times op-ed, no less a pop classicist than Aimee Mann admitted she loved the album as a child but now feels it's missing "emotional depth," that "John Lennon's melodies feel a bit underwritten while Paul McCartney's relentless cheerfulness is depressing." On Salon, rock writer Gina Arnold weighed in, "There's a number of current bands that you can say, 'These guys like Sgt. Pepper,' but they're oddballs, like the Polyphonic Spree." So the album's legacy amounts to a bunch of toga-clad, faux-cheery ironists: Ouch.

Simultaneously, the Internet burst with "Beatles are overrated" threads that went to the heart of the band itself. "When you really think about it, they were a good but not great pop band," wrote a Slate letter writer: "A little lite [sic] and fluffy, a bit quirky, but not much else," and certainly, the writer added, not nearly as good as the Stones, the Clash, Jeff Buckley, or Radiohead. On the same page, another reader argued that Beatle music "has not aged well" and that their influence "has been limited to soft pop acts and perhaps Oasis." Others called their music irritating--or, in the words of a 27-year-old writing to Salon, "a bore, a relic, and decidedly tame."

Wow. Holy Revisionism, Batman.

Actually, I've been aware of the tendency Browne's describing at least since the mid-90s and the release of the "Anthology" sets, but my feeling has always been that anybody who says they don't like the Beatles is just being difficult. On the other hand, from what I've seen of the Taymor movie, I can also understand somebody not wanting to hear a Beatles song again for as long as they live.

In any case, you can read the rest of Browne's interesting take here.

Postscript: Sir Paul played disc jockey on the BBC yesterday. You can hear the show here. Turns out he likes Radiohead and the Killers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nashvegas Confidential

And speaking as we were downstairs about alt-country meeting the British Invasion, here's a fantastic six-minute promo film that answers the musical question: Who is Webb Wilder?

You can find out more about the self-proclaimed Last of the Full Grown Men here, but suffice it to say that nobody has come up with a better synthesis of Hank Williams, the Beatles and Andrei Tarkovsky. It is also worth noting that Webb does by far the best cover version of The Flamin' Groovies "Slow Death" ever committed to the digital domain; you can hear an excerpt from it if you scroll down on the page here.

Reckless Country Souls

Among the many mysteries of the cosmos -- the Meaning of Life, the nature of God, or just what is the secret formula that makes Orange Julius so devilishly delicious? -- few are more irksome than this: Why the hell didn't Jason and the Scorchers ever become the biggest band on the fricking planet?

That 1983 Scorchers cover of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" was pretty much my favorite single track in what I recall as a pretty good year for music, and to my ears it still sounds as fresh as paint lo these twenty-four years later. Seriously...Gram Parson's high lonesome sound crossed with a ferocious punk attack and guitar histrionics worthy of Pete Townshend and Keith Richards -- what, as they say, is not to like?

In any case, even though the band never achieved the world domination that was clearly their due, one thing is certain: alt-country begins here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mains: Les Mains du Destin

Hey, screw that Brit Jerry Springer musical that's finally coming to Broadway.

I want to see this!

Yes, that's a trailer for Manos: The Rock Opera of Fate and yes, it's a new theatrical extravaganza based on everybody's favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 turkey. For those of you lucky enough to live in the vicinity of the Windy City, it will be playing Friday and Saturday nights, at 11 pm, September 28 through November 3, at the National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway in Chicago. Tickets are $15 dollars and can be purchased by calling 312-458-9083 or through the New Millennium Theatre Company website.

A trivia note: the title of the original movie is Manos: The Hands of Fate. For those of you who don't speak Spanish, the word "manos" means hands. Thus the actual title of the film is Hands: The Hands of Fate.

Thought you'd like to know.

They Walk Among Us

Hmm...somebody I know has a big birthday coming up. Who am I thinking of?

Oh my gosh -- it's me!!!!

Almost a decade in the making, Big Beat UK is very proud to finally announce the release of The Zombies' "Into The Afterlife". A natural sequel to our acclaimed best-selling box set "Zombie Heaven", this compilation is essentially "what they did next". The Zombies split in April 1968 upon the completion of their masterwork "Odessey & Oracle". Songwriters Rod Argent and Chris White busied themselves forming a production company, whilst the other band members, including lead singer Colin Blunstone, depressed by the lack of recognition for "Odessey", retreated back to 'civvy street'.

Throughout 1968 Chris and Rod demo'ed their new material with an embryonic version of what would become the group Argent. The best of these experimental recordings are included on "Into The Afterlife" and as with the Zombies, the songs and performances are better than most other groups' regular releases. Meanwhile, Colin Blunstone had been romanced back into the studio by producer Mike Hurst and, under the nom-de-disque of Neil MacArthur, made three excellent singles including a revamp of 'She's Not There' that hit the UK Top 40 in 1969. All nine sides recorded by Colin in this period are featured and include his fabulous interpretations of Nilsson's 'Without Her', Billy Vera's 'Don't Try To Explain' and the Buffalo Springfield's 'Hung Upside Down', the latter previously unreleased.

As a special bonus, the disc contains special mixes of Zombies material that showcase the orchestral overdubs that were added for their aborted RIP project, plus a rare vintage live cut. Over half of "Into The Afterlife's" contents is unissued, and indeed, ninety percent has never appeared on CD before. Add to that detailed notes that clarifies this murky yet fascinating period in the group's history and this becomes a worthy addition to the perfectly-formed discography of the Zombies.

This is, of course, wonderful news, the Zombies being as damn near close to power pop perfection as any sentient mammals have ever come. And if it's on Big Beat, I guarantee the album is first class all the way. (After "Zombie Heaven" came out, a publicist at Rhino -- theoretically, the world's premier reissue label -- was famously quoted as saying "I'm really glad it's on Big Beat -- we wouldn't have done it as well.")

Meanwhile, here's an MP3 from the set -- Colin Blunstone's
gorgeous cover version
of "Hung Upside Down." In a word -- wow.

Have I mentioned that I have a birthday coming up?

[h/t Eric C. Boardman]

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bringing It All Back Home

Back from the big DC Peace March.

Some of my friends from Eschaton were good enough to accompany me to the Vietnam Memorial. Thanks to NTodd (who nudged me to do the right thing), Culture of Truth, and everybody else for being there.

Rest in Peace Richard Irving Brenner, 1947-1969.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Weekend Listomania (The Dreaded Second Album Edition)

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means.

Actually, in this case, it means a temporary break from snarky stories about the various vaguely disturbing things I may be doing with my Oriental manservant. In reality, I'm getting ready to join the Eschaton contingent -- and that means some of you guys, hooray!! -- in the big End the War march in DC on Saturday. So posting will be sporadic for a while, but this time for legitimate (heck, really important) reasons.

Anyway -- in my absence, here's a little diversion for you all.

Sophomore Albums That Surpassed (Artistically) The Really Good Debut Albums That Preceded Them!!!

You know the cliche -- you have your entire life to write your first album, and then you have six months to write your second, which is why a lot of followup albums disappoint. Perhaps the most obvious example is Pretenders II; an estimable work with some terrific songs, but small beer compared to the epochal first one. (More recently, think of the second Hootie and the Blowfish album, or rather, please don't think of it, as Hootie kind of sucks. Although Fairweather Johnson was a really great title...)

In any event, what do you think are the albums that best avoided the sophomore slump?

Submitted for your approval, my Top Seven would be......

7. MC5 -- Back in the USA

6. The Beatles -- With the Beatles

5. Marah -- Kids in Philly

4. Buffalo Springfield -- Buffalo Springfield Again

3. The Who -- A Quick One

2. Bruce Springsteen -- The Wild, the Innocent and the
E-Street Shuffle

and last but definitely not least....

1. Elvis Costello -- This Year's Model

Go to it, kids.

[Kudos and huzzahs to constant commenter tmink, who guessed today's theme on the basis of just one fairly innocuous (I thought) clue. Your coveted No-Prize is in the mail, pal.]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good Yontiff!

Okay, in honor of the Jewish New Year, here's Elvis Costello (in classic spastic Jerry Lewis mode) and the Attractions in the official 1978 promo film for "Pump It Up," from the still astonishing This Year's Model.

A coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded the first reader who divines the clip's relevance to the theme of the forthcoming Friday edition of Weekend Listomania.

Slacker Thursday

Okay, it's Rosh Hashanah, so the post I promised yesterday on these guys will not appear till next week.

Okay, Rosh Hashanah has nothing to do with it -- I'm just jammed up.


Surf's Up!

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced its selection of individuals to receive the Kennedy Center Honors Award for 2007 and I was happy to see Brian Wilson named as an honoree this year. The Center's press release describes him as "rock and roll's gentlest revolutionary, and the songs he wrote for The Beach Boys have been among the most joyfully influential and exhilarating vibrations in the history of music in our time. There is real humanity in his body of work, vulnerable and sincere, authentic and unmistakably American."

Other honorees include pianist Leon Fleisher, actor and writer Steve Martin, singer Diana Ross, and film director Martin Scorsese. The gala will be broadcast on CBS on Wed., Dec. 26 at 9pm (EST).

Not much to say about Brian except that I can think of very few artists whose music puts a lump in my throat regardless of how many times I hear one of their songs.

Insert Salad Dressing Joke Here

Full disclosure: I have long suspected that idiosyncratic carrot-tressed singer/songwriter Tori Amos might be a little, uh, goofy, if you know what I mean. But this version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is fricking brilliant.

Really -- transforming an angsty grunge guitar assault into a Joni Mitchell-esque confessional piano ballad is, how you say, a conceptual masterstroke. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say that in the face of an accomplishment of that magnitude, who cares that Tori's 1992 Crucify EP (featuring the studio version of the Cobain song) has a cover photo of the artiste in which she's nude save for a necklace made out of what appear to be wild scallions? I mean, c'mon -- really, who?

It is perhaps also worth noting that the aformentioned EP also includes a slightly less audacious but equally effective voice and piano version of the Rolling Stones' "Angie".

What she wore to the recording session -- no man can say!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

His Pretty Face Is Going to Hell

Wow -- this one took me by surprise. The classic lineup of the Flying Burrito Brothers (circa early '69) with Gram Parsons doing Gram's fiendishly catch "Older Guys." And carrying on like they think they're in A Hard Days Night, to boot.

From the way Gram's mincing around here, I think it's safe to assume he'd begun hanging around with the Stones by this point. Sheesh, he's got eye makeup on, for crying out loud.

The song itself is one of the more obscure Burrito's tracks, and in many ways it's the closest they ever came to pop. The eighth-note feel makes it almost seem like a proto-New Wave song, something these guys -- about whom much more in a post tomorrow -- noticed and made explicit in a terrific cover back in '93.

The Big Throwdown

Two words: Jack Black.

Yup, his star-making performance in the wonderful film adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.

In case you haven't seen it -- and you definitely should, as it's a touching and very funny look at the sort of pop obsessives who write blogs like this one -- the joke of the scene is that in the course of the story Black's character threatens to front the most obnoxious avant-garde-indie-rock-unlistenable-noise-band of all time -- the aptly named Sonic Death Monkey -- at some horrible gig his friends would be obligated to attend. Except it turns out that all along he's been channelling Marvin Gaye (and brilliantly at that -- yes, that's Black doing the vocals).

Really, it's a fabulous piece of work, not to mention a meditation on Fran Lebowitz's famous dictum that you should never make decisions about one's life based on the lyrics to popular songs. For obvious reasons, I relate to it like crazy. In fact, pretty much the only difference between me and the character played in the movie by Jon Cusack is that I never got to sleep with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

PS: I completely forgot I reviewed the flick for TVGuide. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sirens of the 60s, Part Deux

Riffing off Steve's post on the lovely Evie Sands, it made me think of another decidedly more obscure 60s chanteuse and I just had to check out YouTube immediately. Callooh! Callay! There was a video!

I was thinking of 60s mod icon Sharon Tandy who waxed one of the crown jewels of freakbeat fandom with her legendary tune Hold On which featured the scorching backing of pop sike legends Les Fleur De Lys, who are probably best known for their smashing cover of the Who's Circles.

If you are interested, there's a nice career retro of Sharon's work on Big Beat. This tune is rather atypical of the majority of her 60s recorded work as she generally trafficked in blue-eyed soul and pop, although it is interesting to note that this disc also includes some tracks from a 1966 session at Stax where she was backed by Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the MG's.

The Loud Goodbye

For about a zillion reasons, not the least of which is the toxic level of pious sanctimony we'll be witnessing on TV all day today, I can't bring myself to comment on the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Thankfully, the Who -- seen here at the post 9/11 Concert for New York City, with the then not dead John Entwistle -- have no such constraints on them.

MSG-TV is airing the entire show tonight at 8pm East Coast time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh, How Cute Is That?

I received this note from Jon Sebastian, of The Color Wheels.

Poughkeepsie's husband-and-wife duo The Color Wheels have been playing together since 2003. "My then girlfriend Psalm asked me to teach her how to play the drums," explains Jon Sebastian, singer and guitarist. "Her first lesson quickly turned into our first band practice, and I immediately began writing songs for us to play."

After a string of demos and shows, the band recently entered the studio to record their first album. Behind the record's jangly guitars and sing-along melodies lies carefully crafted indie pop, and a tongue-in-cheek take on themes of awkward emergent adolescence.

Their new self-titled full-length album The Color Wheels is available now on Viper Bite Records.

Neko Case and Carl Newman used to have a stage shtick about being married: sucked in plenty of people, including me, maybe because it's such a nice idea. But apparently it's true in this case.

Jon's sending me a copy of their forthcoming CD; report to follow.

Oops She Did It Again

Apparently Britney Spears did something bad on TV last night. Or she's fat. Or something.

It might, then, be instructive, to see how another girl singer took care of business back in the day.

That's the great Evie Sands doing "I Can't Let Go," circa 1965. Evie should have been huge, but she had famously shit luck; although the song was written for her -- by Jon Voight's brother, Chip Taylor (who also wrote "Wild Thing") -- the Hollies better known version was the bigger hit. Same thing happened to her with the Taylor-penned "Angel of the Morning" and "Take Me For a Little While." Her one really big hit was with Taylor's "Anyway That You Want Me" in 1970; Rolling Stone called it the single of the year, but her career kind of fizzled after that.

In the late 90s she got back together with Taylor and started making music again; her 1999 comeback Women in Prison is a terrific mature singer-songwriter album -- a grownup woman making no bullshit music about somebody's real life.

Perhaps Britney ought to give it a listen....

The Modern Dance

From 1989, here's the amazing Pere Ubu with guests including Debbie Harry, doing a great live version of their sublime "Waiting for Mary."

The song, which is about as pop as they ever got -- note the similarities to the Stones' 1967 acid hootenanny "Sing This All Together" -- is from their quite wonderful "Cloudland" album.

The video, of course, is from the David Sanborn-hosted Night Music, still the best show of its kind ever on television. As you can glean from the roster of guests Sanborn introduces in the clip, the format was an hour of glorious genre-bending electicism on a weekly basis -- a big surprise, then, that it only lasted a season. Still, I don't know what's more remarkable -- the fact that Pere Ubu, the same band who made their name with ultra-abrasive avant garde sonic squalls like "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Final Solution" also recorded this charming bit of psychedelic whimsy, or the fact that a major network ever put a venturesome show like Night Music on the air.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

If We Can Take One More Birthday...

then spare a moment for the boy, who turns 8 today. And yes, this means his birthday is 9/9/99, which is very cool.

This is his favorite song, Seriously.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

They Say It's Your Birthday Part Trois

The goddess. Born this day in 1970.

Hey Neko -- once you've had a fat balding middle-aged jew, you never go back.....

[h/t Zap Rowsdower]

More Birthday Salutations!

More big Powerpop birthday greetings go out to hyper-talented Aimee Mann, born this day in 1960 in Midlothian, Virginia. Coincidentally, it is also the birthday of my lovely wife, who is also a huge Aimee fan. Happy Birthday sweetie! How's that for synergy? Cheers, lovely ladies!

Here's my fave Aimee tune from P.T. Anderson's either love it or hate it 1999 film Magnolia.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Big PowerPop Happy Birthday

To rock goddess Chrissie Hynde, who's 56 today. Woo Hoo!

According to Wikipedia, she's scheduled to open a vegetarian restaurant, VegeTerranean, in her hometown of Akron next weekend. Good on you, Chrissie!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Weekend Listomania (Prick Up Your Ears Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are off to Idaho, where we'll be weekend guests of Senator Larry Craig and his lovely beard wife. Anyway, posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a few days as I help the dear man pick out bathroom accessories.

In the meantime, here's a little project for you all:

The Worst Rock Concert/Show You Ever Sat Through!!!!!!

My carefully considered choice:

Rush -- Beacon Theater, New York City, sometime in the mid-70s, playing stuff like "Working Man."

(That clip is from much later, of course, but you get the idea).

A few caveats here. I don't detest Rush. They're obviously accomplished musicians, I have a sneaking fondness for some of their 80s stuff (I like "Limelight" -- so sue me), and of course, their work on the Bob and Doug McKenzie single "Take Off" is nothing short of genius.

When I saw them, however, they were still playing mostly turtle-tempoed heavy metal blues-based aural sludge, and when you factored in Geddy Lee's so-high-only-dogs-can-hear-him vocals, the overall effect was light years beyond cringemaking. The only aural equivalent I can think of would be the sound made by a medieval peasant having his eyes gouged out with a burnt stick.

Really, they were just skullcrushingly annoying. The only reason I didn't flee to the lobby was out of some misplaced sense of critical responsibility.

So -- what was your worst?

[a coveted PowerPop No-Prize to reader Half Glass Full, who guessed it at just about the last possible minute. Kudos and huzzahs, my friend!]

An Early Clue to the New Direction

Oh, dear lord -- here's Rush and their unbearably irksome mini-opera Bytor and the Snow Dog.

A coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who divines the clip's connection to tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Hint: It has nothing to do with Our Good Neighbors to the North per se, so ixnay on the Canuck jokes.

Why Did I Wait?

O.K., I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but I had a long drive over the holiday weekend and luckily, I slipped Brooklyn-based Locksley's Don't Make Me Wait from my "needs a listen" pile into my CD wallet for the trip.

Wow! Imagine the Strokes if they had suddenly been infected with a Merseybeat bug! Locksley's music has a crunchy alterno-buzz on the outside with a sticky-sweet pop inside that is a blast to listen to and totally infectuous. The title track is the main attraction here, and according to the group's bio it has been pretty hard to miss if you regularly watch the tube as it has already been featured in Payless and Starz Movie Channel ads since the album's release at the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, the song that had me hitting the "repeat" button over and over was the second track Let Me Know. Nothing else to say but this is classic powerpop that reminds me of the Rubinoos in their best moments.

Here's a neat clip of the group performing Let Me Know on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in March. You can pick up a copy of this cool disc at all the better music emporiums on the web such as Not Lame.

The Last of the Blonde Bombshells

And here's Debbie Harry and company and "Maria."

It's from their 1998 comeback album, and I think it's as good if not better than anything they did back in the day. Keyboard guy Jimmy Destri claims to have had the song lying around since high school, unlikely as that might sound.

As for the singer, I can only echo what Steve Forbert famously said about her.

"She sure is purty."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Guns Don't Kill People...

...oh, wait a minute. Actually they do.

From today's New York Times:

Musician Is Killed for Banging on a Door

DALLAS, Sept. 4 — A Texas rock musician was shot to death here early Monday by a neighbor who fired through a closed door, thinking he was scaring off a burglar.

The incident occurred just three days after a new law took effect strengthening the right of Texans to use deadly force to protect themselves and their property.

The musician, Jeffrey Carter Albrecht, 34, a keyboardist with Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians and the Dallas rock band Sorta, was shot in the head after he startled a man and his wife about 4 a.m. by pounding and kicking at their back door, the police said. Mr. Albrecht had just assaulted his girlfriend, who lives next door and had locked him out of her house, the police said.

The neighbor, who has not been identified by the police, was awakened by his wife’s screams that someone was breaking into their home, according to the police report. The man yelled for the person to go away, but when the pounding continued, he fired through the top of the door.

Mr. Albrecht, who was about 6-foot-5, was struck in the head.

Wow. You know, I hated that "What I Am" song as much as the next guy, but somehow this just doesn't seem right.

Stacks of Tracks

Breathes there a sentient mammal who does not believe that the Miracles "Tracks of My Tears" is as perfect a record as has ever been made?

Here's a clip that gives a few clues to how it happened. It starts with the song full blown, then cuts to the fabulous Funk Brothers (the Motown house band who provide the backing), then to the instrumentals plus the Miracles harmonies (allowing you to grok the gospel influence), and finally a fade out with just Smokey Robinson's solo vocal drenched in studio reverb, ghostly and beautiful.

This was the first Motown single I ever bought, BTW. Played it obsessively for weeks...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

All Aboard For the Heart of Darkness

I've been meaning to add a little postscript to the most recent Weekend Listomania, in which I waxed all Proustian about my first concert experience, but I've been conflicted about it because I didn't want to make a perhaps gratuitous political point.

Obviously, it's no secret that my co-bloggers and I are on the Left, but -- and I can't speak for KC or NYMary -- I for one have mostly tried to resist going all outraged and shrill here because (a) the name of the blog is PowerPop, not PissedOffLefty, and (b) I respect the feelings of one of our regular commenters, a guy who I consider to be that rarest of rare birds, i.e., a humane, principled conservative.

That said, I'm going to get on the soapbox here -- briefly.

In the story on Friday, I mentioned that I attended the concert in question in the company of my pal Richie Brenner. Richie was a big (really big) dumb (but incredibly sweet) jock who basically decided to be my bodyguard starting in 10th grade. Kept my dork self from a world of hurt, in other words. Anyway, after high school he barely managed to get accepted to some jerkwater forrestry school, but after he graduated in 1969, there was no chance he was going to be able to get into another college and a masters program, and thus continue to avoid the draft. Bottom line: Uncle Sam snapped him up immediately, he was summarily shipped off to Vietnam and within next to no time he was toast. Blown to bits at the age of 21.

Here's his entry at the Vietnam War Memorial, which, while I attend the anti-Iraq demo on the 15th, I really need to take the time to finally visit.

So what am I trying to say here, really? Simple -- that my friend Richie was, essentially, sent to his death for no more pressing reason than lousy grades.

And that if I ever hear another rightwing asshole attempt to justify that immoral, useless fucking war, and by extension Richie's death -- as our mongrel idiot never-served president attempted to do in a speech to the VFW last week -- I swear to god, I'm gonna take a hostage.

Well, No Shit









Apparently, it's news to somebody that a life of egregious excess takes its toll.

Rock stars more likely to die prematurely

LONDON (Reuters) - Rock stars -- notorious for their "crash and burn" lifestyles -- really are more likely than other people to die before reaching old age.

A study of more than 1,000 mainly British and North American artists, spanning the era from Elvis Presley to rapper Eminem, found they were two to three times more likely to suffer a premature death than the general population.

Between 1956 and 2005 there were 100 deaths among the 1,064 musicians examined by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.

As well as Presley, the toll of those dying before their time included Doors singer Jim Morrison, guitar hero Jimi Hendrix, T Rex star Marc Bolan and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

More than a quarter of all the deaths were related to drugs or alcohol abuse, said the study in the Journal of Epidemial Community Health.

"The paper clearly describes a population of rock and pop stars who are at a disproportionate risk of alcohol and drug related deaths," said Mark Bellis, lead author of the study.

Huh. Bellis thinks we shouldn't listen to rock stars when they tell us not to use drugs, because they're statistically unsafe.

Americans do worse than Brits, of course.

Bellis suggested that the high death rate among older American musicians could be related to the continent's greater appetite for reunion tours, exposing the artists for more years to an unhealthy "rock'n'roll" lifestyle.

It could also be due to the poor medical outlook for impoverished American ex-pop stars who have no health insurance, he said.

Powerpop guys, FWIW, tend to be pretty long-lived, despite their ascendancy during the decadence of the 1970's. I wonder why?

Keith Richards, as always, continues to defy the statistical likelihood that he will collapse into a heap of opiated dust.

h/t watertiger

Things That Make Me Go Oy Gevalt

Could this be the worst hit song of the 80s? All signs point to yes.

At the very least, I think we can agree that frontwoman/unindicted felon Rindy Ross was the lamest sax player in music history.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Scenes From the Wine Dark Sea

This will be old news to some of you, but I have been known to assert that all women -- past, present and future -- pale into insignificance compared to the beauty that is Xena, Warrior Princess.

The extraordinary sailing montage above is from an episode called "Destiny," in which Xena boinks Julius Caesar and gets crucified (literally) for her trouble. The music is an adaptation of an old celtic folk song by series composer Joseph LoDuca, which (for reasons too complicated to get into) never made it onto any of the Xena soundtrack CDs.

It's quite ethereally lovely, and the whole sequence strikes me as something edging perhaps perilously close (for TV at least) to the precipice of what you might call art; you really get a feeling for the vast, strange beauty of the ancient world. Of course, show producer Rob Tapert (who's married to Lucy Lawless, if memory serves) included it for no other reason than he's a big sailing enthusiast.

Back to Business: The Color Wheels

First, sorry for the relatively long silence: vacation, then the beginning of a semester, have left me with precious little free time. But things are in motion now, and I'm falling into something of a pattern. Also, the first season of Flight of the Conchords has ended, so that particular mania can rest for a bit. (Now, if I could sleep through the night, I'd be golden.)

One of the nifty things about having this blog is the sheer number of cool bands who send me emails asking me to check out their stuff. Not that I'm much of an opinion maker: our 200 hits a day make us slightly less influential than the dust bunnies under the bed. Still, what's the point of the internets if it's not to reach out and find the twelve people in the world who like what you like? (And don't say pornography, you nasty boys.)

In any case, I got a nice email from my fellow upstate NYers at Viper Bite Records, and one of their bands in particular really struck me. The Color Wheels seem to have captured that boy-girl vibe of the mid-90's alternative powerpop revival--think Velocity Girl or early New Pornographers--and married it to the kind of catchy, jangly stuff we love around here.

There's precious little info on them around, but they seem to be a two-person operation in the mode of the White Stripes (no idea if they come with all the interesting emotional baggage, however). The guy, Jon Sebastian of Poughkeepsie, seems crazy busy, almost Pollardesque, with two bands (the other is The Mirror Age) and solo work, too. The young woman, Psalm, is more mysterious--even her MySpace profile is secret. But the song "Green Means Go" is catchy as hell, and you can download it from MySpace or from iTunes. You'll thank me later. (And if The Color Wheels would like a proper write-up, they have only to drop me a line.)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Only Lovers Left Alive

There is, at least so far, no official video for the new Bruce Springsteen single "Radio Nowhere," but here's some fan's version and you can judge the song yourself.

I think it's an (almost) great piece of work, partly because it's a total break with the overheated street romanticism of his 70s stuff (compared to, say, "Badlands," this is a haiku), and partly because it's such a nice depiction of a post-Bush apocalyptic landscape via the metaphor of a late night disc jockey wondering if anybody's listening.

But what really struck me is the fact that there's a bit of a sexual subtext. Interesting in that Springsteen has never really been comfortable writing about the pleasures of the flesh. Love, sure -- boinking, no. I wonder why that is....

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Saturday 70s Top of the Pops Blogging

O.K., admit it, you like this song!

Here's Scottish one-hit wonder Pilot performing their 1974 top 20 hit Magic. To me, if you just replaced lead singer/bassist David Paton's voice with Pete Ham's and roughed the tune up a bit, you'd have yourself a Badfinger song.