Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Earlier Than Usual, In Fact Totally Mach Schnell, Clue to the New Direction

Just because it's so damned...Teutonic, for want of a more precise word.

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

[h/t Kerrin L. Griffith]

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Great Possibly Crappy B-Sides of the '70s: Tales That Witness Madness

Okay, here's a very sad and, frankly, very pathetic story that proves I really need to get more of a life. So please try not to laugh.

But first, from 1975, please try to enjoy the B-side blues/gospel/pop ballad confection "Believe in What You Do," by...well, I'm not going to tell you by who, for reasons that will become blindingly clear in a moment.

And now the backstory.

As I said, the song is from 1975; the singer is not a household word by any means, but the other side of the record was a world-wide multi-million selling smash that still gets played on oldies radio.

Said B-side has never appeared on any subsequent vinyl album or CD by the artist who recorded it; this is a recent (and annoyingly noisy) rip from a vintage 45.

The only reason I ever heard this one in the first place is because I was on the United Artists promo singles list back then, and for some perverse reason I always played the flips of records that were on the radio, on the off chance that there might be some buried treasure, as it were. To my ears, at the time, it sounded pleasantly like the kind of song Rod Stewart might have done before his artistic decline; it also sounded to me like a decent Eric Clapton tune, albeit sans guitar. In any event, I always liked it, especially the minimalist Floyd Cramer piano solo, and in fact at one point I may have tried to con my 70s band (we had a girl singer) into covering it.

I lost both my copy of the 45 and a low-fi cassette I duped from it during a house moving episode in the late 70s, and over the last several years I developed a frankly inexplicable jones to hear it again. More recently, I've tried without success to find a downloadable version anywhere on the intertubes. So I finally broke down two weeks ago and paid ten bucks to get a used copy from Amazon. Another fifteen bucks got me the lousy mp3 transfer I posted above.

To my surprise, the song still sounds as insinuating to me as it did at the time. On the other hand, I think there's an obvious reason why it's never been on any vinyl or CD compilation by the artist in question, and that's because -- wait for it -- it's not really all that interesting to anybody but me. I mean, given the (putting it charitably) sparseness of the production, I'd be very very surprised if the thing wasn't just some publishing demo that was rushed onto the flip when the producer/writer team behind both tracks sold the record company on the eventual A-side smash. Which doesn't sound remotely like the mystery tune, by the way.

Obviously, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who guesses the A-side title and, thus the singer as well.

So -- just to recap. For some reason, I became obsessed with a song that nobody else, including the artist, the producers or the songwriters, felt strongly enough about to ever even acknowledge its existence. And I then forked out 25 bucks that would have more profitably been spent on hookers and blow to hear it again, through a patina of crackle and turntable rumble.

Hey -- I said this was a sad and pathetic story. I didn't say it would be interesting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kinkdom Komes

Well, as you may have heard, the entire '60s album catalog of The Kinks is getting the deluxe reissue treatment via Sancturay/Universal this year, with The Kinks, Kinda Kinks and The Kink Kontrovery up first.

All of those are essential artifacts, of course, and of transplendent interest to anybody devoted to the genre which comprises this blog's raison d'etre. I myself, however, am pining in particular for the sublime 1966 Face to Face, which is due out in July. And not the least of the reasons are the following sleeve notes, from the original LP, which I have been looking for on the intertubes since forever, and which I reproduce now in full.

It has been said by mercenary-minded persons that upon setting out along life's road the bread, the filthy lucre of W. Shakespeare of highly regarded memory, would seem to be the thing to go for.

So if you accept the opinion of these aforesaid persons in the spirit in which it is given and get cracking you get the loot.

So what next?

So far on your passage through this vale of tears you have been a hick, a nothing and an unheralded nobody. To be a well respected man must be your next aim, and with the loot in your pocket and the wicked world being what it is, you become a well respected personage ere you know it.

Then comes dedication to the dictates of fashion. The Carnaby Street. The striped natty suiting. Touches of velvet upon the collar. Touches of lace upon the underwear.

And of course ties of polka dot and Persian-originated Paisley pattern.

Next? Country house, yacht, powered by sail and/or steam, with the motor car in lurid colour and with white walls to its wheels smiling in the golden gravel drive.

Ladies of course. Ladies with long legs and little bosom, hair the colour of corn, very mini, very skinny dresses. Status symbol ladies with rich dark sheen in the depths of the skin.

Dwindling in the end to one lady, one Special who gets in among the soul.

The trouble being that the perfect woman becomes a bore, like having Venus de Milo constantly upon one's hands.

So angry words are spoken, and she of golden hair and mini skirt, half woman, half thighs leaves. With car. Back to ma and pa. With tales of drunkeness and cruelty.

As if this is not enough, fate flings its last custard pie.

The taxman cometh.

And you are left with the glass of ice cold beer, and the sun on the uplands with dappled shadows and all, which is much better, as the poet has it, than a poke up the nostril with a burnt stick.

(Now read on).

Raymond Douglas Davies, a musician, not forgetting David, his hith and kin,

Peter Quaife, bass guitar who once wrote a story about an embarrasing affliction from which Ray's grandfather suffered for over forty years,

And Michael Avory, drummer and the possessor of four shoes, two for each foot,

have continued the story. And stories parallel to his sad one.

About the frustration of the telephone, About rainy days and sunny days, about sessions men and dark ladies, about P.V.C. grass skirts in Waikiki, about memories, and dandies, and most of all about the breadwinner who was in the beginning, who lost all, sold his most exclusive residence, and passes into the bosom of his fathers. -- Frank Smyth
That's just lovely; in fact, I can't think of another jacket essay even half as perceptive, funny and poetic.

I'd long assumed that "Frank Smyth" was a pen name, but as it it turns out, he was a real person and a long-time publicist for the band. According to a posting Ray did at a Kinks fan board a while back, the head Kink had lost track of him (after dismissing Smyth and a partner over some imagined slight circa "Lola"), but around the time of his late 90s The Storyteller tour, he tried to get in touch with the guy -- to verify some 60s stories -- only to find that he had just died.

I was also surprised, recently, to learn that Ray absolutely hated the album cover back in the day; thought it was too psychedelic or something. That's as may be -- it certainly has a Yellow Submarine vibe -- but I still think, as I did in 1966, that it's utterly charming and apt.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pay for Play

It's about time.

Four years ago, the producers who discovered Eminem sued his record label, the Universal Music Group, over the way royalties are computed for digital music, which boils down to whether an individual song sold online should be considered a license or a sale. The difference is far from academic because, as with most artists, Eminem’s contract stipulates that he gets 50 percent of the royalties for a license but only 12 percent for a sale.


The suit reached its apparent end last week when the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, letting stand a lower court’s decision that digital music should be treated as a license. Lawyers and music executives say that few younger artists are likely to be affected by the decision because since the early 2000s record companies have revised most of their contracts to include digital sales among an artist’s record royalties. Eminem’s first contract was signed in 1995.

Many older artists, however, whose contracts predate digital music and have not been renegotiated, stand to profit significantly from the decision.

Limiting payments to artists, assuming it ever made much sense, only did so in a world where record companies had expenses: you know, production and publicity and the creation of a physical product that has to be manufactured and stored and shipped.

We don't live in that world anymore. Paying someone half for being a conduit for your bytes even seems a little outrageous.

And as anyone who has ever tried to transfer iTunes from an ailing computer to a new device knows well, consumers do not actually own that music: DRM means we're just renting it for a while on the company's terms. Definitely a license, not a sale.

But at least this is a gesture toward a more equitable pay structure for artists.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

December Boys Got It Bad

So I went, last night, to see the Big Star Third show At Mason Hall at Baruch College in New York.

Transcendent. I felt like I’d been to church. And I was raised Catholic, so I grew up accustomed to the that kind of overwhelming sensory phenomena that I felt last night, the kind that both confirms and inducts you into a community of true believers as you soar together through the experience.

Part of that was surely intentional on the part of Chris Stamey, late of the dBs, the organizer of the evening. A live performance of the numbers from Big Star’s Third album, aka Sister Lovers, formed the main part of the evening, but the encore was much more clearly hagiographical: we watched the religion of Saint Alex be formed and shaped and confirmed with dozens of acolytes and hundreds of congregants, in communion. And I was there.

The evening started on a weird note, with airport-level security at the concert hall. Lizz Winstead, who was apparently there, tweeted that security was “doing a lot of unnecessary dickery on the aging hipsters.” Not a problem, except it delayed the curtain by nearly an hour as people filtered in, got drinks, and resisted going to their seats. Plus, it made us feel sexy and dangerous! We were not the kind of crowd that customarily gets searched: an older, overwhelmingly white, predominantly male, crowd. (Winstead estimated it was 10:1 male, which sounds right: welcome to the world of power pop.) Whole lotta December boys out last night.

I was looking around for someone under 30, and one of my companions pointed a youngster out. Then it turned out that she was carrying a doll: someone had brought their kids, which I don’t think exactly counts. But in general, the level of Portlandia fashion loomed so high that I was personally ashamed of my big black glasses and faux-ironic tee (“I used to be cool,” it read), and my cloud of aggressively “hey-I’m-PREMATURELY-gray” hair. It was one big goddamn mirror, I’ll tell you that. And I was pretty okay with that, preferring it to the last few concert runs I’ve had, where I was the oldest person in the room, except for the band, drowning in a sea of flannel and ironic trucker hats. (Good news: that trend appears to be fading.)

Anyway, the show.

It started with a weak spot: a band called Lost in the Trees which, despite the fact that there were strings and sousaphones, was not really aimed at this crowd. Openers are always tricky, of course, but in this case, the art-school/emo noodling of the band was a serious issue: people near me were actively sleeping. And though one person I was following on Twitter was clearly in love with the autoharp/French horn/accordion-playing chica who fronted the band with Ari Picker, I noted (in an unkind, snarky moment I’m ashamed of) that Big Star fans are usually Beatle fans, and we tend to be somewhat suspicious of that kind of artsy stuff, and of anything which smacks of Yoko’s more invasive outings. And I was reading Twitter during the performance: not generally a good sign. Which isn’t to say they weren’t skilled—I think they achieved the sound they were after—but I think it was a mismatch, as did the easily more than a hundred people I joined at the bar in the lobby, eventually.

But when the show itself started, it was bang-bang-bang beauty. Hardly had you absorbed one song than another came along. And they weren’t all perfect, in this main part of the show, but enough were to be left with a sense of being both soothed and inspired by the almost ritualistic performance.

The poster featured some big names—Matthew Sweet, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Ira Kaplan (of Yo La Tengo), Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub), Mitch Easter, the still-breathtakingly-handsome Jody Stephens, and Stamey himself—but the heavy lifting was done by a quintet of relative youngsters, all-but-unknown to me, but of whom I’m now a huge fan: Sidney Dixon, who didn’t get a solo but was a rock-solid, beautiful backup singer throughout, Tift Merritt, who made me think of Neko Case without wishing she were there, Matt McMichaels of the Mayflies, who sang lead or backup on well over half the songs, unapologetic popster Brett Harris, and the MC of the evening, Django Haskins of the Old Ceremony (who, the internets tell me, play “lush, literate rock” which doesn’t surprise me at all). These kids, all from in and around Durham, NC, made the night move, and they’re obviously people to watch.

Okay, set list. With the clear caveat that there were never less than 20 people onstage at any given moment, including the orchestra. But these were the lead singers.

Django Haskins – Nature Boy
Matt McMichaels – Kizza Me
Ira Kaplan – Oh, Dana
Jody Stephens – For You
Norman Blake – Nighttime
Mike Mills – Jesus Christ
Ira Kaplan – Take Care
Matthew Sweet – Big Black Car
Norman Blake – Stroke it Noel
Jody Stephens – Blue Moon
Brett Harris – Femme Fatale
Chris Stamey – Downs
Tift Merritt – Dream Lover
Django Haskins – Holocaust
Tift Merritt/Django Haskins – You Can’t Have Me
Michael Stipe/Brett Harris – Kanga-Roo
Company – Thank You Friends

In some cases, my friends and I agreed, the songs were done with more care and lusher arrangements than Chilton intended: in particular, Stipe’s “Kanga-Roo” was dense and glorious, not the glorious mess of anti-pop that made the record. For well over 90 minutes, I was held in this perfect bubble, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person looking at Jody Stephens and thinking, “He deserves this. They all deserved this.”

The encore was more direct—and cast a wider net—intended to induct any stragglers firmly into the Church of Chilton. At ten songs, it was more than half again as long as the show, but not a soul got restive that I could see. It included not just songs from the first two Big Star records, but Chilton’s adolescent pop hit “The Letter” and his while-he-was-living tribute, The ‘Mats’ “Alex Chilton,” as well as the two beautiful songs from the pop single produced by his erstwhile bandmate Chris Bell: “You and Your Sister” and “I Am the Cosmos.” The latter of these was peculiarly wedged into the Chilton legend, as Stamey explained that “One day, Alex called me and said there was this song I had to hear,” before launching into Bell’s soaring song. Not complaining, mind you, just pointing out that it was kind of an odd moment rhetorically.

Brett Harris /Matt McMichaels – You and Your Sister
Matthew Sweet/Mike Mills – September Gurls
Norman Blake – I Am the Cosmos
Tift Merritt – Thirteen
Matt McMichaels – Don’t Give Up on Me
Mitch Easter – Till the End of the Day
Norman Blake – I’m in Love with a Girl
Matt McMichaels – Alex Chilton
Gordon Zacharias – When You Smile
Michael Stipe & full company – The Letter

These songs varied more in performance, with “September Gurls” falling surprisingly flat, particularly as compared to the soaring, shiver-inducing “Thirteen.” And I felt kind of bad for the orchestra, who sat around for much of the encore, though their contributions, when called on, were beautifully done and just right.

Stamey should be fiercely proud of this achievement. It was an extraordinary evening, and I was honored to be there. The show is traveling to Memphis and maybe LA, I hear, so be sure to check it out if you get a chance.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Hair Care! Edition)

Video Even of the Week: Might Rogue Pictures' DVD of Skyline -- the aliens invading California sci-fi that makes Battle L.A. look like The Hurt Locker -- be what we're talking about? Is Warner Home Video's Blu-ray of Yogi Bear, with Dan Aykroyd as the voice of the computer-animated incarnation of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, conceivably in the running? Or against all the odds, are Sony's various disc versions of The Tourist, the Hitchockian romantic thriller with the dream team of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, perhaps The One(s)?

All worthy to be sure, especially that last (and I seem to be the only person alive who enjoyed it unreservedly) but for my money -- and granted, it's a slow week -- it's got to be Disney's Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the animated musical hit Tangled.

Tangled, of course, is a teen version of the venerable Rapunzel story, with Mandy Moore -- the Miley Cyrus of an earlier generation -- providing the voice of the heroine (and with a lot of spunk, although as Lou Grant famously told Mary Richards, I hate spunk). Songs -- and there are a lot of them -- are by Alan Menken, a very talented guy who has yet to equal the ones he wrote for Little Shop of Horrors back in 1982, but the real reason to see this is the animation. The creative team here -- including Pixar genius John Lasseter, who co-produced -- use CGI to simulate the look of traditional hand-drawn Disney fare (more specifically, given the story's Grimm's fairy tale origins, old oil paintings and kids book illustrations) and the results are mostly breathtaking (think the ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast). At what point the Oh Wow! novelty wears thin, however, will depend on your attention span

Here's the trailer, which should give you at least an idea of the film's visual splendor.

It will come as no surprise to anybody that Tangled looks quite stunning in both the DVD and Blu-ray high-def transfers here (I want to say that the Blu-ray looks incrementally better, but frankly I can't see much difference); bonuses with the combo pack include the de rigeur deleted scenes and making-of documentary, which are interesting up to a point, if you catch my meaning.

In any case, the film is a stunning (if rather pro forma) achievement; you can -- and on balance probably should -- order it over at Amazon here.

And with that out of the way, here's a fun and clearly relevant little project to help us wile away the hours till next we meet:

Best or Worst Fairy Tale Movie (Animated or Otherwise)!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

The one and only. With the divine Josette day and Jean Marais, whose fatuous good looks were never better employed.

4. Pretty Woman (Garry Marshall, 1990)

Cinderella as an L.A. street hooker. I still can't believe anybody actually likes this reprehensible piece of crap.

3. Snow White and the Three Stooges (Walter Lang, 1961)

On ice, no less. And co-written by future U.S. Information Agency head Charles Z. Wick.

2. Cinderfella (Frank Tashlin, 1960)

Cinderella again, only this time embodied by Jerry Lewis. I think this is actually one of his best, although a lot of that is down to writer/director Tashlin.

And the Numero Uno happy-ever-after flick of them all simply has to be...

1. Rocky (John Avildsen, 1976)

Said it before and I'll say it again -- Rocky's II through V are all completely awful, but the first one is an utterly charming fairy tale cleverly concealed inside a seeming piece of slice-of-life blue collar realism.

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Consumer Update

No early clue to the new direction today, on account of tomorrow being another of our bi-weekly Cinema Listomania deals.

In the interim, please enjoy a very cool live version of The Fabs' "She Said, She Said" from the 1993 NARAL benefit album Born to Choose.

That's the incomparable Matthew Sweet on vocals and guitar; the great Richard Lloyd of Television is also assaulting the fretboard.

[h/t Sal Nunziato]

The French They Are a Funny Race....

...but on the other hand, they seem to have had pretty good rock TV shows back in the day (1966).

If "Barbara Ann" isn't your cup of tea, stick around for a pretty astounding, if cavernously recorded, "My Generation."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Night of the Not So Living Dead

Just received the following interesting and alarming e-mail press release, and thought I'd share.

The critically acclaimed cinematic concert rockumentary, The Grateful Dead Movie will take audiences back to the ‘70s for a one-night in-theater event on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. local time. It will be presented in 540 movie theaters nationwide, including 25 movie theaters in the New York area.

Under the direction of the band’s lead guitarist Jerry Garcia and co-directed by Leon Gast, these legendary 1974 concerts capture the Grateful Dead at the pinnacle of their psychedelic worldwide fame while documenting the Dead Head experience. During this NCM Fathom event, theater audiences will also be the first to see exclusive, never-before-seen interviews with both Garcia and Bob Weir that were captured during the filming of this historic production.

The Grateful Dead Movie was shot during the legendary band’s concerts at Winterland Arena in San Francisco in October 1974, prior to the Grateful Dead taking a two-year sabbatical. This special in-theater event marks the first time the film has been available in wide theatrical distribution since its initial release in 1977.

Tickets for The Grateful Dead Movie Event are available at participating theater box offices and online at

I'm more or less agnostic about the Dead (although I will stipulate that Workingman's Dead and American Beauty are great records) but I've never seen this particular film, and in any event I have no idea if fans think it documents a either an inspired performance or a great period in the band's history.

That said, I've been looking for an excuse to post the following (unreleased 1992) song for ages, so a big tip of the Hatlo Hat to Fathom for giving it to me.

Iron Prostate were (are?) a wiseguy NYC punk band who made a very smart album on Skyclad -- Loud, Fast and Aging Rapidly -- a year earlier; if you can find a copy, I recommend it highly. As for the song itself, I thought it was funny at the time, although obviously it's less so given what happened to Captain Trips after it was recorded.

I should also add that it was produced by -- swear to God -- Meat Loaf auteur Jim Steinman.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Apologies For the Shameless Blogwhore...

...but a fabulous surf instrumental, featuring yours truly on avant-garde Farfisa organ, can be heard over at Floor Your Love.

Those weird creatures hanging from the wire are squid, BTW. It will all become clear once you're over there.

Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan

Words fail me.

Seriously -- between this and that astounding Springsteen performance of "Because the Night" from last November, I think we have to come to grips with the fact that Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is the best music show on TV at the moment.

[h/t/ Willard]

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cherchez La Vache

From his 1997 album Girls N' Cows, please enjoy singer/songwriter Richard Goldman -- a young man who I suspect has several Beatles CDs in his collection -- and his "Prettiest Girl at the Funeral," a charmingly melodic yet sardonic track that more than lives up to one of the most outrageous song titles in pop music history.

Wow, that's good -- like Revolver-era Fab Four but with French cabaret accordion. I should add that if I ever play live in a band again, I desperately want to cover this but with really loud guitars, just to make the song's provenance a little more explicit.

I should also add that although I've listened to it countless times since the album first came out, I'm still not sure if the titular girl of the song is in the casket or not.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekend Listomania (Special Not Their Finest Hour Audio/Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental Christine Keeler surrogate Fah Lo Suee and I are off to somewhere where...quite frankly I haven't got a joke, given the gravity of the unfolding situation in Japan.

On the other hand, of course, the upside to what's going on over there is that none of the people in the Tokyo area are going to have to pay their utility bills for a while.

Okay, I'm ashamed of that one. Sorry.

Anyway, that being the case, and because things are going to be mercifully quiet around here for a couple of days, here's a fun little project to help you fill any empty areas in your lives:

Song or Album That You Really Dislike By a Group or Artist You Otherwise Really Like!!!

No arbitrary rules that I can think of, you're welcome very much, and yes, we've probably done something similar at some point. Hey -- you try cranking these things out without repeating yourself occasionally. In any rate, outraged snark never goes out of style.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. The Rolling Stones -- Voodoo Lounge.

No mp3, for the simple reason that this is the only Stones album on which there's not a single song interesting enough to induce me to listen to it again.

4. Bruce Springsteen -- Outlaw Pete

I still think this works only as a joke, but apparently the faux spaghetti western vibe is meant unironically. I should add that when I saw Springsteen do it live at the Meadowlands, the crowd went absolutely bonkers. Still scratching my head over that, actually.

3. Bob Dylan -- The Boxer

Dylan's so incredibly prolific that it's inevitable there's a lot of dross in his catalog, but this Paul Simon cover -- done as a duet between his early folk and Nashville Skyline crooner voices, and perhaps meant as a goof -- is about as unlistenable as it gets

2. The Hollies -- Blowin' in the Wind

And speaking of Dylan, this is the album that motivated Graham Nash to quit the band. Let's just say I agreed with him. God, that's just hideous.

And the Numero Uno WTF??? music from people who really should have known better just has to be...

1. Marah -- Float Away With the Friday Night Gods

In 1999, Marah put out Kids in Philly, which sounded like Bruce Springsteen fronting The Replacements in a performance of Exile on Main Street, and which completely changed my life. Inexplicably, they followed it up with this utterly generic crappy Brit Pop, which I remember listening to, incredulous, for purposes of review and being somewhere beyond appalled at its generic crappiness. As I wrote at the time about the title track above -- Bruce Springsteen is supposed to be in there somewhere doing something, but if you can hear him through the trendy production murk you're a better person than I am.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sympathy for Another Goddamn Early Clue to the New Direction

From Goats Head Soup in 1973, please enjoy The Rolling Stones and their tip of the hat to The Dark Overlord of the Flies "Dancing With Mr. D."

Rolling Stones - Dancing With Mr. D. .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine
As always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who gleans its relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Discovering Japan

[In the light of certain recent events in Asia, not to mention the Obama administration's appalling and frankly near unbelievable response to them -- asking congress for billions in guarantees for future nuke plant construction -- I thought re-posting this angry and admittedly self-indulgent rant from last year would not be inappropriate. --S.S.]

Okay, apologies up front: I'm acutely aware that the title of the blog you're reading at the moment is PowerPop, not Pissed Off Leftie.

But every now and then, something just sticks in my craw.

Case in point -- From yesterday's NY Times [October 5, 2010], and David Brooks' disgusting wet kiss farewell to departing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel:
Over the summer, I wrote a tough column [about President Obama]...That week, I ran into Rahm at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
Isn't that sweet? Republican David Brooks, enthusiast for nuclear power, and Democrat Rahm Emmanuel, a nuke industry consultant who's probably responsible for the Obama administration's (IMHO) criminally stupid, short-sighted and dangerous enthusiasm for nuclear power, together at a Springsteen show.

Gee, I wonder if Bruce did this song -- written in response to the disaster at Three Mile Island -- the night those two cynical shitheads held hands.

I tried to find my way out to somewhere where I thought it'd be safe
They stopped me at the roadblock they put up on the interstate
They put me in detention but I broke loose and then I ran
They said they want to ask me a few questions but I think they had other plans
Now I don't know who to trust and I don't know what I can believe
They say they want to help me but with the stuff they keep on sayin'
I think those guys just wanna keep on playin'

Roulette, with my life
Roulette, with my kids and my wife
Roulette, the bullet's in the chamber
Roulette, who's the unlucky stranger
Roulette, surprise, you're dead
Roulette, the gun's to your head
Roulette, the bullet's spinning in the chamber
Roulette, pull the trigger, feel the click
No further danger

Nah. Probably not.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Song Sounds Dirty But It Isn't

From 1993 and their eponymous debut album, please enjoy wonderfully witty Nashville alt-rockers The Bis-quits and their charmingly melodic ode to obsessing on everyday chores "Anal All Day."

This is from one of the great lost albums of the 90s, by the way; great guitars, great songwriting, and boy do they give the lie to Nick Lowe's famous dictum about how there's an astonishing lack of humor and realism in contemporary pop music. Originally issued on John Prine's Oh!Boy indie imprint, it's a winner from stem to stern; along with a whole bunch of really witty, melodic originals -- you haven't lived until you've heard their ode to "Yo-Yo Ma," rendered as an amalgam of the Rolling Stones and J.S. Bach -- there's also a stunning live cover of Richard Thompson's "Walking on a Wire" and lots more. It's still available at Amazon and on iTunes, but you can probably find a less expensive version online somewhere.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Ooh, my my, you ARE a big one, aren't you..."

This has absolutely nothing to do with music, power pop or otherwise, but it just absolutely cracks me up, so I'm posting it anyway. Sue me.

A woman of the streets in Victorian London is about to go home with the Loch Ness Monster(!).

Who is in fact...

amazon women on the moon loch ness monster Pictures, Images and Photos


This is, of course, from the hilarious "Bullshit or Not!" sequence ("With your host, Henry Silva") from the otherwise uneven 1987 parody film Amazon Women on the Moon.

You can watch the whole bit over at YouTube here. And remember -- although this is a bullshit re-enactment, it may have happened just this way....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Compare and Contrast: Those Star-Crossed Lovers

So a couple of weeks ago, while I was obsessing over the Keith Richards book, I believe I mentioned that I was a fan of The Inmates, the rootsy early 80s Brit punk band that had small hits with covers of "Dirty Water" and "Talk Talk" and, more to the point, had done a fabulous version of the early Mick and Keith beauty So Much in Love.

However, that wasn't strictly true; what I should have said is that I was a fan of the band's first two albums, which were the only ones I'd heard. So I was pleasantly surprised the other day to come across their fifth long-player -- aptly titled Five -- from 1984, which has a) never been available on CD; b) features Barrie Masters, of Eddie and the Hot Rods "Do Anything You Wanna Do" fame filling in for usual lead singer Bill Hurley (who was apparently ailing at the time); and c) includes a pop-punkish cover of "Just Like Romeo and Juliet," the wonderful 1964 proto-soul hit by The Reflections.

And here it is.

And, of course, because I'm that kind of guy, here's The Reflections version.

The Reflections - Just Like Romeo And Juliet(1964).mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

For the record, as it were, this is one of those cases where I think on balance I prefer the original. The Inmates cover has a lot of pep, as they say, and I'll bet it worked like gangbusters on stage, but the Reflections take just has more of that 60s R&B tenement romantic yearning. Incidentally, the Reflections themselves were a bunch of white working class guys from Detroit with roots in doo-wop; the wonderful backing on the record was the work of a bunch of moon-lighting studio cats from the Motown house band at the time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special I For One Welcome Our New Kino Overlords Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might Kino/Lorber's DVD of Two in the Wave, Emmanuel Laurent's fascinating documentary look at the sometimes stormy relationship between the great French filmmakers Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, be what we're talking about? Is Kino/Lorber's Blu-ray of American Grindhouse, Elijah Drenner's eye-opening and often hilarious look at the history of exploitation filmmakers and filmmaking, by any chance a serious contender? Or might Kino/Lorber's respective disc versions of Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, a director's cut of one the most interesting portraits of a great and wildly eccentric artist in recent memory, conceivably be The Ones?

All worthy, to be sure, especially the Glenn Gould flick, although if truth be told American Grindhouse isn't actually out yet. Nevertheless, for my money it absolutely has to be Kino International's absolute fantastic new Blu-ray version of Buster Keaton's brilliant 1923 comedy of Americana Our Hospitality.

Keaton stars as Willlie McKay, a youthful dreamer living in 1830 Manhattan (the first shot of the city back then will blow you away, BTW) who travels westward on a rickety train thinking he's going to claim his birthright, which turns out to be a shack rather than the mansion he'd imagined. Worse, the object of his affection (Natalie Talmadge, Keaton's real life wife) is part of a family that, unbeknownst to McKay, has had a decades long blood feud with his. It all works out in an amazing and ahead of its time mix of slapstick, melodrama and spectacle; the opening train trip, for example, is fifteen or so minutes of sustained comic invention that will have you laughing till your sides hurt, and there are several other big set pieces, including a famous waterfall rescue sequence, that must be seen to be believed.

Here's a clip -- which doesn't look as good as it does on the Kino disc, and features rather cheesy musical accompaniment (see below) -- but which will give you a pretty good idea of the film's ineffable charm nonetheless.

The new Kino version, tinted where appropriate, comes from a print in mostly very good condition, and of course there are some interesting bonuses, including the 1925 short The Iron Mule (which finds amusing new uses for Hospitality's locomotive) as well as a work print of a 40 minute alternate edit of OH, which strips out all the gags and was apparently put together by Keaton to see if the story worked without them. But the real reason you need to get this is the symphonic score -- in 5.1. Surround -- by Carl Davis, originally written for the Thames Silents British tv series in 1984. Davis pretty much cornered the market on composing great new music for 20s films in the 80s and early 90s, but many of those scores, which were available on VHS or laserdisc versions of the films (including Our Hospitality), have long been of print; kudos to Kino, in other words, for bringing this one back into wide circulation. [Now will somebody please reissue the version of Victor Seastrom's great The Wind with the Davis score that MGM/UA had on tape and has never been on DVD or Blu-ray? Thank you.]

Bottom line: This one's not to be missed; get thee over to Amazon here and order a copy now.

And with that out of the way, and given that things will most likely be a little serene around here until Monday, here's a fun and obviously relevant little project to will away the idle hours:

Best or Worst Period Comedy, i.e. One Set in an Era Not Its Own!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. The General (Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, 1926)

One of the greatest films ever made; it's like a Matthew Brady photo come to life with gags.

4. A Southern Yankee (Edward Sedgwick, 1946)

A semi-remake of the above, and often painfully unfunny. Keaton (uncredited) was brought in to stage some of the big scenes, but it really didn't help.

3. Start the Revolution Without Me (Bud Yorkin, 1970)

An attempted pastiche of A Tale of Two Cities and The Corsican Brothers, and despite a good cast, pretty much of a misfire. That business/pleasure scene in the clip is actually the funniest thing in the movie, which isn't saying much.

2. Animal House (John Landis, 1978)

Screamingly funny, obviously, but the period detail is dead on as well. Trust me -- I was there, and if there's an anachronism on view here I haven't noticed it yet.

And the Numero Uno not-so-hot cinematic evocation of a vanished era that probably never was clearly is....

1. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen, 2001)

Woody's take on one of those old 1940s private eye comedy-mysteries. The thing looks authentic, and the gags are often funny, but mostly it doesn't work, and mostly because the then 66 year old star comes off as creepy trying to get into Helen Hunt's pants.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sex and Drugs and....Actually, More Sex and Drugs

Well, my past keeps catching up with me. Latest case in point: An old pal of mine, who in 1970 co-directed an artsy 16mm student film -- Party -- about alienation and boinking amongst the alienated yet boinking counter-cultural crowd at our old college (C.W. Post), has not only found a surviving print of this moody masterpiece but is in the process of converting it into the digital domain.

Said film, more to the point, features a live concert performance by my then band (we were called God -- don't ask). Including a staged scene at the end where the other guitar player smashes a cheap Japanese instrument a la Pete Townshend while I look on in mock horror. I should add that two more of my old pals from those heady days play the principal alienated student boinkers, and are glimpsed on at least one occasion completely starkers.

Here's our song -- it's called "It's a Crime" (cue obvious joke) -- as featured on the soundtrack.

Obviously, we were trying to sound like the Jefferson Airplane at the time. The song, however, is an original by my long time bandmate Tony Forte (vocals and Rickenbacker 12-string) which he taught to the rest of us approximately ten minutes before we were filmed for the concert sequence, so all that stuff in the middle is an honest-to-god hippie instrumental jam. I'm playing the inadequate rhythm guitar; the genuinely brilliant bass is by Bart Goldberg (a guy I lost track of years ago). The now husband-and-wife team of Lucinda Moran (vocals) and Robert Albiston (drums) rounds out the ensemble, doing truly stellar work IMHO.

The recording itself was done under remarkably primitive conditions; the band was onstage with a PA system that compared unfavorably to one of those megaphones Rudy Vallee was famous for using, and the audio was captured by a single microphone plugged into a professional-quality Nagra portable film recorder. That odd whistling sound in the opening of the song is apparently a sync signal the Nagra makes to facilitate the editing process.

I should also add that I haven't seen the film since sometime in the late 70s, so I have no idea how it will or will not hold up. I can pretty much guarantee that I'm uploading it to YouTube the fricking minute the DVD is done, however.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Welcome Back, Kocher

As you may recall, we had a little discussion around here a while back about whether or not The Lovin' Spoonful's 1965 hit "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" was power pop or not. I said yes, unsurprisingly, although some disagreed.

In any case, I bring that up because I just made the mistake of downloading all five of John Sebastian's post-Spoonful Reprise albums over at Blank Frank's place. Because I vaguely remembered that there was a song on one of them that I had liked back in the day and that it was sort of power pop-ish as well.

Unfortunately, having now listened to the albums from stem to stern, I have no idea what that song might have been; either I dreamed it, or for whatever reason it's not there anymore. I should also add that -- with the exception of a decent remake of "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" and some sit-com theme whose title escapes me -- most of the stuff on all of those albums is (for me, anyway) now quite unlistenable on all sorts of levels.

That said -- this Spoonful song still just kills me, and I think it's most DEFINITELY proto-power pop. Or, at the very least, 1:55 seconds of sheer guitar-driven melodic bliss.

"There She Is," ladies and germs. God, what a great track.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Not Horrible

Based on this audience video from last weekend's shows at Joe's Pub, the reunion show by powerpop deities The Left Banke I declined to attend didn't suck.

In fact, based on the above "Pretty Ballerina," nobody dishonored the group's memory at all. Although I still think it's kinda bogus that the two most crucial members of the Banke -- singer Steve Martin and genius songwriter Michael Brown -- were not on board.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Zounds, What Sounds!!!

Okay, the short version (and for god sakes, when you finally listen to this, play it on a system with decent speakers):

Last year, Andy Partridge of XTC did a high-end vinyl snob remaster of the band's 1986 Todd Rundgren-produced masterpiece Skylarking. Released on his own boutique label, the new version was spread over two 12-inch LPs and cut at 45 rpm, and I must confess at the time it came out I had pretty much zero interest. Despite being a huge fan of both band and album, and despite having toiled for my entire professional life at an audiophile/gear head rag (albeit a mass market one) I am as far from being an analog purist as you can get, and my reaction to the availability of the set can be pretty much summed up with the phrase "meh."

Until, that is, I chanced across a needle-drop transfer of "Earn Enough For Us," my favorite song from the record, and learned that all previous vinyl and CD versions of the album had, inexplicably, been issued with the polarity reversed or out of phase (or some such audiophile mumbo jumbo) and consequently featured a rather thin and pinched aural soundstage (a defect now corrected on the vinyl release). How this grievous oversight had escaped producer Rundgren's attention for all these years remains an open question, of course, but anyway that was the claim.

And here's the aforementioned needle-drop, by way of proof; cliche or not, it really feels like this is the first time I've actually heard the damn thing.

Al Kooper famously described the first Blues Project album as sounding like it had been pressed on one of those cardboard inserts you used to get when your shirts were drycleaned. Which kind of sums up the way my older copies of Skylarking now strike me.

I should also add, and for the record, that on the basis of the above it's pretty obvious that Colin Moulding is one of the greatest and most underrated bass players in fricking rock history.

[h/t Blank Frank]

Friday, March 04, 2011

Weekend Listomania (Special Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust! Audio/Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means.Yes, my Oriental non-dairy creamer Fah Lo Suee and I are off to....

And at this point I was going to make a joke involving the Ohio state legislature that's inviting a fetus to testify at an anti-abortion hearing (this is for real, in case you haven't been paying attention) and how there's a part of me that (perversely) wishes Senor Wences was doing the voice. But the stunt is just so infuriatingly stupid and, frankly, depraved that sarcasm really isn't a sufficient response. And so, to every one of the Republican pols behind this crap I will thus simply say -- go fuck yourself, you miserable misogynist ghouls.

Okay, and without that out of the way, and because things will more than likely be a little quiet around here till we return, here's a fun little project to help fill the empty areas in our lives:

Best or Worst Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Song Referencing Rapidity of Locomotion in Either the Title or Lyrics!!!

Speed (not the drug) or fast stuff, in other words, and no arbitrary rules that I can think of at the moment.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is/are:

5. Adam Schmitt -- Speed Kills

Pop perfection. Why this guy isn't a household word is beyond me.

4. Steppenwolf -- Faster Than the Speed of Life

From their second album (one of the most underrated artifacts of the late 60s, believe it or not) and written by the same guy who penned "Born to Be Wild." I actually kind of prefer it, if truth be told.

3. Pat Boone -- Speedy Gonzalez

This one's really so objectionable on so many levels I almost don't know where to begin. Not as bad as Pat's heavy metal album, though, so that's something.

2. The Dictators -- Young, Fast, Scientific

These guys are way overrated, IMHO, and the song ain't so hot. Great title, though.

And the Numero Uno blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it track of them all simply hast to be...

1. The Stimulators -- Loud Fast Rules!

For obvious reasons, obviously.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hole E. Crap, It's Another Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1962, please enjoy Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans -- produced by Phil Spector and featuring vocals by the great Darlene Love -- and their cover of the Disney classic "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."

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 Listomania.

Compare and Contrast: Farewell My Lovely Appetizer

Well, I'll be jiggered. I just discovered that one of my all-time faves by the second best pop/rock band in Liverpool -- The Searchers' gorgeous 1965 "Goodbye My Love"... actually a cover. Specifically, of a semi-obscure Southern soul record by Jimmy Hughes from the same year.

I'm embarrassed to admit that before I stumbled across this one on the intertubes the other day I was unfamiliar with not just the original but with Hughes himself. That said, on balance, and as spine-tingling as the Hughes version is, I think I still prefer the cover. Something about those harmonies, I suspect.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan

From 1969, the most surreal cover of "I Shall Be Released" ever.

Now that I mention it, perhaps the most surreal cover of ANYTHING ever.

[h/t Steve Schwartz]

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Compare and Contrast: The More Things Change (Except When They Don't)

Sixteen years separate the release of Tiny Bradshaw's original 1951 hit version of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'"...

...from The Yardbirds rewrite (as "Stroll On") on the 1967 soundtrack to Blow-Up...

...and the musical and stylistic differences between the two, on every level, are staggering; the records might have been conceived on different planets.

By contrast, 22(!) years separate the release of Madonna's 1989 hit "Express Yourself"...

...and Lady Gaga's 2011 rewrite (as "Born This Way")....

...and yet the differences between the two are essentially non-existent; for all intents, they're the same fricking record.