Friday, December 06, 2019

To Paraphrase R. Crumb -- If You Don't Know What Doo Wah Diddy Means By Now, Don't Mess With It

From 1945, and the movie I Love a Bandleader, please enjoy original rapper Phil Harris and his signature -- and frighteningly proto-rock-and-roll -- song "That's What I Like About the South."

I bring this up because, as I mentioned yesterday, I've been listening to a lot of old Jack Benny radio shows of late, and Harris -- who was a regular on the show for years -- happened to do this on an episode I heard last night.

I should add that while these days, Harris is mostly remembered as the voice of Baloo in Disney's Jungle Book... me he will always be the guy who had the greatest novelty hit single of all time.

In any case, I hereby solemnly promise that every post next week will feature new music by currently living people. You're welcome.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Go East, Young Man!

As attentive readers will recall, I have been falling asleep of late to old episodes of the great Jack Benny's radio show, which among other things are about as interesting a pop-cultural time capsule as you can imagine.

In any case, listening to a Benny show from the '40s the other night, I had sort of a lightbulb-over-my-head moment. To wit: This long running gag (it was featured in countless episodes over the years), with the great Mel Blanc announcing a train leaving on track five (from L.A.'s Union station) for Anaheim, Azuza and Cucamonga...

...was clearly the inspiration for the greatest masterpiece of the surf-rock genre of the '60s.

Take it away, Jan and Dean!!!

I'm not kidding about that being a masterpiece, BTW; in fact, the classical and baroque touches in the song's arrangement (from 1964, I should add) pretty much show-up all later prog-rock as the pretentious swill it is.

I should also add that the first time I heard that song in stereo (rather than in mono, on the jukebox at my college cafeteria) was the closest thing I've had to a religious experience in my entire life.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

I Lost It at the Theatre

So I'm taking a certain Shady Dame of my acquaintance to see Hamilton on Broadway today. As a birthday present.

We've seen the show before, on our trip to London last year, but we are reliably informed that the Broadway version is superior. We shall see.

A little backstory:

I was skeptical about the whole Hamilton hype, despite the fact that I had been impressed with the show's auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda (after seeing the documentary on the making of his In the Heights)...

...for the obvious reason that hip-hop isn't particularly my thing.

In any event, when we saw the show in London, I sat through the first act with an open mind, and at intermission said Shady Dame asked me what I thought. I allowed how it was undeniably impressive, if a little monochromatic musically, but that I hadn't decided what I thought.

And then act II started, and immediately the music was a lot more stylistically varied and I was digging it. And then this song happened...

...and I turned to the Shady Dame with tears streaming down my face and said "They got me."

Seriously, if you don't find that moving, you really need to have it looked at.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

The Maltese Mallard

From 1966, please enjoy -- if possible -- the late great Phil Austin (of Firesign Theatre fame), doing business with The Buddies, and the not as hilarious as intended "Duckman Parts 1 and 2."

Back in the early 90s, I wrote the liner notes for Sony's Firesign Theatre box set, and I got to interview all four Firesign guys, which was a genuine thrill, as you can imagine. Talking about his pre-Firesign work, Austin mentioned "Duckman" in passing --

Originally monikered the Oz Firesign Theatre (by Bergman) the group later had to shorten the name when lawyers for Disney and MGM - who owned the Oz copyright - threatened legal action. Whatever they were called, however, the group and their freewheeling, sounded-stoned-but-wasn't brand of improvisational comedy were an immediate hit with the nascent underground audience. And as the Summer of Love loomed, they inevitably came to the attention of a record company, in the person of Gary Usher, trend-savvy producer for CBS and veteran of the L.A. surf music scene who had earlier done a comedy single - "Duckman, Parts I and II" - with Austin ["Because I could do this duck voice," Austin says. "It was just stupid."].

-- which is the only reason I knew of its existence.

YouTube being the equivalent of the Library at Alexandria, it did not surprise me to finally run across it a few weeks ago.

Nor did it surprise me to find myself in complete agreement with Austin's assessment.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Singles Going Steady

So as unlikely as it may seem, I have just released the metaphorical equivalent of one of those old seven inch vinyl records with the big hole in it. Under my own name, no less.

Because the masses have been clamoring for solo work by Steve Simels, comrades!

Here's the a-side, which is a remake of The Byrds' anti-war classic from Fifth Dimension.

And here's the b-side, which is a cover of a great song by friend of PowerPop Peter Spencer, done as a cross between the early Byrds and "Street Fighting Man."

I should add that both of those are now available for streaming/purchase at Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music and various other digital platforms to be announced.

I should also add that the picture sleeve photo was taken by friend of PowerPop Capt. Al, and the art direction is by a certain Shady Dame (who's working too cheap, I'll tell you that for free.)

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the musical credits are:

Track 1:
Me -- lead vocals and bass
Joe Benoit -- harmony vocals and all other instruments

Track 2:
Me -- lead vocals, guitars, keyboards
Joe Benoit -- guitars
Allan Weissman -- bass
David Hawxwell -- harmony vocals, 12-string guitar, Nashville guitar
Glenn Leeds -- outro keyboards
Glen Robert Allen -- drums

And a big tip of the Simels chapeau to one and all who supported me in this folly.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Only the Smug Die Young

From 2019 and their just released album Serve a Thirsty Moon...

...please enjoy the pride of Dayton, Ohio, the Smug Brothers, and their too cool for school new single "Every One is Really Five."

These guys have been around for a while -- since 2008, actually, albeit unbeknownst to me until last week. In any case, I loved their new album -- which has, as you can hear from the above, a terrific pop-punky edge -- and I was particularly intrigued by this little news tidbit in the press release they sent me.

Serve A Thirsty Moon by Smug Brothers is being released on CD by Gas Daddy Go! Records in conjunction with the first Local Music Day in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Local Music Day in Dayton? Obviously, I had to dispatch Dayton native/ace reporter/friend of PowerPop Phil Cheesebrough to check it out.

Here's his report -- take it away, Phil.

I definitely enjoyed the Smug Brothers 50 minute concert, and as they raced through a tight indie-rock set of songs lasting mostly two to three minutes each, I was thinking to myself: "Why didn't I get the memo on these guys?" I mean, they are from my town! Guess I have been too narrowly focused on the singer/songwriter genre, and the home concert experience, for the past 10 years.

So my only disappointment from Saturday night was only one set could be served up from the Smug Brothers before they had to depart for the next band on the bill. Definitely left me wanting more!

With three full length releases in 2019 alone, they have a wealth of current, original songs to select from for live shows. "My Future In Bones," with its snarling guitar riff, is now my favorite 90 second song in the world! And of course, I was already a fan of "We Are All Five" after watching the video link you sent me. And totally cool that they used this song for their opener to grab and shake the audience right from the start.

The band has two new additions to their line-up--Scott Tribble on lead guitar, and Kyle Sowash on bass--and both appear on the new disc. Tribble and front-man/principal songwriter Kyle Melton had some excellent guitar inter-play throughout the set. Solid drummer Don Thrasher is a Dayton institution, well known for his freelance writing about the Dayton rock scene for decades now. And Don even has a four year stint (in the early 1990s) under his belt drumming for Dayton hero Robert Pollard and his band Guided By Voices.

I talked to the band at the merch table after their set, and they were absolutely lovely guys. They gave me a free copy of "Serve The Thirsty Moon," and I also bought their other two 2019 releases "All Blur And Spark" and "Attic Harvest" (on vinyl). And I definitely plan to check out their extensive back catalog too.

BTW, I gave Kyle an autographed copies of Floor Your Love and Letter From Liverpool. He laughed at the title, getting the Yardbirds reference!

Thanks again for the heads-up on the SBs! Kyle and Don were amazed when I told them the first tips I got from you started way back in early 1975 when I subscribed to Stereo Review at age 15. And 44 years later, well, the tips are still coming.

Thanks, Phil -- wish I'd been there. I should add that the Guided By Voices connection alone makes these guys a must-listen. That being the case, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that you can stream the album over at Amazon HERE. I can't find a link for the physical CD, but I'm sure if I yell at the guys they'll provide it for us.

POSTSCRIPT: As promised, here's the link where you can -- and should -- buy a CD of the new album. HI FANS!!!.

You can order the rest of their catalogue there, too!

Have a great weekend, everybody!!!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

It's Turkey Day (An Annual Series)

From 1969, here's the original classic lineup of Procol Harum...

...and their utterly gorgeous "Pilgrim's Progress."

Pilgrim -- get it? It's not rocket science, kids.

As long-time readers may recall, this song is something of a Thanksgiving tradition around here by now. Although I'll grant you that given we're now in the era of President Mediocre Columbo Villain, it's not quite the same anymore.

In any case, enjoy the cranberry sauce and stuffing, everybody.

Also -- Matthew Fisher is God©.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

On the Beach

From his just released album Some of Us Are Free, Some of Us Are Lost...

..please enjoy splendid singer/songwriter Bob Hillman and the album's haunting title song.

Hillman's been around for a while -- one of his previous albums was produced by no less a worthy than the great Peter Case, which should be recommendation enough for anybody. (Reading Hillman's bio, it occurred to me that I may actually have met him back in Greenwich Village in the 90s, but that's another story). Anyway, I love the new album, and if "Cocaine Ruins Everything"...

...which reminds me of Lily Tomlin's remark "I worry that drugs have made us more creative than we really are," isn't an instant classic then I'm not the judge of horseflesh that I fancy myself.

In any case, you can find out more about Hillman over at his website HERE.

And you can -- and should -- order the new album over at Amazon HERE.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Miracle of Commerce

One of my favorite albums is coming back, better than ever.

But I'll let the artist explain.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — “I love it that phonograph records are popular again,” enthuses Marshall Crenshaw. “They were consigned to oblivion by the music business back when I was recording for Razor & Tie, but now they’re back!”

The artist recently regained ownership of the five acclaimed albums he released on the Razor & Tie label between 1994 and 2003, and plans to issue revised editions of those efforts, on vinyl and on all digital platforms, beginning with his 1996 release Miracle of Science, due on January 17, 2020 on Crenshaw's own Shiny-Tone label (distributed through Megaforce).

Ultimately, the new reissue series will encompass three much-loved studio albums — Miracle of Science, 1999's #447 and 2003's What's in the Bag? — plus 1994's live My Truck Is My Home and 1998's early demos collection The 9 Volt Years. Each album will include two newly recorded, previously unreleased tracks, which will appear on a bonus 7" single on the vinyl editions and as bonus tracks on the CD and digital versions.

"Miracle of Science was a turning point for me," Crenshaw recalls. "I had voluntarily taken myself out of the major-label world. ADAT machines had just come out, so I bought a couple of those and a few other pieces of gear, and now suddenly I could make records at home if I felt like it. That took me back to my roots, you might say; I did about half the album at home by myself. And the other people that played on the record, I still get such a huge kick out of hearing what they did, particularly on the tracks that I recorded at Alex the Great studios in Nashville. There’s a lot of spirit in the music, a lot of fire. The playing is loose and wild — a much different approach from what you hear on my major-label records, and a real breakthrough, for my money.

“Overall, I’d say that there’s a lot of great music on this album, a lot of great noisetoo, and some cool sounds,” he continues. “I’ve seen the songs on the album described as ‘cinematic’ and ‘atmospheric’; that works for me. One of my favorites is ‘What Do You Dream Of.’ I was trying to write a rockabilly song when I started it — you might not guess that. It’s most definitely a love song, but it’s also about how no matter how close you think you are to a loved one, they’ve still got their own personal internal life.”

The new edition of Miracle of Science includes a pair of bonus tracks, “Misty Dreamer” by Scottish indie-pop artist Daniel Wylie, and “What the Hell I Got,” a 1974 number by Canadian artist Michel Pagliaro, which was a monster smash in Pagliaro’s native country, and a regional hit on Crenshaw's hometown radio station CKLW-FM.

"Of all the Razor & Tie albums,” Crenshaw explains, "Miracle of Science was the only one that never had an analog master tape, and I knew that I wanted to create one for this vinyl release. All audio formats have their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and with analog you can pick and choose with tape speed, tape width, tape saturation etc. These are artistic choices because they affect the sound and feel of the thing. Once I knew that I was going down that road, I decided to go further and re-address a couple of the songs on the album. If Francis Coppola can fool around with Apocalypse Now, I can fool around with Miracle of Science, right?

“I got pretty aggressive with ‘Only an Hour Ago.’ Listening in 2019, it seemed that the original production and arrangement were burying the song. So I changed it, mostly using the original elements. And I did a similar thing on ‘There and Back Again.’ There’s a track called ‘Rouh Na Selim Neves,’ which is ‘Seven Miles an Hour’ backwards. As I was reviewing this album a few months ago, I heard ‘Seven Miles an Hour,’ and thought, ‘Hmmm, I bet this track would sound a lot better backwards.’ So I did it and nobody tried to stop me. The original not-backwards version is still on the album too.”

And there’s more.

Crenshaw notes, “As much as I love the artwork on the original CD — which was Grammy-nominated — we couldn’t use it for an LP. There was no way. So art director Paul Grosso came to the rescue and did a beautiful job. And I couldn’t resist paying tribute to the circa-1958 Roulette Records label design. I hope nobody comes after me about that, but we checked and there’s no copyright. It’s a bit of an inside joke for fans of a certain ilk of record-business folklore. Roulette was a great label.

“The result of all this tinkering,” Crenshaw assesses, “is that Miracle of Science is all shiny and new to me now, and I love it even more now than before.”

Well, it certainly looks like 2020 will be a better year than 2019, I'll tell you that for free.