Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Unusually Early Clue to the New Direction

Off to the city for a screening of What We Do Is Secret, a bio-pic on the seminal LA punk band The Germs starring Bijou Phillips. Could be a hot one!!!

In the meantime, from 1967, here's the original Youngbloods (with the very cool Jerry Corbett singing lead) on American Bandstand with their almost hit single "Grizzley Bear." As you can see, at this point they were hardly the hippie band they've been painted as (and to an extent became, later); they were instead a snazzy, stylish NYC folk-rock band who were thinking about the pop charts, a la their contemporaries the Lovin' Spoonful. Seriously -- if you've never heard their first two albums, you're the poorer for it. (And the third album has the transcendent "Darkness Darkness," which behooves behearing as well).

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

And My Mind Split Open

If it's Thursday, it must be power pop gods The Wondermints and their fabulous cover of Smoke's 1967 Nuggets classic "My Friend Jack."

For more of these guys, you could do worse than check out their work as the backup band on Brian Wilson: Live at the Roxy Theatre, which is essentially a two hour distillation of pure joy. And their 1996 covers album Wonderful World of the Wondermints, from whence MFJ derives, also behooves behearing, if only for an astounding pop-metal version of ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Low Self-Esteem Theater

Ohmigod. From 1965, it's celebrity scion Gary Lewis and The Playboys with "Count Me In." Not a bad record, actually, especially those fancy piano fills by the then un-famous Leon Russell.

Nevertheless, I absolutely loathe Gary Lewis. Why? Well, back in the day, like many of my contemporaries, I dreamed of looking like a Beatle or a Rolling Stone. So which pop star did I actually resemble?

This putz.

God, I hate him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gimme Marty

Sorry for the blogwhore, but my thoughts on Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert film Shine a Light versus the in many ways superior Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones -- currently unavailable on DVD -- can be found over at Box Office.

What I didn't mention over there is that there's a certain irony attendant to the earlier film. There's no question that the 1972 Stones in LAGTRS kick major butt compared to their Sixty Something incarnation in the Scorsese flick, at least musically speaking. Still, it's kind of funny that the '72 tour, which pretty much defined/invented rock 'n' roll decadence/wretched excess (Truman Capote and Margaret Trudeau eating truffles backstage) was also the precise moment when the Stones began their metamorphosis from personification of the music's outlaw spirit into the efficient, but by comparison soulless, corporate entity that they are today.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Missed It By That Much!

True story: Back in the mid 60s, my crappy high school rock band used to get a lot of free studio time for demos because our lead guitar player's dad owned a big deal recording complex in Manhattan. The place was called Associated Studios, and it's still there, in the building across from the Ed Sullivan Theater where the Letterman Show is taped. Mostly it was a jingle house, but some hits actually got recorded there, most notoriously They're Coming to Take Me Away (Ha-Ha) by Napoleon XIV. (There's another story about that for another time, but let's move on).

Anyway, one Saturday during the summer of '65, we did another of our crappy demos there (you have no idea how crappy, BTW). In those days there was no such thing as cassettes, however, so if you wanted to take a copy of your latest masterwork home, they would cut what was called an acetate, in most cases a seven inch disc with a big hole in the middle that looked exactly like a commercial 45 rpm single, except it was made out of material much crappier (how appropriate) than vinyl and far more prone to getting scratched up after a few plays. In this case, the acetate they gave us had a flip side of something from another session that had been done at the studio at some point, but whatever it was wasn't identified. When we got it home, however, we were really intrigued. It was a small group playing what sounded like the theme to a hip spy movie, except done for laughs, and we listened to it over and over again all through the summer.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we watched the September 18th NBC premier of a little show called Get Smart and realized that our phantom b-side was Vic Mizzy and his orchestra's now familiar theme for that soon-to-be pop culture classic.

And in case you're wondering if all of that faux nostalgia was merely an excuse for me to post the above silly photo of me and a cardboard Ann Hathaway, the answer is yes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Got Live If You Want It! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are off to Paris, France, home of the Ignoble Frog, for the first annual Jerry Lewis Pro-Am Percodan Tasting Tournament. Sounds very existential, so just in case I'm having my beret re-blocked. In any case, posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a few days.

But in my absence, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:


Briefly -- The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review (a/k/a Sound and Vision) turns fifty this year, and to celebrate they've asked their contributors to list the greatest albums of all time in various categories. Since nobody's individual list is going to be published, I was free to nominate all sorts of things I might not be inclined to share here, but I figured I'd make an exception with this live album roster. Feel free to make as much fun of it and me as you like.

Oh, one brief and not at all arbitrary rule: It has to be a live album by a single artist. Thus, "The Last Waltz," which features other performers besides its nominal stars The Band, is ineligible. Ditto something like the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute Concert album.

Also: If I could have added one more album to the list, it would have been Television's "Live at the Old Waldorf."

Okay, that said, here's my totally carefully considered Top Ten:

10. Ritchie Valens -- In Concert at Pacoima Jr. High

At his Alma Mater, not long before the plane crash. Primitive, but a heart as big as all outdoors (actual track from the record).

9. MC5 -- Kick Out the Jams

The only American band of the 60s that could compete with the Yardbirds, the Kinks, and the Who on a sonic level (actual uncensored track from the record).

8. The Who -- Live at Leeds

The hard rock live album template that launched a zillion garage bands (actual track from the record)

7. Bob Dylan -- "The Royal Albert Hall Concert"

I still find it hard to believe that Mickey Jones, the guy playing the drums on this, went on to have a recurring role on Home Improvement (actual blah blah blah).

6. The Beatles -- Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Originally released on vinyl in 1977, and not yet on an official American CD. What kind of sick sadistic world do we live in where this is possible? (actual yadda yadda yadda).

5. The Remains -- A Session With the Remains

Unlike this Hullabloo lip-synch job, the album was recorded live in the studio at ten in the morning as an audition for Capitol Records, right before their gig opening for the Beatles at Shea Stadium. If you haven't heard it, get it immediately. Trust me -- Led Zeppelin only wished they had a sense of dynamics like these guys.

4. The Monks -- Let's Start a Beat

Recorded at two NYC shows in 1999 -- not only their first performances in 32 years, but their first ever in their native country, and yet they sounded exactly like they do in the vintage clip above. The most primal and powerful garage rock imaginable; nobody has ever made noises quite like these guys.

3. James Brown -- Live at the Apollo 1962

A number two album on the Billboard Charts in 1963, which is pretty astonishing when you consider that he didn't get a crossover single hit until '65 (when this was filmed). In any case, it's the Hardest Working Man in Show Business at his performing peak.

2. The Yardbirds -- Five Live Yardbirds

The Clapton edition of the band at their most blues-wailing; the entire concept of the rave-up begins there (and sounding not unlike this contemporary TV clip).

Okay, and the all-time best in concert rock album, it's not even close so don't you dare even think of contradicting me, is ---

1. The Rolling Stones -- Get Yer Ya-Yas Out

This is a slightly different take from the album, but it and the official version were both recorded on a night when the Stones really were the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world. I was there, jack, and this is EXACTLY what they sounded like.

Awrighty now -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless blogwhore: My weekend Cinema Listomania (special stoner idiot edition) is now up at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to leaving a comment over there, an angel gets its wings.]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Earlier Than Usual Clue to the New Direction

Off to NYC for a mysterious assignation (again -- maybe it's not as mysterious as I think. Hmm.) Anyway, from 1979, here's power pop gods Cheap Trick with their immortal "I Want You to Want Me" [optional fan cutie edition].

Hello, Budokan!!!!!!!

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

Good Vibrations

So I've been obsessed, in recent weeks, with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (and no, if you're curious, you have not lived until a preschooler comes into your living room and announces "I want Dewey Cox!" Just in case you were wondering.) I've even bought the soundtrack, and have been listening to it in the car. But this has led to all kinds of interesting conversations with my newly relicensed teen, who has been picking my brain over the various forms of parody involved in the film and the music. The film, of course, rests its humor not so much on the actual biography of any given artist, but primarily on an intimate knowledge of rock, blues, and country music biopics. Thus it is not necessary (or helpful, in this particular case) to know anything about the actual Johnny Cash: a working knowledge of Walk the Line will serve nicely (seasoned with The Doors, The Buddy Holly Story, Ray, Grace of My Heart, Coal Miner's Daughter, any of the various Elvis and/or Beatles TV movies--you get the idea).

But the music is another matter entirely, and as we listened to the Cox parody "Black Sheep," I found myself trying to describe to her the song "Good Vibrations" and what it meant at the time, to music, to the idea of the pop star as auteur, to the model of the 3 minute verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. It's harder to describe that sort of thing than one might imagine, even to a relatively receptive audience. (I earned this receptivity through repeated listenings to Metalocalypse, so she can listen to me lecture a bit). So we turn, as we often do, to the internets.

Of course, anything so groundbreaking is going to be parodied multiple times, and I still somewhat prefer The Dukes of the Stratosphear's "Pale and Precious" as a parody, but "Black Sheep" is pretty compelling.

I would also throw in, more for storyline than music, Matt Dillon's terrific turn as Jay Phillips, the Brian Wilson-esque insane genius from the underrated 1996 film Grace of My Heart. Redd Kross, of course, have a brief role as his band, the Riptides, and feature a line which must have occurred to the actual Beach Boys at some point: while listening to Phillips' foray into orchestral rock (can't locate song title in brain, waiting for call back from beloved older brother, who will know), one of them asks "Okay, but how do we play this live?"

Anyway, if you're in the mood for a real lesson in influence, tribute, and parody, try listening to these all in a row. Totally trippy!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Listen Without Ears, Vol. 1

Oh, joy. George Michael is back.

From today's New York Times:

By Jon Pareles
July 23, 2008

George Michael started his concert at Madison Square Garden on Monday night with “Waiting (Reprise),” a ballad that concluded: “Is it too late to try again? Here I am.” It was the first of two shows there (the second is Wednesday night) on Mr. Michael’s first American tour in 17 years, and he treated it as a vindication.

Mr. Michael’s music since 1990 has received little play on American radio stations, ever since he unsuccessfully sued his label at the time, Sony, to end a 15-year contract he described as “professional slavery.” His lawsuit charged that Sony failed to fully promote the 1990 album “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1” because Mr. Michael was determined to set aside his 1980s image as a smiling sex symbol.

“Artists were losing all control as the biggies got bigger,” Mr. Michael said during a long speech from the stage. “And I didn’t think it was fair that I was on roughly a 30-year deal for £500. Somehow I lost that battle.”

He continued: “Basically I went from being just as successful in America as I was in the rest of the world to having a fantastic career in Europe and almost no career here. That was not because Americans don’t like my music.” The reason, he told the audience, was that no one would “play it to you.”

May I just simply say -- boo fucking hoo? Seriously...this is the guy who penned the line "Guilty feet have got no rhythm" and subsequently failed to die of shame.

Wish I'd Said That

Noel Gallagher of Oasis, telling an interviewer in this month's Mojo that his group's new album won't be one of those back to basics deals:

"There's too many multi-instrumentalists in this band to do anything minimal. Anyway, I don't like concepts following around records, that's the Brian Eno curse. I think a lot of bands fall down on that -- they get the concept first. Travis, for instance...poor lads. Those kinds of bands always end up with fucking Brian Eno pulling out a deck of cards, saying 'Play it like it's orange....'."

Heh heh. U2, please pick up the white courtesy phone....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hot Girl on Girl Action!

You know, I like underage Christian lesbian porn as much as the next guy, but don't you think this Katy Perry hit is really kind of, you know, exploitive? And not in a good way?

In any case, I don't think it's exactly what Jill Sobule had in mind.

Full disclosure: Yes, I have kissed a girl.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dead Guy is Alright

Why do I think this might be a very bad idea?

From the MTV Movies site:

Friday, July 18, 2008 at 9:15 am

The lead singer gets all the ladies, the lead guitarist all the praise. But what does the poor drummer get? Pretty soon, the greatest one of all is going to get his very own biopic.

Mike Myers’ long-in-development film on legendary Who drummer Keith Moon is finally nearing the starting gate, the comic told MTV News, excited to step into the shoes of the man he called the best drummer of all time.

“Keith Moon redefined drumming. I mean, there was drumming before him, and then drumming after him,” Myers said of Moon. “His life is just so colorful and fascinating.”

And remarkably, unmistakably depressing, Myers added, calling the script “so sad.”

Moon, the man, of course, died from a drug overdose in 1978 at the relatively young age of 32. But Moon the myth lives on. So what, if anything, is there to learn from his life?

“His name is Moon. And a moon is a non-self-luminous object. It requires sunlight of others in order to be seen. If there’s no sun, the moon is invisible,” Myers said, sounding a little like his new-age Guru Pitka. “And the script so far is about how important it is to be your own star and not be a moon, ironically.

“It becomes a cautionary tale of drugs. They are not the answer and in this movie you see how not the answer they are,” Myers added. “It’s very moving.”

The movie, tentatively titled See Me Feel Me: Keith Moon Naked for Your Pleasure is being produced by Who bandmate Roger Daltrey.

Jeebus -- everybody knows that it's Dana Carvey who's the drummer, not Myers.

Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?

From 1966, here's The Rationals, with the unbelievably great Scott Morgan, and the definitive white-boy version of "Respect."

Up through about 1968, these guys were hands down the best band in Detroit -- better than the Stooges, for sure, and better even than the MC5, and I'm not just saying that because my first ex-wife did posters for them back in the day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special TV Eye Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off to the Cape for a weekend of posing at the salon of New Yorker cover artist Barry Blitt, fresh from his unambiguous gift to the Obama campaign.

This time, Barry's doing a cover for National Geographic, and he'll be drawing me dressed in Hassidic garb, complete with Star of David and a prayer shawl, in a scene where I'm eating the flesh of Catholic babies and using their blood to make Passover matzoh. Of course, since everybody knows I'm a Vegan, it will obviously be taken as a satire of wingnut anti-semitism. Really -- who could think otherwise?

In any case, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

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


Arbitrary rule: NO VIDEOS!!!

I'm not kidding about this -- We're talking unexpected guest shots, awesome live performances, odd cameos and the like, okay?

Let me repeat: NO VIDEOS!!!!!

Okay (and remember -- NO VIDEOS!!!!!!!), here's my totally top of my head Top Seven:

7. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Dave Grohl -- Saturday Night Live

From November 19, 1994. There's no clip of it on YouTube, alas, but the unbilled Grohl, filling in for just-departed original Heartbreaker Stan Lynch, played "You Don't Know How It Feels" about a hundred times harder than the studio version. Stunning, actually.

6. The Bedbugs -- F-Troop

That's the pre-Little Feat Lowell George and Richie Heyward. I saw this episode of the show back in the day and remember thinking -- Who are those guys?

5. Madonna and Britney Spears -- The 2003 MTV Awards

The infamous lip-lock. Jon Lovitz, when asked what he thought of it by David Letterman, replied "It was terrible! By the time I got my pants down, it was over!"

4. Paul Revere and the Raiders -- Where the Action Is

From 1966, examples too numerous to mention. I can't tell you how many college classes I cut to see this show, primarily for the Raiders. Seriously -- if it wasn't for these guys, I'd have had a successful law career and be comfortably retired in Tahiti, instead of posting on a C-list blog from the Paris of the Tri-State Metropolitan Area.

3. The Beatles -- The Jack Paar Show

From January 3, 1964 B.S.(Before Sullivan), this is their actual American TV debut. I remember sitting in front of my parents 12" RCA console and getting chills watching this.

2. The Rolling Stones -- The Ed Sullivan Show

The infamous performance from January 15, 1967, mumbling the lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together." To my surprise, yet another clip inexplicably missing from YouTube. This one's from Top of the Pops around the same time, though; never seen it before, but it's quite cool.

And the number one, nothing else even comes close, coolest rock TV moment of all time is ---

1. Elvis Costello and the Attractions -- Saturday Night Live

From December 17, 1977. Elvis starts to play "Less Than Zero" but breaks it off and bursts into the anti-censorship "Radio Radio." Stunned SNL and NBC execs then ban him from the show for twelve years. Another clip not -- shockingly -- on YouTube at the moment.

Alrighty now -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My new Cinema Listomania is up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over and leaving a comment, an angel gets it wings.]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Somewhat Earlier Than Usual Clue to the New Direction

Off to NYC for yet another mysterious assignation. But in my stead, from sometime this century, it's The White Stripes getting intimate with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (my hero!) at the MTV Music Awards.

As is customary, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who divines the clip's relevance to tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Swedes Behaving Badly

As you may have heard, the film version of the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia, opens tomorrow.

Can somebody please explain to me who thought it would be a good idea to make an upbeat show based on a group that wrote a song like this?

Seriously, these guys are more depressing than American Music Club.

More on the subject over at Box Office, including a video link to the funniest Bergman parody ever.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Still More Tales From the Crypt

Okay, here's another of my Greatest Hits, i.e. one of my old pieces for the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review (AKA Sound and Vision), in this case from the March 1981 issue. For obvious reasons, I rather agonized over this one back in the day, so I was actually rather pleased to find upon re-reading it now that the only thing that embarrassed me were some dire predictions that (mercifully) didn't come true.

Two historical notes: At the time of the Smithereens reference, they were strictly a local NYC band; they wouldn't get a record deal or a hit for another four or five years. And that terribly sad photo of John and Yoko outside the Dakota is the same one that originally ran with the review.

I should also add that a few weeks after the piece appeared I got a very nice note from a woman who had worked as a personal assistant to Brian Epstein at the height of Beatlemania. She told me that of all the reviews of the album she had seen, it was the one that most resonated for her. That meant a lot to me.


A few days after the murder of John Lennon, I was at a Village club listening to a wonderful Sixties-influenced power-pop band called the Smithereens. After the second set, the group came back for an encore and suddenly got very serious. "When I was a kid," the drummer announced to the crowd, "there were certain things that were cool. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was cool. Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were cool. But Johnny Lennon...he was very cool."

As I write, it has been a week since Lennon was killed; by the time you read this, chances are that, unless we're really lucky, there will have been a commercial-cash-in rock circus on a scale that will make the Elvis Boom look like a P.T.A. bake sale. As a media event, his death has been unprecedented. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the upheaval in Poland and Iran, inflation, Reagan's election...who cares? They all pale into insignificance. 1980 will be remembered as the year a "wacko" (the word the police used) pulled off the first rock-and-roll assassination. And the tributes will continue. Endlessly. They will range from the genuinely moving to the merely fatuous and self-serving to the downright disgusting, but the end result will be the same: canonization. No matter how many sensationalist details emerge, no matter how many of John's old drug connections sell their memoirs to the newspapers, the last fall-out of Beatlemania will ensure that he's elevated to secular sainthood.

Well, John was a lot of things, but a saint he was not. By his own admission he was a bit of a bastard, and he well may have been; nobody gets to be one of the biggest phenomena in the history of show biz by being Mister Rogers. But I liked what the Smithereens drummer said about him because it's a perception that separates those of us who were there at the time (when he was, in Murray the K.'s immortal phrase, "what's happening, baby") from the younger fans who now haunt Beatles conventions and patronize Beatlemania touring companies. Those kids can't possibly understand that John Lennon was the coolest guy in the universe. Cooler than Elvis (dumb greaser!), cooler than Brando or James Dean or Lord Byron or Willie Sutton or Muhammad Ali or Cary Grant or Robert DeNiro or Bruce Springsteen. Cooler than Elvis Costello, even. Not to mention Travolta and the Fonz.

Understandably, this is an aspect of the man that has gotten lost in the shuffle. Right now, in the face of the pointless loss many of us feel, he's being painted as the most wonderful, warm, caring human being who ever wore shoe leather. But cool is closer to what he was. He had wit, style and songwriting genius. He invented the world's most exclusive men's club and made millions of dollars thumbing his nose at the Establishment. He gave countless people joy and in the process changed the world a couple of times, substantial achievements whatever your background might be. I can't think of a neater role model for a teenager and I can't think of my own adolescence except in terms that he defined.

IS musical accomplishments will probably be debated endlessly. The lingering, mindless fan clamor of the last ten years has done a great deal to cheapen his reputation, and there has been the inevitable critical backlash (ironic when you consider that all us rock critics owe our very jobs to him, for there wasn't any such occupation to speak of before the Beatles). The punks, by and large, have no use for him, though I was delighted to find out that John, for his part, got off on the Pretenders and the B-52s. My guess is that in the long run it's his early stuff -- through, say, Beatles VI -- that will hold up best; in fact, my personal tribute, in response to the gentle homilies of "Imagine" that saturated the airwaves in the wake of the tragedy, was to blast the teenage lust of "Anytime At All" and "You Can't Do That" as loud as I could, and to hell with the neighbors. But his finest work, I think, which includes the first two solo albums and the 1975 Rock and Roll set, constitutes an achievement as personal and innovative and moving as can be found in the history of the music he helped shape. If it takes a senseless crime to make people remember what John accomplished, well, that's unfortunate, but it's also the way of the world.

As for Double Fantasy, the comeback record that now becomes his artistic farewell: in honesty, I hated it before he died, and now that he's gone I find listening to it all but unbearable. The simplistic celebrations of the the love that he and Yoko felt for each other and for their son seem, in retrospect, too painfully sincere to take: the cruelty of his ending intrudes too much. Musically, it shows that he hadn't completely lost his touch. The voice was still thrillingly intact; it's worth mentioning that John Lennon had perhaps the most hauntingly expressive voice in all of rock-and-roll. At least two of the songs -- "Watching the Wheels" and "Woman" -- are, on a melodic level, as fetching as some of his lesser Beatles efforts. Yoko's stuff strikes me as precious. The vaguely trendy "Kiss, Kiss, Kiss" could pass for a minor British New Wave pop hit, and whether time has vindicated her earlier avant-gardisms (as John was convinced it would) I will not venture to guess. The kindest thing to say about Double Fantasy, all in all, is that it wasn't designed as a rock record and shouldn't be judged as one. Its music is what the industry calls Adult Contemporary; I don't think it's successful even within the confines of that bland genre, but I can see that some kind of case could be made for it.

ROCK-AND-ROLL deaths tend to turn quickly into shopworn metaphors of one kind or another -- think of Altamont or Janis Joplin -- and there will doubtless be attempts to grasp some "larger" meaning behind the sad events of December 8. There has already been a spate of "The Sixties are finally over" pronouncements; John, of course, tried to point that out to people ten years ago, but then artists are always ahead of the crowd. Beyond that, what can one say? That we should boyott those who would turn his death into a commercial venture? We're all of us ghouls to some degree; being fans, how could we be otherwise? The Lennon Industry will continute to alternately fascinate and repel us; there will be dignified historical retrospectives and shameless mawkish reminiscences, scholarly rummaging through the tape vaults and flagrant rip-off repackagings. The well-meaning and the jackals will together compete for our attention as long as people remember. There's not much that can be done about that. As for the pain we feel right now...well, Pete Townshend once said that rock won't help you forget your problems, but it will let you dance all over them. That advice seems worth remembering. — Steve Simels


GEFFEN GHS 2001 $7.98.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Stopgap Video Blogging

I know, I know, I'm supposed to post my golden oldie "Double Fantasy" review this week, but I'm in the middle of a million other things.

While I toil, enjoy the above gorgeous 1997 Del Amitri song that isn't Not Where It's At.

I'm beginning to think Justin Currie is the most underrated rock singer alive, BTW.

Monday, July 14, 2008

2-4-6-8! Time to Transubstantiate!

Caught the 1969 Roz Russell nuns on the run classic Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows on TCM over the weekend (a slow one, obviously) and found myself perversely fascinated by this discotheque number.

Any 60s collectors out there know what band this purports to be? Monkees auteurs Boyce and Hart probably wrote it (they wrote and sang the flick's appalling theme song) but this track is almost avant-garde by their standards and in any case I can't find a credit for the faux rockers on stage.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special What's in a Name? Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off to Austin, Texas for a meet-up of role playing game enthusiasts in the company of Dungeons and Dragons afficianado Allen Butler, a/k/a the author of How to Care For Your Eyeglasses.

Daddy needs a new Sword of Wounding, bitches!!!!

Sorry, got carried away there. What I meant to say is that posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

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

Best Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Song With a Name in the Title (That Was Written About an Actual Person)!!!

Arbitrary rule: Songs with the complete name of a celebrity -- i.e., "Robert DeNiro's Waiting" -- need not apply, although songs about celebrities not completely named -- i.e., "Salman" (if there were such a song about the great Rushdie) -- are okay.

Okay, here's my totally top of my head Top Eight:

8. The Smashing Pumpkins -- For Martha

Jeebus fuck, Billy Corgan again? What's he been in now -- the last fifteen Listomanias? Anyway, this one is about his mother Martha.

7. The Rolling Stones -- Angie

Angie, as in David Bowie's then wife, who apparently Mick was boinking.

6. A tie --

Buddy Holly -- Peggy Sue


Ritchie Valens -- Donna

I think there's a cautionary lesson here: Write a song about a would-be girlfriend and die in a plane crash.

5. Neil Sedaka -- Oh Carol

For Carole King. Neil apparently had a teenage crush on her.

4. The Kinks -- David Watts

Ray based this on a real guy he met on an early Kinks tour -- not the abominable golden schoolboy of the lyric, but some local politico who in Ray's words, "had the whole town like this!".

3. Derek and the Dominos -- Layla

Eric Clapton's love letter to George Harrison's wife. Said it before and I'll say it again, it's amazing to me that Eric and George remained life long friends.

2. The Knack -- My Sharona

As in Sharona Alperin, now a real estate agent in L.A. The love of the teenaged Doug Fieger's young life, apparently.

And the number one pop/rock record about a real, live, actually existing person is, I can't believe we're even arguing about this it's so fricking obvious, is --

1. The Beatles -- Sexy Sadie

About the Maharishi, natch. Lennon changed it to avoid making trouble but later regretted it as a cop-out. In hindsight, of course, it's a much better song for the ambiguity.

Alrighty now -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (pretty amusing, I think) is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you leave a comment, an angel gets its wings.]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Slightly Earlier Than Usual Clue to the New Direction

Off to NYC for yet another mysterious assignation. In the meantime, from 1967, here's The Zombies and "Friends of Mine," one of the most gloriously tuneful tracks from their sublime masterpiece Odessey and Oracle.

As a fan of these guys from day one, I must say that the recent critical concensus that the album is one of the genuine highpoints of pop music in the second half of the 20th century has warmed the cockles of my heart, whatever they are.

But in any case, as is customary, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who divines the clip's relevance to tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Number One on the Pope's iPod

Well, here's a song I had no idea there had ever been an official video for. From 1992, it's XTC and their simultaneously quite profound and fiendishly catchy "Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead."

Now that I've seen it, of course, I'm torn over which is cooler -- the song itself or those vintage Gretch and Vox guitars the band is using.

Two things need to be added here. First, there is a special circle in hell reserved for the members of Crash Test Dummies, who covered the song -- execrably -- on the 1995 sountrack to Dumb and Dumber (the ironies, as they say, abound). Second, though it pains me to say it, the song is -- well, "cribbed" may be the wrong word, so let's just say "strongly inspired" -- by "King Strut," a 1990 should-be-classic from criminally undervalued singer/songwriter/guitarist Peter Blegvad, and if you doubt it, get thee to iTunes and download it now.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The White Gods! Come From the Sky At Last!

Okay, this one gets my vote for the most gorgeous/perfect powerpop song of the 90s and I'm not sure I've heard a better one since. From 1997, it's Del Amitri and "Not Where It's At."

Seriously -- everything about this record is flawless and brilliant, from the central title/lyrical conceit (you want post-hippie irony? This one beats Nick Lowe's "Peace, Love and Understanding" hands down) to the massive twelve-string riffage (at least as good as anything on any Byrds album, I think) to the vocal performance by Justin Currie (and if there's a more hauntingly expressive pop vocalist currently wearing shoe leather I'd like to meet him).

I actually sang the praises of this song in May of last year despite the fact that the video wasn't then on YouTube (I made do with its almost as good albummate, "Some Other Sucker's Parade"). Well, now it's here, and while it doesn't come close to doing the song justice, I frankly don't care. The music's genius, and like I said -- I'm not sure anybody's topped it in the decade since.


[Incidentally, today's title is from Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House, and it references a line of dialogue from certain stock Hollywood jungle movies of the 30s which Wolfe used to describe the reaction of the American cultural establishment to the arrival of certain European expat architects. Let me just go on record here as saying that while I think Wolfe's politics are reactionary and appalling Bauhaus is nevertheless a screamingly funny little book. Thank you.]

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More Tales From the Crypt

Okay, here's another of my Greatest Hits, i.e. one of my old pieces for the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review (AKA Sound and Vision).

Short version: I found this column -- from December '74 -- in my closet the other day and it didn't make me cringe too badly, so I thought I'd share it. This also gives me the excuse to include a brand new scan of the original column head; I think you'll find that little illustration is good for a cheap laugh at my expense.


By now you're probably seen Rock Dreams, Guy Peellaert and Nik Cohn's brilliant pictorial fantasy-history of rock-and-roll (Popular Library, $7.95) and you know just how great it is; you know how uncannily true the fantasy situations in which Peelaert has painted the various rock figures ring, and I'm sure you've got you're favorites. I certainly do -- Diana Ross in the back seat of her limousine as she returns to the ghetto she denies ever having lived in; a short-haired Mick Jagger (the final seqment of the Stones sequence) dressed in a smoking jacket, alone in his room and looking for all the world like a pop Dorian Gray; Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty (and where is he now that we need him?) in a rowboat on his way through the Louisiana bayou he conjured up so wonderfully without ever having seen; and a bedraggled and broken Jerry Lee Lewis standing alone in the rain, crying in his beer.

Obviously, a long-winded analysis of the book is unnecessary, even presumptuous; like rock itself, it is in many ways above analysis. But I do have two thoughts that I think are worth mentioning. First of all, some critics have noted that the only place the book's vision falters is in its portrayal of the latter-day heroes -- Bowie, Bolan, and Lou Reed -- who are treated simply as traditional portrait subjects, and have chalked this up to the fact that Peelaert, because of his age, is perhaps a little distanced from these contemporary myth figures. I suspect it's not quite that simple; it's especially instructive to compare his gorgeous representation of the Velvet Underground (with Lou Reed) to his rendering of Reed today, at the same time bearing in mind the music each represents. The former has the capacity to haunt the imagination, while the latter is simply there. Peeleart, it seems, is a much more perceptive rock critic than many of those who do it for a living.

Secondly, the book, great as it is, is in a way quite depressing. Like it or not, it's a retrospective, a summing up; I don't think it could have been done even five years ago, simply because the music and the musicians were much too vital. But in 1974, I find myself much more excited about the book Rock Dreams than about almost any recent rock album, and if that suggests to you what it does to me -- that rock-and-roll as we knew and loved it is indeed as decadent and played out as many have observed -- then it becomes an almost painful experience to finish it. To paraphrase Dave Marsh, I don't want to hang up my rock-and-roll shoes myself, but I'll be damned if I can give you a good reason why I shouldn't. Rock Dreams, for all its power, doesn't give me that reason, and I don't like that at all. But get it anyway.


I don't know if you've noticed, but the rock press is dreadfully out of touch with the real world these days; even the best critics seem to have little or no idea what it is the audience is listening to. For example, take an act like Chicago. The plain fact is that this is probably the biggest band in America; they can sell out major concert halls for a week at a stretch, young girls think they're sexy, and they now have the longest track record for consistent single hits of any group in the country. And yet you rarely read a good word about them. It's not even the Grand Funk phenomenon; the critics don't despite Chicago (except perhaps in private) so much as they ignore them. But the band continues to prosper and broaden its following, manifesting a popularity that is almost frightening because it's such a well-kept secret. Creem will of course never put them on its cover, and the release of "Chicago IX" will elicit nothing but yawns from reviewers everywhere. Nonetheless, when their recent television show was aired (an outing that was, if possible, even schlockier than the Bowie Midnight Special) I can personally attest to the fact that the entire teenage population of Dumont, New Jersey, was off the streets. Meanwhile, the rock press prattles on about glitter, Bryan Ferry, and the return of the pop sensibility. Egad.

Now Chicago puts me to sleep too, in all honesty, but from our reader mail alone it has become clear to me that I'm in a minority. So I talked to Robert Lamm (Chicago's keyboard man) early last September in an attempt to find out what the hell was going on here. In vain. I say in vain becaue Lamm (an extremely charming fella in an all-American sort of way) seemed unwilling or unable to philosophize about his group's importance, although he did have an unswerving confidence in the validity of what he was doing ("All our abums, with perhaps two exceptions, have been artistic successes," he told told me quite firmly). For example, when I asked him why of all the horn bands that had flourished briefly in the late Sixties, playing largely similar material, his had been the only one that survived, he replied "Because they were all on Columbia." Frankly, this little bit of music-biz pragmatism wasn't what I had been groping for, but it's probably true; there are only so many bands you can promote at one time, and Columbia chose Chicago.

Later, when I brought up the subject of their phenomenal singles success, he pooh-poohed it.

"We don't even pick them," he averred. "It's a waste of time."

This, from the singles champs of the Seventies? Surely, I suggested, they must have some idea when they're writing the tunes which are going to be hits?

"We just don't bother about it," he said. "Occasionally, when we finish an album, we hear a bit that makes us say 'Hmm, that might be a single,' but inevitably the record people pick something else. We don't have anything to do with it and we don't want to."

Realizing that I wasn't about get any of the answers I was after, we drifted onto more general matters -- musical background, current preferences -- although I couldn't resist bringing up the subject of their now infamous "with this album, Chicago devotes all its energies to The Revolution" jacket blurb of a few years ago. (Lamm's comment: "In retrospect, that was a little naïve. But sincere.") Finally, I asked him if it ever rankled him that the rock press didn't take them seriously -- did he ever get annoyed that Rolling Stone hadn't sent Truman Capote to follow them around on tour?

"Not at all," he said. "If Truman wants to come by, we'd be glad to see him, but I'm not upset that he hasn't.

"Of course," he added wistfully, "I guess he wouldn't enjoy hanging around with a bunch of ex-jocks." Which may explain why Chicago didn't make it into Rock Dreams.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Peace & Love Day: Ringo Starr

We here at PowerPop wish Ringo Star a very happy birthday, and offer him the present he has requested: peace & love. Happy, happy, caveman!

(Bonus: nice sax part!)

Queen of the Underground

From an instore apperance in 2005, here's Steve Earle's sister-in-law Shelby Lynne with a brilliant cover of "Dead Flowers."

The Stones original excepted, I actually think this is the best damn version of the song I've ever heard.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Brave Old World

Those of you without children (you lucky bastards) may have missed the Guitar Hero/Rock Band phenomenon. Essentially, it's music as a game. Here is the teen playing Guitar Hero.

Rock Band is basically a multi-player version of the same thing. They're not real instruments, but they're instrument-shaped controllers: the guitar here has buttons rather than strings, for example. And you play along to all kinds of songs, many of which, the teen complains, she was raised with (e.g. Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend").

In any case, the music in these games tends to be pretty good. And it's about to get better.
This DLC release, titled "The Best of The Who: Rock Band Edition," will feature twelve tracks, including Amazing Journey, Baba O'Riley and My Generation.

"We're really pleased to have our songs featured in Rock Band," said Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who. "It allows our established fan base to interact with our music in a way that's fresh and exciting, while also exposing our songs to new audiences."

"I'm a fan of Rock Band," said Who guitarist Pete Townshend. "I play the game with my son and girlfriend and love the way it brings different generations together through music. I like the idea that people of all ages will be having fun playing our songs."

But personally, I don't think Pete Townshend should get points for playing stuff he wrote. I wonder if there's a macro for that?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Sax and Violence Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off to scenic Milford, Ohio (on the Little Miami), for a fabulous July 4th weekend stay at the sumptuous digs of Brian "Lubyanka" Hardig, a/k/a The Ohio Douche, a/k/a The Author of the Greatest Letter to the Editor Ever Written.

Which means that posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days, river crestings and boil advisories permitting.

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

Best Saxophone Work (Solo or Section) On a Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Record!!!

Okay, here's my totally top of my head Top Seven:

7. Romeo Void -- Never Say Never (Benjamin Bossi)

A great sax line, but so minimal you're not even sure the guy can actually play, which may be the point.

6. The Champs -- Tequila (Danny Flores)

Obnoxious folkies Seals and Crofts were in a later touring version of this band, but you won't be surprised to learn that they have absolutely zip to do with the record "Tequila" itself.

5. A tie --

The Rolling Stones -- Brown Sugar (Bobby Keys)

A roadhouse tenor sax apotheosis. Keys actually played with Buddy Holly in his youth, and it shows.


The Rolling Stones
-- Waiting on a Friend (Sonny Rollins)

To our knowledge, the only appearance of an avant-garde jazz titan on a Top 40 hit record.

4. Another tie --

Junior Walker and the All-Stars -- Shotgun (Junior Walker)

Soul sax at its grittiest, although Walker was also a consummate balladeer (cf. "What Does It Take").


Foreigner -- Urgent (Junior Walker)

These guys remain the Most Useless Band in Rock History, but in this case Walker's guest sax solo actually justifies the song title.

3. King Curtis -- Memphis Soul Stew (King Curtis)

Just about every one of the countless records Curtis played on was the best, alas, but this was his biggest solo hit.

2. The Contortions -- I Can't Stand Myself (James Chance)

That's James Chance a/k/a James White a/k/a the No Wave James Brown at Max's Kansas City in 1979 -- a real time capsule of a video. Chance's obligatory Asian (back then we said Oriental) Downtown artist girlfriend not shown, alas.

And the number one sax on a pop/rock record, I can't believe we're even arguing about this it's so fricking obvious, is --

1. Bruce Springsteen -- Jungleland (Clarence Clemons)

Seriously -- forgetting the fact that the performance positively drips atmosphere and emotion, this is as perfectly constructed an instrumental solo as there is in the entire history of popular music; every note is exactly where it should be. Of course, the marvel of it is that although it was put together phrase by laborious phrase over endless time in the studio, the end result sounds utterly spontaneous, as if it was going directly from Clarence's soul to tape. Just amazing.

Alrighty now -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel (and quite amusing, I think) movie Listomania is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you leave a comment, an angel gets its wings.]

Thursday, July 03, 2008

An Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1981, here's worst rock band in history New Wave flash in the pan Quaterflash with "Harden My Heart."

As is customary, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who divines the clip's relevance to Friday's Weekend Listomania.

Seems Like Old Times

New Wave (No Wave?) cult figures The Feelies just played their first live show since 1991.

From today's New York Times:

HOBOKEN, N.J. — “Endless possibility/Time is right for us to be,” Glenn Mercer sang when the Feelies performed at Maxwell’s on Tuesday night, at this New Jersey band’s first public show in 17 years. “Time — right — now — tonight.”

Circling through four chords with a jabbing lead-guitar lick, “Time Is Right” was a new song that sounded as if the Feelies had never disappeared. They were still what might be a garage band reimagined by mathematicians, a psychedelic band with no illusions, a folk-rock band hypnotized by repetition, a punk band for introverts. From 1977 to 1991, their initial run, the Feelies traveled a clear path between the Velvet Underground and current indie rock. Their songs, by the guitarists and singers Bill Million and Mr. Mercer, use rock rudiments to build incrementally from meditation to frenzy...

You can read the rest here.

I have to say, I didn't get those guys for the longest time. Of course, these days, when I listen to one of their songs, like this one --

-- and compare it to a piece of contemporary bombast like, oh, the newest Disturbed single, it seems like a fricking work of minimalist genius.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Memories of Underdevelopment

You know, back in the day, I was absolutely convinced that Debbie Gibson's "Shake Your Love" was the butt-ugliest record ever made, and probably the worst song ever written.

It depresses and frankly frightens me that in the two decades or so since I have heard all sorts of stuff that's even worse.

Although that chorus remains just appallingly stupid.


Speechless. Truly.

Unfortunately, FOW's cover of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" does not appear to be on YouTube. Go figure.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"The only reason people don't like her music is because she's a woman and an Oriental!"

Wow -- here's John Lennon with a fab early solo version of "Dear Yoko," one of the songs from Double Fantasy.

Funny that the late ex-Beatle could still be so timely -- it's just like all the other homemade videos you see on YouTube, except it was shot in 1980.

Incidentally, I'm reprinting my review of the album from back in the day sometime next week. One of my best efforts ever, I think, and certainly the only one that occasioned a thank you note from a former employee of Brian Epstein.

[h/t Steve Schwartz]