Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Detroit Rock City

A true story:

Back in the dim dark past (by which I mean the Hyborian Age, when Conan the Barbarian actually walked the earth) I got a gig (life-changing, as it turned out) as the rock critic at my college paper. I got it not out of any special qualifications, of which I had none; in fact, if truth be told, the reason I got it was that nobody else had bothered to ask for the job. I, on the other hand, had correctly reasoned that the major record labels were then in the process of dispensing vast largesse on anybody with a byline, and thus -- dreams of free LPs dancing in my head -- I petitioned the powers that be (who were doing massive quantities of drugs, if memory serves) and was given a weekly column to do with as I pleasd.

Anyway, sometime in the spring of 1970 I received a large package from Warner Bros./Reprise Records. I don't recall everything that was in it -- I'm thinking an early T-Rex album, although I can't be sure -- but one album in particular stood out -- No BS, by a then unknown Detroit band called Brownsville Station. And by stood out, I mean the cover really, really sucked. Like, it was, perhaps, The Worst Album Cover of All Time.

I mean, really, embarassingly, horrendously bad. So bad, in fact, that I didn't bother to sell it, as was my wont with LPs I knew I was never going to listen to, but rather kept it around, still shrink-wrapped, as a cautionary exemplar of hideousness. (I later learned that before WB picked No BS for distribution, it had been a D.I.Y. effort self-released on the band's own label, mostly to sell at gigs, which in some ways excused the cover's awful amateurism. But still, I thought -- dudes, you're on a major label now; hire somebody who can actually draw.)

Anyway, like I said, the album -- which I showed, with much guffawing, to everybody I knew for a few weeks -- eventually went into my collection in the milk crate with the rest of the Bs (I was one of those geeks who alphabetized his albums) and I got on with my life.

Cut to: a party in early 1973. I found myself chatting with an absolutely adorable young woman (bangs, long dark hair, and I was a goner) who as it turned out had grown up in Detroit and knew everybody in the rock music community there. She told me some amazing stories -- she had painted Bob Seger's psychedelic van at age 13 -- and she thought I was fairly cool because I knew who (local Detroit faves) The Rationals were. After many drinks, we adjourned to a local Greenwich Village watering hole (it was run by legendary Max's Kansas City restauranteur Mickey Ruskin, who she knew, impressing me mightily) and I preceeded to fall completely head over heels. And then -- around midnight, I recall -- she mentioned that she really wanted to do album covers when she got out of art school. I asked if she'd ever done one, and, somewhat ruefully, she mentioned Brownsville Station.

Yup -- the object of my affections was the woman behind The Worst Album Cover of All Time. And in in case you're wondering if I told her I knew it, let alone that I though it was TWACOAT, I'm going to assume you know absolutely nothing about guys.

Anyway, the story has a sort of happy ending. The woman in question and I went on to have a long and mostly happy run as the Nick and Nora Charles of 70s Manhattan, and we're still friends to this day. Carol (that's her name) went on to do some much better album covers -- you might remember this one --

-- and eventually achieved, deservedly, lasting fame when she co-founded the hugely influential design firm M&Co, whose wristwatch is one of the most iconic images of the last several decades.

Incidentally, a few years after we met, I interviewed the guys in Brownsville Station, who were then riding high on their hit "Smoking in the Boys Room." All went well until I mentioned that I was living with the woman who had done their first album cover, at which point I was nearly ejected from their hotel room. When I asked what was wrong, band leader Cub Koda would only say "Shit, man...that's the worst album cover of all time."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Songcrush: Silver Lining

Thers put this on a mix CD the other day, and I admit, I'm kinda sorta obsessed with it. This is Beulah doing "Silver Lining" (2001).

What I like about this is the more or less perfect blend of pop and punk, which I take to be the distinguishing characteristic of powerpop. Plus, there are moments, like the tail end of the guitar solo, which could have been written by any number of bitchin' bands, but (I confess) remind me most of Neil Innes writing for the Rutles. And that's just cool.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special They Coulda Been a Contender Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental flunky Hop-Sing and I are off to Washington, D.C. for a post bail-out cocktail party at the home of Ben "He's the Man With the Weird Beard" Bernanke. As a result, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days, or until the 700 billion check comes through, whichever comes first.

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

Best Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Band or Solo Act That Should Have Had a Mega-Career But For Whatever Reason Didn't!!!

Okay, we're talking one-hit wonders, groups or acts who had a couple of records that may have been critically acclaimed but sold negligibly, or just people that nobody ever really heard of but were fricking fantastic anyway. This is, admittedly, even more subjective than usual. Do the MC5 count? Everybody knows they were great, but they never sold that many records and broke up after three albums. How about Nick Drake? Until that car commercial made him a sort of household word, he'd been basically an obscure dead guy for decades.

Like I said, it's subjective. For me, then, I think the pornography standard applies -- i.e., I know a beautiful loser when I see one.

And that said, my top of my head Top Ten would be:

10. The Monks

These guys only made one studio album, which wasn't even released in their home country until 25 years after the fact. But as the above live clip from their fabulous 1999 reunion show demonstrates, they invented Blank Generation punk rock when Richard Hell was still in junior high school.

9. Brinsley Schwarz

The Band with pop songs, and, as you can see, one hell of a live act. IMHO, of course, they should be considered gods for no other reason than giving the world the original version of "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding".

8. The Records

It is perhaps not an exagerration to say that if it wasn't for these guys and this song the blog you're reading now wouldn't exist.

7. Kevin Salem

My favorite hard-rocking guitar-wielding singer/songwriter of the 90s. Why he remains obscure when, say, a nit like John Mayer walks the streets a free man is, frankly, beyond me.

6. The Wonders

Let's be honest -- if these guys had been an actual band rather than a fictional construct for a movie, they would have made the Hall of Fame years ago. Incidentally, that clip isn't in the film proper -- isn't it fabulous?

5. The Merry-Go-Round/Emitt Rhodes

Another powerpop god who inexplicably slipped through the cracks. Fortunately, one of the best tracks from his 1970 solo album featured prominently in the soundtrack of The Royal Tennenbaums, thus reminding people (besides the Bangles, who covered one of the songs above) of just how good he is.

4. The Remains

These guys ruled New England in 65-66, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium. So why aren't they in everybody's pantheon? The answer can be found in the fantastic, just released documentary "America's Lost Band", which I'll be reviewing over at Box Office shortly. Bottom line: If it plays in your neighborhood, pounce.

3. The Rising Sons

Featuring the rather awsome talents of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. The above cut is actually the weakest thing on their sole album (which wasn't even released in their lifetime) -- if you haven't heard the rest of it, trust me, you need to. Get over to iTunes now and start with "2:10 Train" if I haven't already convinced you.

2. Television

The greatest guitar band in history, I think. Seriously -- I know a lot of really hot guitarists, and every one I've ever played this song for has listened to Richad Lloyd's opening riff and said "How the fuck is he doing that?"

And the number one "they should have been huge" act, it's obvious and unarguable so don't even bother to suggest somebody else or I swear to god I'll take a hostage, is ---

1. Moby Grape

They all sang (gloriously), the all wrote (brilliantly), their lead guitarist was one of the most innovative American players of the decade, and their debut album is a timeless masterpiece that deftly mixes rock, country, blues, gospel, and psychedelia. So why aren't these guys as famous as, oh, Crosby, Stills and Nash? Uh, God....hellooooo?

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (movies adapted from non-traditional sources) is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you go over there and leave a comment, an angel gets its wings.]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Perhaps Predictably Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1978, here's the irrepressible and charmingly monikered Stiff Records star Wreckless Eric with his classic "Whole Wide World."

BTW, I just discovered that Eric is now married to the lovely Amy Rigby. That's adorable.

In any case, as always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded the first reader who gleans the clip's relevance to tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Although I gotta tell you -- I don't think anybody's gonna get this one.

Heh heh.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Greatest Video Ever Made

I'm not kidding about this.

Seriously -- if this doesn't make you laugh out loud, you are obviously suffering from the heartbreak of terminal necrosis, or as we at Casa Simels call it, clinical death.


I've been trying to frame for a while a post on irony in the powerpop movement, but am having trouble getting enough papers graded not to feel guilty about it. In the meantime, consider my friend Jim's take on the possibility that Buddy Holly was a bit ironic himself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Apocalypse Now

My 70s band's 1975 indie single is going for 25 bucks on ebay.

I'm stunned, seriously. What do you think -- should I contact the seller and tell 'em they've gotta be kidding?

"All they do in this town is give awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolph Hitler!"

The next nine nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced yesterday. In no particular order they are Run-DMC, Metallica, The Stooges, Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Wanda Jackson, Bobby Womack , War and Chic.

All worthy, no question about it, but if we were a betting man, we'd agree with Kent Jones on yesterday's Rachel Maddow Show: Metallica is a shoe-in. C'mon -- if people don't vote for them, James Hetfield and company will come to their house and kill them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gaithersburg Rules OK!

D.C's Maryland suburb Gaithersburg held their 27th annual Celebrate Gaithersburg festival Sunday on the last day of summer. It was a beautiful afternoon and the crowd was treated to a great powerpop doubleheader of the Rembrandts and the Gin Blossoms.

The Rembrandts took the stage first working as a duet with Danny Wilde on acoustic guitar and Phil Solem on a Gibson hollow body electric. They played a really strong set, sampling each of their four discs, performing Just The Way It Is, Baby, Follow You Down, Johnny Have You Seen Her?, and Rollin' Down The Hill just to name a few. (Yes, they did I'll Be There For You!) It was great to hear them in this semi-acoustic setting as it gave their vocal harmonies a chance to really shine through.

Next up were the headliners the Gin Blossoms who rocked the house righteously with a tight 90 minute set that hit all the high spots in their back catalog such as Hey Jealosy, Allison Road, Mrs. Rita, Found Out About You, Follow You Down, and Learning the Hard Way.

Lead singer Robin Wilson came out alone for the encore strumming an acoustic and singing a great cover of Elton John's Rocket Man. He was soon joined by the rest of the band and members of the Rembrandts who provided able accompaniment.

All in all, a great afternoon of music! Following are a few more pics of the show.

Phil rips off a solo...

Danny sings Rollin' Down the Hill.

Robin unplugged on Rocket Man.

Phil soloing on Rocket Man.

Great Lost Singles of the Seventies (Part XXVI)

From 1977, it's Sonic's Rendezvous Band and the utterly incredible "City Slang."

if you've never heard this, it's more or less the definitive hard rock record ever. Okay, that's a slight exagerration, but seriously, if the hair on the back of your neck isn't standing up after that opening bass riff when the guitars kick in I would seek immediate medical attention.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Breaking News:
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A Learjet has crashed while departing from a South Carolina airport, killing four people and critically injuring two others including a former member of rock band Blink 182.

NBC News reported that Travis Barker, an ex-drummer with the band who also starred in MTV reality show "Meet the Barkers", was among those hurt. He was transported to a burn center in Augusta, Georgia, where he was listed in critical condition on Saturday morning.

Barker had performed Friday night at an event alongside Perry Farrell, the former Jane's Addiction singer, as well as Gavin DeGraw and DJ AM.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Sincerest Form of Flattery Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental nafkeh gentleman's gentleman Hop-Sing and I are off to Galveston, TX, for the First Annual Republican Let Them Eat Vouchers Flood Relief Festival. Lee Greenwood may be the featured entertainment, so obviously all's right with the world.

In any case, as a result, 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 Record That You Could Swear is By Somebody Other Than It Actually Is!!!

Look, I'm old and senile, so I'm pretty sure that I've done this one before, but screw it -- I want to try it again if only to see if I can find a way to sneak Billy Corgan's pretentious bald noggin into the mix.

Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Eleven...

11. Fontella Bass -- Rescue Me

Best Aretha Franklin record Aretha Franklin never recorded.

10. Terry Stafford -- Suspicion

Not Elvis But an Incredible Simulation. God, this has the cheesiest echo in history, doesn't it?

9. Smashing Pumpkins -- Disarm

I realize that it's an article of faith for Pumpkins fans that they're an utterly original group that doesn't owe a debt to anybody (oh wait -- that's an article of faith for Billy Corgan. My bad.) but this sounds like vintage Beatles "White Album" to me.

8. Ronnie and the Daytonas - Little GTO

The Beach Boys, obviously.

7. B. J. Thomas -- Rock and Roll Lullaby

Again, the Beach Boys, obviously. Also Duane Eddy, although unlike the Beach Boys, he actually is on this record.

6. Mouse and the Traps -- A Public Execution

Vintage Blonde on Blonde era Dylan, anyone?

5. Shadows of Knight -- Oh Yeah

Best Yardbirds rip-off ever, and I say that knowing full well that the late sainted Lester Bangs would have given that honor to the Count 5's "Psychotic Reaction.

4. Coldplay -- Viva la Vida

U2 without the warmth? Spandau Ballet without the sense of humor? God, these guys suck.

3. Creed -- With Arms Wide Open

Eddie Vedder choking on Michael McDonald's beard? God, these guys really sucked.

2. Bonnie Tyler -- It's a Heartache

Rod Stewart with bigger boobs.

And the number one song that isn't by who you think it's by because it sounds ridiculously like somebody else -- it's so obvious that if you dare to even suggest another one and I'll harm you -- is...

1. The Knickerbockers -- Lies

Everything about this one is pure Beatles -- the dead-on Lennon lead vocal, the Merseybeat harmonies, the melody, and, perhaps most of all, the guitar sound, which is pure "Revolver" era. Just astounding...

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (Surrealism Edition!) is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way over there to leave a comment, an angel gets its wings.]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Exceptionally Early Clue to the New Direction

On all sorts of deadlines for money this morning, so today's teaser must go up early.

Consequently, from 1996, here's (on balance) Australia's greatest rock band ever, the incomparable You Am I, with one of the great lost singles of the decade, "Mr. Milk."

Love those Rickenbackers.

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

Does This Fatwa Make Me Look Fat?

From today's New York Times:

Paul McCartney has refused to cancel his concert in Israel, despite threats from Islamic militants, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. The response follows comments made by Omar Bakri Muhammad, a militant Lebanese Islamic activist, in an interview that appeared in The Sunday Express of London. Mr. Bakri said, “If he values his life, Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel,” He also said: “He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Omar, dude -- "Silly Love Songs" was thirty-five years ago. Move on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

If God Is One of Us, What Does He Think of This?

Good news: Joan Osborne has a new album out. Possibly even better news: She made it with the creative team behind Relish, her brilliant debut from 1995.

I'm listening to it now and getting ready to review it for The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review. So far, so good, and here's the first video.

Could be a hot one!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Richard Wright 1943 - 2008

From Bloomberg:

Richard Wright, a founding member of U.K. rock band Pink Floyd whose keyboard lines were an integral part of its psychedelic sound, has died. He was 65. Wright died today after a short battle with cancer, said his spokesman, Doug Wright, who isn't related.

While Wright gets credit mostly for his work on the keyboard -- which he taught himself -- he also wrote songs and sang on Floyd classics such as ``Time'' and ``Echoes.''

Wright ``has maintained a low profile throughout the band's history,'' Billboard magazine said in an August 2007 feature. Asked for his take on the staying power of the Pink Floyd's cult- like following, he told the magazine:

``Oh, God, I don't understand it. All you writers need to talk about that. I know we've made some great songs and great music, but I can't tell you why we're so popular.''

Oh, Shut Up

Over at the New York Times today, Jon Caramanica -- who has replaced the departed Kelefa Sanneh as the World's Most Irksome Rock Critic -- has this to say to say about the new solo album by a certain 90s annoyance:

No pop star has ever needed rescuing from his reputation more than Darius Rucker, frontman of Hootie & the Blowfish, perhaps the least consequential successful band ever [emphasis mine].

Apparently, this nit has never heard of REO Speedwagon. Or Grand Funk Railroad. Or...I could go on, but you get my point.

Sheesh. Where does the Times find these guys? And why does their pop music coverage continue to fellate canines, especially compared with, say, the terrific work done by the likes of A.O. Scott in the film department?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Smashing Pumpkins-Free Tales From the Crypt Non-Video Edition)

[Thought I'd take a break from the normal Listomania format this week as an excuse to reprint something I wrote for the August 1975 issue of the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review. The piece is self-explanatory, obviously, and I still love the list, but obviously it's a snapshot in time and if I was writing it today it would be a lot different. But that, of course, is where you guys come in. So read on. And then chime in when you're done.]


My younger brother's passion -- or perhaps it's a mania -- for film exceeds even mine for music. I mean, he'll sit through four hours of a Republic serial without even going to the john! But his mania has its uses; not long ago I was browsing through an esoteric film journal in his collection whose basic premise I have decided to crib. Titled simply "Things We Like," it was a completely and openly subjective (what else?) catalog by two film nuts of moments they found memorable in various motion pictures. One moment that stopped me -- and it's the only entry I can remember, by the way -- was the opening: "Mariette Hartley's wedding in Peckinpah's Ride the High Country." Lovely.

Anyway, after worrying away at my own list culled from twenty-odd years of rock-and-roll, I've decided at last to air the dirty linen in public. What follows is simply a random rundown of things that have given me pleasure, rock-wise, over the years -- specific songs, events, brief musical bits. I won't pretend, as much as I'd like to (ought to?), that any of them have any significance other than showing where my own head is at, but never mind. This is strictly for browsing; I'm willing to bet any rock fan could come up with a totally different list that would be equally valid and just as much fun.

So, without further ado, "Things I Like."

•George Harrison's last harmonic on the solo from "Nowhere Man."
•Charlie Watts hitting the bell of his cymbal on the final line of "Dead Flowers."
•The opening a capella harmonies on Fairport Convention's version of "Percy's Song."
•The Beach Boys' background ah-ohm-wop-diddits on "This Whole World.
•Smokey Robinson's heartrending wordless vocalizing at the end of "Ooh Baby Baby."
•Keith Richards' guitar solos on "Down the Road Apiece."
•Dave Davies' finger-picking on the fade-out of the Kinks' "See My Friends."
•Roy Wood introducing his solo on "Turkish Tram Conductor Blues" with a coy "Oh, yes."
•All of Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita."
•Bob Dylan's spoken introduction for "Like a Rolling Stone" on the Albert Hall bootleg.
•The back-up vocals on the last verse of the MC5's "Shakin' Street."
•Steve Marriott's screaming at the end of the Small Faces' "Tin Soldier."
•David Crosby's harmonies on the last verse of the Byrds' "Fifth Dimension" and "I Come and Stand at Every Door."
•The drunken Dixieland band on the Stones' "Something Happened to Me Yesterday."
•Arlene Smith's singing on the Chanels' "Maybe."
•The production (especially the percussion) on Martha and the Vandella's "Dancing in the Street."
•Paul McCartney's bass line on "A Little Help From My Friends."
•Keith Moon's drumming on the final break of "Happy Jack."
•Eric Clapton's lead guitar on the studio version of "Badge."
•Stevie Winwood's organ work on the ending of "I'm a Man."
•Jeff Beck's guitar solo on the Yardbirds' "Train Kept A-Rollin'."
•Keith Richards forgetting to turn on his fuzz-tone during "Satisfaction" on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1966.
•Todd Rundgren's guitar work on the Nazz's "Under the Ice."
•Leon Russell's piano on Dylan's "Watching the River Flow."
•Johnny Johnson's boogie-woogie piano break on Chuck Berry's "School Days."
•Jimi Hendrix's solo on "Little Wing."
•Roger Daltrey's "Yeahhhhh!!!!!" after the instrumental section of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
•The censored original cover for Beggars Banquet.

•The uncredited piano player (almost definitely Carole King) on the Chiffons' "One Fine Day."
•Steve Stills' and Nei Young's guitar duet on the original "Bluebird."
•Skip Spence's mumbled vocal on Moby Grape's "Seeing."
•The rave-up during the Kinks' "Milkcow Blues" (studio and live versions).
•Buddy Holly's version of "Slippin' and Slidin'" with posthumously overdubbed backing by the Fireballs.
•The Stones doing "Under My Thumb" at Altamont, as seen in Gimme Shelter.
•Van Morrison's harp break on "Mystic Eyes."
•Joni Mitchell's long-held notes and guitar work on "Marcie."
•Ian Hunter's primal (what else?) screaming on Mott the Hoople's "The Journey."
•The fact that Bob Dylan is removing Pete Hammil's liner notes from Blood on the Tracks.
•The back-cover in-concert photo on the English EP version of Got Live If You Want It.
•Paul Buckmaster's orchestral evocation of Vaughan Williams at the conclusion of "Moonlight Mile."
•Paul McCartney's vocal on "Long Tall Sally". (Not to mention Ringo's drumming or George's second solo.)
•The out-of-tune twelve-string and falsetto vocal on the Stones' "Singer Not the Song"
•Gary Brooker's scream of "Here I go!" from Procol Harum's "Rambling On."
•Nicky Hopkins' electric piano solo on the Beatles "Revolution."
•Zal Yanovsky's solo album.
•Lou Reed's singing on the last verse of the original "Sweet Jane" on Loaded.
•John Fogerty's blues-wailing harmonica on "Run Through the Jungle."
John Mendelssohn's review of Led Zeppelin II.
•The Move's "Tonight."
Beatles VI.
•Joan Baez's unintentionally hilarious attempt at soul singing on the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (in the 1966 film The T.N.T. Show.
•Almost anything by Dave Edmunds.
•Carly Simon's legs (if not her records).
•The echoed handclap before the ending of the Zombies' "Tell Her No."
•John Lennon forgetting the words to "Help" on the Ed Sullivan Show.
•John Entwistle's bass figures on the "teenage wasteland" portion of "Baba O'Reilly."
•Rod Stewart's "Whooo!!!" on the Faces' "Had Me a Real Good Time."
•Iggy Pop's Ray Davies imitation on "Gimme Danger."
•The Beatles' Shea Stadium Concert film.
•Elvis' weight problem.
•Alan Price's two-fingered organ solo on the Animals' "Boom Boom."
•Jack Cassady's eyebrows. (Also, his bass on the Airplanes' "Other Side of This Life.")
•Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," as featured in the credit sequence of Easy Rider.
•Keith Richards' teeth.
•Carl Wilson's twelve-string break on the Beach Boys' "Dance Dance Dance."
•B.J. Wilson's one-measure drum solo on Procol Harum's "The Devil Came From Kansas."
•Neil Innes' "worst guitar solo in history" from the Bonzo Dog Band's "Canyons of Your Mind."
•West, Bruce and Laing titling a banal slow blues "Slow Blues."
•And, of course, just everything from Exile on Main Street.

Awrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel World War I-themed Cinema Listomania is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you go over there and leave a comment, an angel gets its wings.]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Way Earlier Than Usual Clue to the New Direction

Okay, you bastid kids.

From 1967, here's the absolutely amazing Joni Mitchell with my favorite song from her debut album Song to a Seagull (produced, beautifully, by none other than David Crosby).

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

But I'm warning you -- none of you is going to get it. In fact, I'll drop in from time to time to give you more clues, but I guarantee it won't help.

Weekend Listomania II: This Time It's Personal!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ceci N'est Pas Une Plaisanterie

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you -- the greatest album ever recorded!

Okay, I exagerrate, but A Brief History of the Blues is, in fact, pretty much the best single disc blues anthology ever made. Which, of course, was the idea. From the liner notes:
In 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 were launched from Earth to explore and leave our Solar System carrying messages from us to the unknown. Attached to each ship is a gold-coated record with "The Sounds of Earth", including 90 minutes of the world's greatest music. If given the opportunity to program a similar disc, which 21 songs would you play to an extraterrestrial being to explain what "The Blues" was/is? What a question. This was our assignment.

The "our" in the above refers to the album's exec producers, Tonio K, who I once referred to, accurately, as the funniest serious songwriter in America, and his longtime collaborator, Texas guitar whiz Charlie Sexton. Short version: The album, including Tonio's amusing and wise accompanying essay, is just about perfect, with tracks ranging from the absolutely unarguable -- the W.C. Handy/Bessie Smith/Louis Armstrong "St. Louis Blues" -- to an obscure but transcendent version of "Long Distance Call" from an album Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Little Walter did in 1967. Obviously, this is the kind of a project with built-in pitfalls --

The first thing that needs to be admitted when approaching a compilation like this one is the fact that no one will ever be satisfied with it. Everyone will immediately wonder why _______'s version of _________ wasn't included. How could it have been overlooked? Are we stupid? Are we crazy? We agree.

-- but Tonio and Sexton have pretty much dodged them. Even better, the two new cuts produced by Sexton -- Doyle Bramhall II and Erykah Badu's appropriately spooky version of Charlie Patton's "Oh Death" and Charlie Musselwhite and Jimmie Vaughan's sizzling "Bad Boy" -- are a great fit with the classic tracks by the likes of B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Howlin Wolf and Mississippi John Hurt.

Needless to say -- go over to the link and order it immediately.

Incidentally, calling the above the greatest album ever recorded is a bit of an in-joke. Some years ago, I reviewed Tonio's brilliant debut LP Life in the Foodchain (one of the splendidly twisted masterpieces of its decade) and called it exactly that; since then, I have made it a point to describe every album he's released with the same phrase (and I meant it each time, BTW). You can read that now infamous September 1979 review (from the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review) here

And if you've never heard the record -- in which case, what's your fricking problem? -- here's my second favorite track from it, the incomparable "Funky Western Civilization." To our knowledge, still the only rock song with a cameo vocal appearance by Joan of Arc.

Sounds good? You betcha, so while you're up go order it here. You -- and the late George Metesky -- will thank me.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

In Light of Recent Polling in the Presidential Race Part Deux...

...we note that Britney Spears won a VMA award Sunday.

The Spears family would like to thank Governor Mooselini's daughter Bristol for mainstreaming teen pregancy just in time for the award ceremony.

In Light of Recent Polling in the Presidential Race...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Great Lost Singles of the Sixties

It has come to our attention that "I Got a Line On You," by the vastly underrated Spirit, figures prominently in the new Coen Brothers film Burn After Reading.

To which we can only say -- good. Those guys (that's the original 1968 promo film, and if it doesn't sum up fin du decade L.A. I don't know what does) were an absolutely phenomenal live band, the song in question is one of the most perfect hard rock singles ever made, and both they and it deserve the exposure, after the fact as it may be.

For some reason, I'm hoping this is the music they use in the scene where John Malkovich pops Brad Pitt in the nose, but that's just me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Happy Feet! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental rentboy amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off for Alaska for the annual Aerial Moose Hunt sponsored by vice-presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin. I believe there will also be a hastily arranged bridal shower for the Governor's daughter, but since kids are off-limits I can't really comment on that one.

In any case, posting by moi will thus be sporadic for a few days.

But in the meantime, here's a fun project to tide us all over:

Best Post-Elvis Song That References a Dance or Dancing!!!

A friendly warning: It's quite possible that somebody will nominate a hip-hop song from the current decade, but if you do, I will feel free to laugh at you.

Also -- we're not talking about good dance songs, we're talking songs ABOUT dancing or with dances or dancing in the title or lyrics. Thus Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up," for example, as great as it is to dance to, is ruled right out. Thank you very much.

Okay, all that out of the way, here's my totally top of my head Top Ten:

10. Jerry Dallman and the Knightcaps -- The Bug

One of the many splendid obscure oldies (most only hits in Baltimore) that John Waters exhumed from his personal record collection for the soundtrack of the original Hairspray. True story: When Waters was putting the soundtrack together, he got a call from an exec at MCA/Universal (the studio releasing the film and album). It was, in fact, the selfsame Jerry Dallman, now all grown up, but in his teenage years the punk kid who fronted "The Bug." Apparently, it was a tossup who was more amazed by this turn of events -- Dallman or the director.

9. The Velvet Underground -- Rock 'n' Roll

"Despite all the amputations you could just go out and dance to a rock and roll station..." Nuff said.

8. The Guess Who -- Dancing Fool

I'm sorry, but I think these guys were great. This was one of their last hits, with particularly splendid riffage by post-Joe Walsh James Gang guitarist Dominic Troiano.

7. Smashing Pumpkins -- Dancing in the Moonlight

This is, apparently, a cover of a Thin Lizzy song that I don't recall off the top of my head (not the earlier King Harvest hit), but in any case it proves, yet again, that there is no conceivable Listomania topic for which I can't find a relevant clip featuring Billy Corgan's pretentious bald noggin. It's beginning to scare me, actually.

6. Gene and Wendell -- The Roach

Another killer dance craze from the Hairspray soundtrack. Boy, would I like to get a gander at John Waters' iPod.

5. Little Eva -- The Locomotion

Often remade but never bettered, in part because of the splendid piano work from its author Carole King. Seriously -- doesn't this sound like proto-metal to you?

4. Alvin Cash and the Crawlers -- Twine Time

A great riff and one of the funkiest (in the old school sense) instrumentals of the 60s. I actually prefer this to some of the Junior Walker stuff, but that's just me.

3. Roxy Music -- Dance Away

I'm not a huge fan of either Roxy or Bryan Ferry solo, but this one -- which is about as moonlight and roses as you can get -- just slays me.

2. The Beatles -- I'm Happy Just to Dance With You

Ah, George. Sorry -- that's all I've got for this one.

And the numero uno coolest song about getting down with your bad self, hands down it's so totally obvious if you try to argue with me I swear to god I'll harm you so just don't, is ---

1. The Beach Boys -- Dance, Dance, Dance

On balance, I think this is Brian's best flat out rocker, and whoever's playing the twelve-string break -- if it's not Carl Wilson, it's probably Glen Campbell -- is a fricking genius. Absolutely kick-ass on every level, with a chorus to die for.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania is now up at Box Office. As always, if you could go over there and leave a comment, an angel definitely gets its wings.]

Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1964, here's Elvis Presley with the astoundingly awful "Do the Clam."

As crappy as that song is, it's historically noteworthy in that it was co-written by none other than Delores Fuller. Before finding success as a songwriter, you may recall that Ms. Fuller was the actress/gilfriend of the incomparable Edward D. Wood Jr., director of Glen or Glenda?, among other masterpieces of Le Bad Cinema. Ms. Fuller, you may also recall, was played by Sara Jessica Parker in Tim Burton's bio-pic Ed Wood; that's her in the GOG? trailer, handing off an angora sweater to her incomparable paramour.

In any case, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the reader who first divines the Elvis clip's relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Deep Thoughts

Artful Dodger. "Honor Among Thieves." Live, in 1980.

Can somebody explain to me why these guys weren't huge fricking stars? Frankly, I'm baffled.

[h/t Ken Fox]

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Where There's Smoke...

My good friend Sal Nunziato, formerly of the world's greatest indie record store NYCD, and of late of The Huffington Post, has just started his own music blog.

It's called Burning Wood and if you have any sense you'll go over there right now and give him some love.

Sal's a great writer with an encyclopedic knowledge of just about every kind of vernacular American music there is, so obviously I hate his guts. But at least he saved me the trouble of reviewing the new Brian Wilson album.

There's a scene in Annie Hall where some third-rate comedian is looking to hire Alvy Singer as a joke writer. Woody Allen's character sits in horror, wearing that "frozen smile," as this buffoon preens and prances his way through some embarrassing schtick, to show Alvy, the potential employee, the kind of material he needs. This "frozen smile" is the exact expression that remained on my face for the entire 38 minutes of "That Lucky Old Sun," the new release from Brian Wilson. I couldn't believe my ears.

I will set the record straight. I love the Beach Boys. You know, many don't. Some hear "I Get Around" and "Fun Fun Fun," and, well...all of the Boys' 60's hits as nothing but novelty songs for summer. (They are wrong, of course) More than a few have never even heard a note from the groundbreaking 70's albums "Holland," "Surf's Up," and "Sunflower." And really, is there a more perfect pop tune than "Don't Worry Baby?" I think not. Brian Wilson is a legend, a genius, one of the world's greatest composers and a national treasure.

That said, I have no problem tossing aside those accomplishments like a half-eaten chicken wing when the bleu cheese is gone, once I listen to any of Brian Wilson's solo work...

Read the rest of it here.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Former Blake Babies star/90s indie-rock babe Juliana Hatfield has a memoir -- When I Grow Up (John Wiley & Sons) -- coming out on Sept. 22.

I've always kinda liked Hatfield, even during the whole Evan Dando soap opera, so this bit from a piece in today's New York Times struck me as particularly interesting:

But it [success] was all too much for the shy Ms. Hatfield to handle. She’d binge on ice cream and sweets, then starve herself on a handful of nuts and a granola bar for days; standing 5 foot 7 inches tall, she weighed 100 pounds at her lowest. She had few friends and told Interview magazine that she was still a virgin in her mid-20s, which only fueled her reputation as a loner. (For the record, she now wants to make it clear that she’s no longer a virgin.)

Hey Juliana -- once you've had a fat, balding, middle-aged Jew you never go back. Just saying, babe.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tales From the Crypt, Part XXXVI

[Been meaning to post this -- the opening section of the unsurpassed literary masterpiece that will probably make my name live beyond eternity (Gender Chameleons: Androgyny in Rock 'N' Roll, Arbor House, 1985) -- for a while, and now here it is at last. I had a lot of fun writing this, as you'll probably be able to tell from the excerpt, but it would be a gross exagerration to say that the book sold well or made much of a splash, although as I recall I did get one very nice review ("Insightful and often wildly hilarious" -- L.A. Times). In any case, the book ultimately occasioned one of the great thrills of my professional career, during the first Eschaton convention in 2005. An Atriot on-line pal, who I hadn't before then met, introduced herself on opening night and told me that, back in the day, as an impressionable youth, she had not only bought a copy (solely because of the title) but that it had in some small way enriched her life. Of course, I would have preferred a five figure royalty check from subsequent printings, but it was gratifying to hear that anyway.]


For me, the subject of androgyny first came up when I discovered that I was a Lesbian.

This was during the heyday of the alleged Counterculture and my tenure at an unidentified college on Long Island. By this time, of course, like so many of my contemporaries, I had become a professional Bohemian. I had also acquired a girlfriend, a tender young princess from Syosset named Joy, whose parents' freezer contained, at all times, enough frozen food to adequately feed the civilian population of Nassau County in the event of a sneak nuclear attack by a foreign power. Since I did not have a card enabling me to eat in the school cafeteria, I became much enamored of this young woman, as you can well imagine. One evening (after feasting on a recently defrosted rump roast) the two of us returned to the campus parking lot, parked behind my dormitory, and spent a passionate hour or so in the backseat of Joy's 1968 Mustang. That duty discharged, I ran back to the third-floor lounge to watch "Star Trek." In the middle of the episode one of my good ol' fraternity boy hallmates sat down next to me and poked me in the ribs.

"You'll never believe what I just saw," he said with the kind of slack-jawed stupefaction usually associated with people who've been abducted by UFO's.

"What?" I asked innocently.

"Two girls," he replied, still obviously shaken. "Making out. In the parking lot."

I paused for dramatic effect.

"In a green Mustang?"

"You saw them too!"

I nodded but chose not to enlighten my friend further. Frankly, I was not a little irritated by the whole business. After all, I had a mustache, unlike any of the Lesbians I had met at that point in my young life. How was such a confusion possible? Was I actually so effeminate that I could be mistaken for a girl? So what if Joy and I happened to have nearly identical long curly hair and middle-European features? So what if we both dressed in faded work shirts and jeans? So what if neither of us wore makeup? Why, a blind man could see the differences between us with a cane.

The more I thought about it, the more the conclusion becamse inescapable. I had to kill my friend.*

Of course, androgyny was not a completely alien concept to me even then. Before my college days I may not have known precisely what the word meant, but the concept had vaguely registered by the sixth grade, since the phrase "he throws like a girl" impinged itself on my consciousness. By high school, like most of my peers, I had already seen the Rolling Stones mince around on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (particularly that skinny singer with the big lips and the blond guitarist whose hairdo reminded me of Judy Berkowitz, a girl who sat in front of me in third-period English). Those guys are onto something, I said to myself, even if I don't know what it is. And even later, watching the TAMI Show movie in the darkened vastness of the Hackensack Oritani Theater, I couldn't help notice that the Stones were preceded in that landmark rock film by the Barbarians, a bunch of extremely long-haired ex-jock types who were singing something entitled "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?" (Perhaps if they had called it "Excuse Me, Are You Androgynous?" I would have seen the light sooner, but then again, such a song title would not have garnered the Barbarians much airplay, let alone their richly deserved reputation as a minor footnote to rock history. In any case, I have long since forgiven them.)

But enough of my personal reminiscences. I'm here to tell a story that's far bigger than I: the story of A Trend. No, not just A Trend, but A Theme...A Theme that predates rock-and-roll (as any devotee of Marlene Dietrich will attest) but has undeniably found its most widespread public expression in the postwar years in rock-and-roll, and is today (let us not mince words) not only the dominant motif in pop music but a Certifiable Phenomenon. For when a tabloid like the National Star gives its readers tips on achieving the Boy George look, and CBS devotes half an hour of its prestigious "Face the Nation" to a discussion of male pop singers who wear dresses, something is happening that has wider cultural implications than, say, who shot Bobby Ewing.

The story is androgyny in rock -- the blurring of distinctions, traditional or otherwise, between the sexes, by performers and fans alike. From its Fifties emergence to its Eighties apotheosis, there is much to ponder, as well as much to remember affectionately. Calling a spade a spade and a queen a queen, we may wind up with more questions than answers (or vice versa, however unlikely that may be), but let the chips fall where they may -- we'll take our lumps together like men. Or women. Or whatever.

One final note. Nick Lowe, who is one of my favorite pop stars and not at all androgynous (for an Englishman), recently observed that there is a general, appalling lack of humor and realism in today's rock-and-roll. I agree, and this book has been written in part as my own small attempt to correct that situation. As Oscar Wilde (a man who had a nodding acquaintance with androgyny) said: "Some things are too important to be taken seriously." Or, if you prefer, Shecky Greene (whose influence on our age can not be underestimated): "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Thanks are due to Merille Heifetz of Writers House, who got me the gig; to Philip Hoffman, Joseph Gonzalez, Denise Sweeny and everybody at Downtown, who let me drink when I should have been writing; to Marcia Swanberg, who kept me solvent; to the inventor of word processing(who was that man? I'd like to shake his hand); and, finally, to my parents, who looked -- very, very carefully -- before having me circumcised. Without any or all of the above, this would have been an altogether different book. A Harlequin Romance, for instance.

-- Steven Simels

New York City
September 1984


*Cooler heads prevailed, of course. I didn't kill him, and, like my Dad used to say, time wounds all heels. I have since learned that the neighbor from those faraway college days is now a colostomy supply salesman, punishment enough for his lack of discernment. As for Ms. Joy, since I haven't seen her in over fifteen years, I have reluctantly concluded that we have drifted apart. But I like to think that she still has a well-stocked freezer, that she married somebody who looks as much like me as I do, and that -- even now -- she's raising three extremely androgynous children. Three, hopefully. One of each. Scott, Tiffany, and Betty-George.

Monday, September 01, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

We have Fall Out Boy and a vice presidential candidate who thinks its cool to hunt down and kill Bullwinkle the Moose.

Sweden has the greatest band in the world and socialized medicine.

That's The Soundtrack of Our Lives, in case you don't recognize them, and the utterly astounding "Sister Surround."

Needless to say, if Princes Mooseburger somehow gets with in ten feet of the White House this fall, I'll be posting for the next four years from Göteborg.

[h/t Gilly Gonzolon]