Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Last Shameless Blogwhore of 2008

My review of America's Lost Band, the splendid new documentary -- nay, rockumentary -- on Sixties garage gods The Remains is now up over at Box Office.

You can (and should) read it here.

2008 to World: I'm Outta Here!

Submitted for your approval -- an utterly adorable unofficial fan video for "Nobody Knows Me at All" by The Weepies. Yes, the same band whose "All That I Want" prompted me to put up a perhaps overly sappy Christmas post last week.

In any case, I think I posted the clip last year at this time, so think of it as an ongoing New Year's Eve tradition.

And say what you will about these guys (including that singer Deb Talan has the cutest, most affecting suburban voice in contemporary pop) I think it's safe to say that they write the best bridges since Lennon and McCartney. Seriously -- that little bit beginning with "But oh...when the lights are low" opens the song up like Cinemascope.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Letter

Dear Denizens of VH-1 Classic, Sirius, XM, etc.,

Shocking I know, but there are some of us who went to considerable lengths to avoid the whole Morrissey/Smiths nexus during the 80's and are less than delighted with having it shoved down our throats now in the name of nostalgia. If I wanted to hear adenoidal whining, I'd assign 25-page papers to my freshman English classes. I do not, and I do not.

Please repeat above paragraph in re: the case of Robert Smith/Cure.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.


More Tales From the Crypt

[I have yet to hear a note from the nearly two decades in the making new Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy, but until I do, I thought you might get a kick out of my review of the band's last magnum opus. From the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Reivew, in December of 1991.]

GUNS N' ROSES: Use Your Illusion I and II (GEFFEN)

As just about everybody in the world has heard by now, the new Guns N' Roses double album Use Your Illusion -- sold as two separate discs or tapes for reasons known only to God and W. Axl Rose -- is the most successful pop artifact-as-cultural-event since...well, since 1967 and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. But is it any good?

Not particularly, alas. Strictly on statistics, this sprawling 2-hour marathon seems needlessly excessive, a set that wasn't conceived as some kind of organic whole but feels instead like thirty songs the Gunners had lying around and randomly threw together. Which isn't to say there isn't an overall lyrical theme: there is. In song after song we hear that the world -- mostly women (not GNR's preferred term) or occasionally rock critics (some actually named in the admittedly funny "Get in the Ring") -- is out to ruin these guys' breakfasts, making them mad as hell, and it's our turn to suffer. Earth to GNR: Pique is a pathetic concept to build an album around.

There is music here too, of course, and in fairness it's not a total loss. Both GNR and producer Mike Clink seem incapable of slickness, which these days is refreshing, and there are lots of moments here -- even in the bizarre cover of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" -- where everybody works up a phenomenal head of hard-rock steam. True, nothing is terribly original, but as pastiches of the Stones, Aerosmith, and (maybe) Lynyrd Skynyrd go, these are often pretty effective. The ballads, on the other hand, are pretty ugly, in the band's trademark faux-Beggars Banquet way ("November Rain," for example) but I doubt that even fans really care that much about the ballads anyway. As for lead singer Rose -- well, he performs about the way you'd expect from somebody who thinks Rob Halford (of Judas Priest) is the pre-eminent rock vocalist of our age. Probably you need to see him dancing onstage to appreciate his work here fully.

Listening to the album(s) straight through, of course, it seems pretty obvious that it's as representative of this band's world view as we're ever going to get. Chutzpah or greed alone can't explain their releasing 152 minutes of music; clearly, GNR poured their hearts and souls into the making of Use Your Illusion and that leads us to a larger question -- specifically, how come these guys are the most successful rock-and-roll band in the world right now? My guess is that it's simple, that compared to the competition (bands like Poison or Motley Crüe) GNR comes off as real, as genuinely dangerous. That's what we've always wanted from our rock stars, and GNR delivers it in spades. Unfortunately, their new album is an epic temper tantrum, the aural equivalent of a bratty three-year-old banging a spoon on his highchair.

So what does its enormous success say about the culture we all share with the band? Frankly, my dears, I don't think we want to know. -- Steve Simels

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Lennon Legacy

Thank god somebody has her late husband's best interests at heart.

Thanks to today's technology, the Beatles' late lead singer John Lennon is being featured in a new TV advertisement for charity, twenty-eight years after his death. The singer's widow, Yoko Ono allowed the use of voice and images of her husband for One Laptop Per Child Foundation, which is campaigning to supply computers to children in the developing world. The commercial used the same digital technology as in other advertisements that brought back deceased celebrities like Jim Henson and Fred Astaire.

You can watch it here; personally, I think it's creepy and cheap, but what the hell. In any case, I'll have a link to the Courtney Love approved spot featuring Kurt Cobain hawking infant formula tomorrow.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special The Red Sea Pedestrians of Xmas! Partial-Video Guest Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental strumpet social secretary Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Lake Forest, California for a Xmas Prayer retreat at nature's nobleman Rick Warren 's Camelhump MegaChurch, or whatever it's called. This will be a thorougly heterosexual affair, from what I hear, so modesty forbids any detailed dispatches. Which means that posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

But fortunately, constant reader Exposito has jumped into the fray in our absence, and as a result, here's a fabulously exciting and ethnically inventive project for us all:


Okay, take it away, Exposito!



I culled these from some old LPs given out as holiday premiums at Gulf stations and A&P supermarkets, as well as more recent recordings.

The criteria I used to select the recordings on this list were:

The performer should have been raised in a Jewish home (e.g., Sammy Davis, Jr doesn't qualify).

The songs must be traditional Christmas songs (e.g., Randy Newman 's "Christmas in Cape Town" and Lou Reed's "Xmas in February" are good, original songs about Christmas, so they don't make the list).

Tracks must include vocals (e.g., Leonard Bernstein conducting The Nutcracker Suite doesn't make the list).

The performer may not be the songwriter (this means Mel Torme singing "The Christmas Song" is out). [Uh, I don't think Mel is Jewish. But I get the point. -- Ed.]

Good interpretations of songs are discouraged (this is what disqualifies the rest of Mel Torme's recordings of Christmas songs, as well as Bette Midler's).

The inclusion of entire albums is discouraged (otherwise Neil Diamond would have over half the tracks on this list).

The song should actually make reference to Christmas, Jesus, or the New Testament (e.g., "Winter Wonderland" doesn't qualify).

Harry Connick, Jr. just didn't seem to worth including on a list of such curiosities. [Good idea -- Ed.]

Okay, and my totally top of my head Top Nine (not quite enough for a Minyan) are:

9. Barbra Streisand: I Wonder as I Wander

Barbra wanders quite far on this song, actually.

8. Richard Tucker: The Lord's Prayer

Tucker was a great singer, but this cover brings Philip Roth's story The Conversion of the Jews to mind.

7. Steve Lawrence: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Almost a dramatic reading.

6. Eddie Cantor: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

An early recording of this perennial.

5. Neil Diamond: Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

When peace meets Diamond, Diamond wins by a knockout punch.

4. Carly Simon: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

A reggae version, actually.

3. Eydie Gorme (with Steve): It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

In English and Spanish. [Uh, I think Gorme is actually Greek. Just saying. -- Ed.]

2. Neil Sedaka: What Child Is This?

Any other song on his Christmas album would work as well.

And the number one Jews of Christmas Ditty, like you thought it was something else, obviously is --

1. Barbra Streisand: Jingle Bells

An exception to the rule that the songs on the list should refer overtly to Christianity; here because of Streisand's unique interpretation of the word "Upsot."

Until David Lee Roth and Courtney Love collaborate on a Christmas album, this list might have to suffice.

So alright already -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (theme: Best Fiction Film Reflecting the Spirit of the 60s!) is now up over at Box Office. If in the spirit of the holidays you could manage to get over there and leave a comment, it would definitely increase my viability with management.]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a Glamtastic Christmas!

No Christmas is complete in my house without a few spins of Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, a cut that could have shown up on Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift to You. I can hear Darlene Love belting this one out!

Don't forget to post to Steve's Listomania below too!


A Way Early Clue to the New Direction (Christmas Day Edition)

Okay, I haven't checked with NYMary or KC, but I'm reasonably certain it will be slow around here today.

So, from sometime in the 70s , here's Dr. Demento faves Gefilte Joe and the Fish with "Take a Walk on the Kosher Side."

"And the ladies of Hadassah go..."

As always, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded the first reader who shakes off his turkey-induced tryptophan haze and gleans the clips relation to tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Oh, and a Merry Grimble to all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Slightly Sappy (So Sue Me) Seasons Greetings

Okay, I'm going to get a little self-indulgent here for a minute, so cut me some slack if you can.

Basically, I just wanted to say that this time last year I found myself, quite improbably, falling in love. And the Christmas song I kept hearing in at least two TV commercials was the ineffably touching "All That I Want" by The Weepies .

Which, as it turned out, was, improbably, about the improbability of somehow finding the right person to fall in love with.

Above the rooftops...the full moon dips its golden spoon. I wait on clip clops...deer might fly. Why not? I met you...

A year later, I still can't hear the thing without getting a little misty, sentimental old fluff that I am. So I thought I'd share it again (I think I posted it last December without much personal comment) as sort of a video Christmas card to you all.

So Happy Holidays, everyone, with the sincere hope that what the new year brings you makes you as happy I've been since last Christmas. However improbably.

Holiday Carols for the New Millenium...

Here's a personal fave of mine, Christmas In Suburbia by Martin Newell from his 1993 LP The Greatest Living Englishman. If you are picking up a bit of a XTC vibe, you are right, Andy Partridge twiddled the knobs on this one. The toy piano is an inspired touch and the lyrics are just perfect. Have a cool Yule everyone!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Don't Know Why This Makes Me Happy, But It Does

From today's New York Times:

A medical study conducted by an Australian scientist suggests that the heavy-metal practice of headbanging to fast music can cause head and neck injuries, The Guardian reported. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, Andrew McIntosh, an associate professor at the School of Risk and Safety Sciences at the University of New South Wales, writes that flailing along to a headbanging song (with an average tempo of 146 beats per minue) can cause "mild head injury when the range of motion is greater than 75 degrees"; at faster tempos the risks can range from headaches to strokes [emphasis mine].

Hmm. So THAT's why we haven't heard anything from Wayne and Garth lately....

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Well, scratch another one off my want list! Great to see an official CD release on Alive Records of the legendary band the Nerves, a powerpop supergroup of sorts that featured Peter Case, Paul Collins and Jack Lee. They are probably best known for Jack Lee's Hanging on the Telephone which was covered by Blondie on their 1978 Parallel Lines LP.

The set includes their 1976 EP (their only recorded output) and a nice mix of demos and live material. Some of the live tracks are a little rough soundwise but are still a great historical document from a seminal band! This was a long time coming and worth the wait!

You can pick up your own copy from the good folks at Not Lame or Ray at Kool Kat Musik!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Find: The Rifles

Thers and I are pretty equally divided over whether these guys are the Next Great Thing, or whether they're headed for Franz Fedinand/Killers status. Personally, I hope it's the former.

They've been around a couple of years; you can buy the new EP here, and there's another album coming out in a month or so. We particularly recommend "Darling Girl."

Separated at Birth in Hell

Compare and Contrast: Worst singer/songwriter of the new Millenium, if not ever, James Blunt, with his execrable "Goodby My Lover" (from 2004)--

-- and Derek Stevens, the clueless hasbeen Brit rock star played by Dana Carvey on SNL in the late 80s, with "Choppin' Broccoli."

No kidding, I'm not sure which of these songs sucks more, although obviously Carvey's is a parody. But the similarities are kind of eerie. Hell, Blunt even looks like him.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Tolstoy, You Ignorant Slut! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental concubine social secretary Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Telluride, Colorado, to the palatial home of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and baby Sukhreet, or Soupy, or Stewie or whatever the hell the kid is called. We'll be attending a private screening of Tom's forthcoming motion picture Valkyrie; I'm told it has something to do with germs, so I'll be spending most of the weekend laminated in plastic as a precautionary measure.

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:


Totally arbitrary rule: The word "battle" is allowed, but songs that merely refer to fighting are not.

Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Five:

5. (What's So Funny) 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding? -- Stephen Colbert and Friends

Sorry I couldn't find the actual video for this, which I think is now the definitive version. (The friends are Elvis Costello, Toby Keith(!), Feist, Jon Legend and Willie Nelson). I must say, though, the idea that a wiseguy cynic like Nick Lowe actually wrote what has become the most beloved anti-war song of our time is a bit of a mind-blower.

4. Let's Have a War -- Fear

"It could start in New Jersey!" The great Lee Ving on vocals, for the second week in a row. If memory serves, this is the song Fear were singing on SNL when some punks in the audience rioted. John Belushi loved it.

3. Banks of the Nile -- Fotheringay

The British Army in Egypt, and absolutely heartbreaking, via the great Sandy Denny.

"Oh cursed be these cruel wars, that ever they began
For they have robbed our country of many's the handsome man
They've robbed of us of our sweethearts while their bodies they feed the lions
On the dry and sandy deserts which are the banks of the Nile."

2. Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace -- Cheap Trick

I actually prefer the original vesion -- by the incomparable Terry Reid, about whom not enough can be said -- but since it's not on YouTube, this will suffice.

And the number one song about the the yin and yang of man's fate, it's self-evidently obvious and if you give me any grief about it I will come to your house with a regiment of mounted cavalry and obliterate you, is...

1. Peace Like a River -- Paul Simon

From his first solo album (still his masterpiece, I think) and one of his most ineffably lovely songs ever. Some smart alt-pop band with a Rickenbacker twelve-string and a winsome-voiced lead singer would be well advised to cover this some time.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (theme: worst remakes!) is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and posting a comment, it would really get me in good with management. Thanks.]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Early (And Hideously Dressed) Clue to the New Direction

From 1974, here's Swedish glam fashion victims ABBA and their insidiously catchy ode to love as a battlefield, the ubiquitous "Waterloo."

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

Not holding my breath, though. You bastids.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ars Gratia Pecunia

Courtesy of the latest issue of MOJO Magazine, I note that ace songwriter Artie Wayne has some interesting things to say on the use of certain popular songs in contemporary TV commercials.

"Take “Viva Viagra”…please. If my late friends, Doc Pomus and Morty Shuman, who wrote “Viva Las Vegas”, were alive today, I’m sure they would be amused by the lyric, but I doubt if they would have ever given permission for it to be used...

When I see the Seabond ad for denture adhesive using one of my favorite oldies, “Bye, Bye Love”, with new lyrics that include, “Bye Bye, ooziness”, I fight throwing my bong at the TV!...

Finally, the one that really gets to me the most, is the Barclay’s ad that features “What The World Needs Now Is Love”. Maybe it’s because the song has such a strong significance for me. It was a song my friend, Jackie DeShannon, sang to me from the studio as she was recording it, after I had open heart surgery -- it's one of the most inspiring songs ever written..."

Heh heh. You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Les Cahiers du Dick Miller

I don't now if you guys saw it, but I posted about the astounding yet obscure 50s music flick Rock, Baby, Rock It over at Box Office yesterday, and I was going to follow it up with another little known rock flick until cooler heads prevailed.

So I'm going to do it here instead. You'll thank me, honestly.

Anyway, I refer of course to the 1957 Roger Corman quickie Carnival Rock. Starring the great heavy Bruno VeSota and Corman (and later Joe Dante) regular Dick Miller (I often think of Miller as the Robert DeNiro to Corman's Martin Scorsese, but then I usually take my meds). Plus The Platters and a couple of cool rockabilly guys.

Anyway, here's the trailer.

As you can see, Carnival Rock was made with Corman's usual attention to quality, but that aside, there's one reason the film behooves beholding -- the shithot teenage lead guitarist you'll notice backing (future country stars) Bob Luman and David Houston. Yup, that's the great James Burton, who played all the cool stuff on the original Susie Q. and Hello Mary Lou, and has worked with just about everybody of note since, including Elvises Presley AND Costello.

No DVD available at the moment, alas, but there's a decent tape version from Rhino; you can (and I would say should) order it here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Art, Meet Commerce

In case you couldn't place it, that exquisitely Simon and Garfunkel-ish neo-folkie dittie that's all over the TV this season in those L.L. Bean ads is "Valley Winter Song" by Fountains of Wayne. From 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers, which more and more is beginning to feel like the Rubber Soul of its generation.

Although its been said many times, many ways...Adam Schlesinger is a goddamn genius.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special The Big Apple Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental concubine secretary Fah Lo Suee and I are off to the Windy City (that's Chicago, to you rubes) to discuss some sort of political appointment with Governor Rod however-you-spell-his-last-name (what do you want from me, it's vaguely ethnic). I understand his lovely wife will be putting her two cents in as well, so it should be a colorful weekend, although no doubt we'll have to pay to play if you know what I mean.

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-Beatles Pop/Rock Song/Record About/Referencing New York City and Environs in Title or Lyrics!!!

Okay, no arbitrary rules here, but if you nominate any version of "New York, New York" I will come to your house and kill you AND your family.

Okay, that said, my top of my head Top Seven would be:

7. Dirty Boulevard -- Lou Reed

From the New York City album, obviously. One of Lou's sharpest lyrics, I think, and his cosmic sense of timing on the chorus is a marvel.

6. Tonight, Tonight -- Smashing Pumpkins

Okay, if truth be told this has no connection to New York whatsoever except that it's where Smashing Pumpkins were playing at the time. Thus, we mark the official end of our ongoing project to shoehorn Billy Corgan and his pretentious cueball noggin into every Weekend Listomania theme no matter how tenuous the connection.

You're welcome. Incidentally, I've got an unopened DVD of the Pumpkins most recent two-disc live video collection, "If All Goes Wrong," if anybody wants it. First person to e-mail me...

5. King of the New York Streets -- Dion

From his unjustly overlooked Yo Frankie album in 1990, mostly produced by Dave Edmunds. Proof that Dion's a great songwriter, not just one of the greatest rock voices ever, although the last line has always struck me as a copout.

4. Six O'Clock -- The Lovin' Spoonful

I know, I know, "Summer in the City" would be a more obvious pick, but this one just feels so much like NYC when I lived there. Actually, so do a lot of Spoonful songs -- "Rain on the Roof" comes to mind as well.

3. New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones - Fear

The great Lee Ving on vocals, much beloved of John Belushi.

2. Christmas in Hollis -- Run D.M.C.

That Hollis, Queens, bitches! God, I love this song.

And the number one Big Apple record, it's not even close so don't give me any goddamn attitude, obviously is --

1. New York's a Lonely Town (When You're the Only Surfer Boy Around) -- The Tradewinds

"My woody's outside...covered with snow." That's future Ringo Star associate Vini Poncia, mastermind of the greatest NYC surf song ever, singing lead on Shindig.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (Theme: low budget flicks!] is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and leaving a comment, it helps keep me in good with management. Thanks!]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Early Clue to the New Direction

From 1968, here's the actually excellent Southern soul singer O.C. Smith and a scratchy, obviously transferred from vinyl, version of his nonetheless not so excellent signature hit "Little Green Apples."

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

But if I were a betting man, I'd mortgage the farm that nobody will get it.

Just saying.

Stealing Material From the World

So you may have heard that Thinking Man's Guitar Hero Joe Satriani sued World's Most Irksome Band Coldplay last week, claiming that their execrable world-wide hit "Viva La Vida" was ripped off from his earlier "If I Could Fly." As reported in Wednesday's New York Times, Coldplay is toughing it out, claiming that the resemblance is "entirely coincidental," but since it's Coldplay, nobody believes a fricking word they say for a minute.

In any case, here's a mashup of the two tunes so you can decide for yourself.

Okay, obviously they're the same song, but whether it's coincidence or (as I'd like to think) a deliberate and arrogant rip-off, Coldplay are being really stupid about this -- just pay the two dollars, assholes. Or else ask Brian Wilson and George Harrison how these things work.

It may also be worth recalling that back in 1997, as the Rolling Stones were readying their Bridges to Babylon album, that somebody -- Keith Richards daughter, I think -- pointed out to the Stones that the chorus from the album's forthcoming debut single, "Anybody Seen My Baby" --

-- sounded kind of a bit like the chorus from KD Lang's 1992 vastly superior "Constant Craving."

Mick and Keith's immediate and sensible reaction was to give Lang and her co-writer Ben Mink co-billing on the song, and consequently no lawyers were enriched or reputations besmirched. There's a lesson in there, but I doubt that the insufferable Chris Martin will learn it in time.

And by the way, yes, that's Angelina Jolie in the Stones video. I think she worked cheaper in those days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sign O' the Times

From today's Arts and Leisure section:

While the spotlights were firmly trained Monday on Jay Leno, his NBC late-night colleague-in-training Jimmy Fallon was busy making news of his own. In the first installment of his official video blog, Mr. Fallon, the former Saturday Night Live star, announced he would take over hosting duties of NBC’s Late Night franchise on March 2. He also confirmed the rumor that the hip-hop group The Roots would be the house band for his new show, introducing them on his blog as “the greatest band in late night.”

I actually like those guys, and I'm betting this is a very smart choice on Fallon's part.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Another Triumph of Late Capitalism

Okay, from February 1994 and the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review, here's my take on a then blockbuster Frank Sinatra album. I offer it up here not so much for its intrinsic value but rather as part of a cautionary tale for those of you considering a career in music journalism, as you'll see in the postscript. Anyway, here it is.


You already know the idea behind Frank Sinatra's new album: The Chairman of the Board remakes some of his signature tunes with the original arrangements and some famous guests -- Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Carly Simon, Tony Bennett -- singing along. And you've probably heard the word-of-mouth on the results: Sinatra sounds like Joe Piscopo doing Sinatra, it's obvious the star and the collaborators weren't in the studio at the same time, and some of them -- U2's Bono, Gloria Estefan -- have about as much business doing standards as Sinatra would have doing heavy metal. All that's true, I'm afraid, but it doesn't prepare you for the unholy mess that is Duets.

Sure, the audible reality here is that Sinatra is simply years past it (and not just in vocal quality -- the magisterial phrasing of yore seems ossified, too.) And yes, the celebrities -- even the ones like Bennett who are on Sinatra's stylistic wavelength -- are essentially extraneous; thanks to the impersonal, un-interactive way Duets was recorded, they're more or less reduced to filling in the blanks Sinatra deigned to leave for them. But all that's really beside the point -- it's the concept behind the album that is monumentally wrong-headed. These songs were never intended to be call-and-response duels between superstars; they were written (by people who knew what they were doing) to be sung by an "I" to an audience. And so what we get here isn't some sort of historical meeting of the minds but rather a Wagnerian apotheosis of the celebrity musical numbers from old Fifties TV variety shows, the kind of show-biz exhibitionism that regularly matched up Odd Couples From Hell like Dinah Shore and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

That such an undertaking (and aesthetic) is rightfully obsolete these days seems not to have occurred to anybody involved with the making of Duets, but it's why, despite the high-profile talent involved, the album is pretty much unlistenable. On every level -- beginning with the tacky Leroy Neiman cover -- it was born kitsch. -- Steve Simels

Okay, here's the backstory.

I handed that review in in December of '93, when the album came out (Stereo Review had a three month lead time) and promptly forgot about it and went about my life. Sometime in early March of '94, however, my then editor (who small remain nameless out of a lingering sympathy on my part) called me into her office, closed the door, and looked at me with an expression that seemed equal parts panic and cold fury. I noticed she had a folder full of what seemed to be hand-written letters on her desk.

"Read these," she said, handing the folder to me.

I did, and sure enough, they were angry letters to the editor -- I seem to recall there were about fifteen of them -- taking me to task, often in colorful language unsuitble for a family mag like Stereo, for the Sinatra review reproduced above. I loved them of course. My boss, however, did not.

"Did you read those?" she asked.


"Well, what do you think?"

"I think they're great," I smiled. "Damn, I've been trying to get a reaction out of our readers for months now. Finally, we get one."

"What did you think you were doing when you wrote that?" she asked. I should have realized that the steam coming out of her ears was a bad sign.

I was slightly taken aback, but after a little thought I replied "Uh...I thought I was writing a funny, perceptive and interesting to read review of a big album."

She sat bolt upright. "It's not your job to write a funny, perceptive and interesting to read review!" she all but screamed.

I stared blankly. "It's not?"

"No," she hissed. "It's your job to make people feel good about what they've just bought or are about to buy!. You will never write a negative review like this again, do you understand?"

Well, after that I went back to my office about as my demoralized as I've ever been in my adult life, for obvious reasons, including, you may well think, a rather frightening naivete and innocence on my part. I remained on staff at the magazine for another couple of years untill I got a better offer at last; however, I will leave it to you readers to decide whether or not, as I have often thought, I was morally obligated to have quit on the spot.

In any case, remember that this happened in 1994. I seriously doubt things in the consumer magazine biz have changed for the better in the interim.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Four Guys in Sweaters, Singing Like Birds

I confess that prior to today, I had no idea who Roy Zimmerman
was, but here he asks the musical question -- what if The Beatles were Irish?

I particularly like the version of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," but I'm sure you'll have your favorites too.

[h/t Glen "Bob" Allen]

Friday, December 05, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special All in the Family Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental concubine housegirl Fah Lo Suee and I are off to...well, I can't tell you where, but let's just say it involves an Albino monk and the lost treasure of the Knight Templars. Also something about Jesus, but perhaps I've already said too much.

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 us all to contemplate:

Best Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Song or Record Whose Title or Lyrics Reference a Blood Relative

You know what we're talking about -- songs with words like Uncle or Mommy or Grand-Niece (as unlikely as that one might be).

And no arbitrary rules for this one, except that "child" is totally ineligible for reasons I feel no need to explain to the likes of you, except to say that I find Guns 'n' Roses annoying.

Okay, that said, here's my totally arbitrary Top Seven:

7. Mother -- Cristina Aguilera

The Lennon song, obviously, but I went with Aquilera because to my surprise she actually seems to kind of get it on a personal level and because I wanted something recorded in this century.

6. Brother Louie -- Stories

Okay, the "brother" here is not a blood relative, but it's a great song about racism, so the heck with consistency.

5. Sister Surround -- The Soundtrack of Our Lives

The greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world, or just the most exciting group in Sweden? YOU make the call!!!! BTW, I have no idea if the titular sister is a relative or a nun. Obviously, I'm being more flexible about the rules than I had planned.

4. Cousin Kevin -- The Who

Pedophilia rocks! Wait, that can't be right...

3. Jesus Loves His Babies -- Smashing Pumpkins

An obscure out-take proving yet again that there is no Listomania theme so specific that we can't find a way to shoehorn in Billy Corgan and his pretentious cueball noggin. Like you're surprised?

2. Auntie Grizelda-- The Monkees

Recorded live on the 1967 tour with Hendrix, so perhaps we should refer to this as The Peter Tork Experience.

And the number one niftiest -- please, it's not even a contest so just chill -- song referencing some kind of blood relative, obviously is --

1. Papa Was a Rolling Stone -- The Temptations

The Temptations Mark II, and producer/writer Norman Whitfield's masterpiece of proto-psychedelic funk.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (Theme: Performances That Deserved An Oscar But Didn't Get One!) is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and leaving a comment, it would really put me in good with management. Thanks.]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Yet Another Early Clue to the New Direction

From sometime in the 70s, here's multi-generational annoyance the man who introduced duck suits to rock 'n' roll, Elton John , with his evergreen ballad "Daniel."

You know, it occurs to me that while I do not hate Elton John, and in fact there are a fair number of songs of his that when they come on the radio I don't reflexively lunge to change the station, I have nonetheless never owned one of his albums or sat under the headphones listening to one for pleasure.

Not a criticism, just an observation.

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

Not holding my breath, though.

Nat X is Really Going to Hate This One

My review of Cadillac Records, the bio-pic of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess featuring Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters and Beyoncé as Etta James, will be going up over at Box Office later today.

I'll post the link as soon as it's active, but in the meantime I have an unopened CD of the soundtrack if anybody wants it. First person to e-mail me....

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

From 1968, with groovy visuals by the Joshua Light Show©, enjoy Francis Albert Sinatra going folk rock. It's just like being at the Fillmore, except with a single malt scotch in your hand, rather than a joint.

That song, of course, is the oddly haunting "Cycles," by the still babe-alicious 60s scenester/actress/songwriter Gayle Caldwell. And before you sneer, you should know that no less a worthy than Rickie Lee Jones did an absolutely astounding minimalist version of it on her 2000 album It's Like This, which behooves behearing. Be nice to me and I'll send you the MP3.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Encounters With Greatness (An Occasional Series)

Okay, the video below is of course, the 1972 smash "Brand New Key" by Woodstock phenom Melanie, a record that today may strike you as either charmingly proto-feminist or deeply irritating on a purely aural level. In any case, therein lies a tale.

Before we get to that, I should add that although her music has never been particularly to my taste, I think she's on balance quite a bit better than her rep as a hippie relic suggests. Yeah, I found her irksome back in the day, but several of her songs (including "Key", I think) are pretty sharp, and the fact is she was the first woman singer/songwriter to set up her own successful indie record label, which makes her a pioneer worthy of respect from the rest of us sentient mammals, not to mention Ani DiFranco.

Okay, that said, cut to mid-80s Manhattan. I'm having dinner with some trendoid friends at a then fashionable yuppie joint when one of my culinary companions returns from the ladies room with a pleasant looking if unassuming woman (unknown to me) who is introduced as "my new best friend Melanie."

I shook her hand and then -- for no other reason than to be a fricking wiseguy -- I allowed how I particularly liked her 1972 smash hit "Brand New Chastity Belt."

At which point I realized that it was, in fact, THE Melanie.

She was not amused, in case you were wondering, but I'm assuming that by now she's gotten over it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Let it be noted for the historical record that today, with amazing news being made by the first African-American president elect of the United States, that it is this song that preoccupies our noble Republic.

Incidentally, did anybody see last night's episode of Family Guy? Apart from the funniest first act in history -- centered around Peter becoming obsessed with the Trashmen's single "Surfing Bird" -- in the second act Jesus Christ returned to earth and became a presenter at the Grammys.

Jesus: "And the award for the Biggest Posse goes to..."

Madonna (in audience): "What?"

Jesus: "No, Madonna...biggest posse!"