Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Occupational Hazards! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental unendurable pleasure indefinitely prolonged specialist Gal Friday Fah Lo Suee and I are off to New Canaan, Connecticut, where we'll be joining Fox News commentator and cocaine addict Glenn Beck when he goes to the dry cleaner. Seems Glenn will be having his hood cleaned and pressed, with some repair work done around the eyeholes.

So posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for you folks:

Most Memorable Post-Elvis Song or Record Referencing Work or a Specific Job in the Title or Lyrics!!!

And my totally top of my Top Six is:

6. The Godfathers -- Birth, School, Work, Death

The most rousing song ever written about a depressing topic? Hey, what can I tell you -- I've always liked these guys' attitude.

5. Tim Hardin -- If I Were a Carpenter

Tim Buckley's had a revival, deservedly, and I think it's long overdue that the similarly eclectic Hardin gets similarly reevaluated. Maybe if he'd had a kid who looked and sounded like him...

4. Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers -- Ice Cream Man

Hey -- at least the guy's not selling drugs out of the back of the truck, at least that we know of. In any case, Jonathan at his most charmingly childlike, I think.

3. Humble Pie -- I Don't Need No Doctor

The Ashford and Simpson medical classic, via Ray Charles and ultimately this bunch of screaming English midgets. I'm sorry -- I love Steve Marriott, but this particular cover of the song has always cracked me up for some reason. Incidentally, can anybody tell if that's Peter Frampton in the back there or not? Frampton left the band sometime in '71, but I'm not sure if that was before or after this was filmed.

2. Lenny Kravitz -- Mr. Cab Driver

Lenny's classic account of suffering from racial bigotry and monaural recording. Seriously, I kind of like this song, but I'm reminded of what Bob Dylan said after hearing Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me." "Cat's a drag," Bob noted. "Gets thrown out of a restaurant and writes a song about it."

And the numero uno song referencing a specific line of work, c'mon it's so obvious I'll have to harm you if you disagree, totally is --

1. Warren Zevon -- The Envoy

Warren's ode to special ambassador Philip Habib's shuttle diplomacy during Israel's Lebanon incursion of 1982. Perhaps not Zevon's best, but I think it's safe to say it is, in fact, the only rock tune ever written as a tribute to a foreign service professional.

Alrighty, then -- and what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: actor or actress who looks the coolest with a sword in his or her hand -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, i'd take it as a personal favor if you could go over there and leave a snarky comment. Thanks!]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Early Clue to the New Direction: Special Total Victory is Ours, Comrades! Video Edition

From 1973, please enjoy unjustly overlooked Brit folk-rockers The Strawbs with their actually-a-hit-record ode to blue collar solidarity and heinous fashions, the infectious "Part of the Union."

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

Quick, Henry, the Flit!

From the soundtrack to John Waters' original Hairspray, please enjoy Jerry Dallman and the Nightcaps' greaseball quasi-rockabilly dance classic "The Bug."

The album and the movie came out in 1988, but "The Bug," like the rest of the songs on the LP, was a genuine obscure regional oldie from Waters' personal record collection; as he said in the liner notes, it was part of "the only antidote to today's Hit Parade of Hell," a cure for a malady that has hardly lessened in virulence in the intervening years.

A true story: When Waters was working on the soundtrack, he was in almost daily contact with the lawyers at MCA's music department, who were trying to get the clearances for the songs he wanted to use. Halfway through the process he got a phone call from a Mr. Jerry Dallman. Yes, the singer of "The Bug." Turns out he was now a senior executive in MCA's movie division, and he was as astonished that the song he'd recorded as a teenager was going to be in Hairspray as Waters was to hear from him.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

May the Schwarz Be With You!

Okay, this one is seriously wonderful -- none of that Banana Splits, I'm-being-partly-ironic crap.

From 1972, here's the great Brinsley Schwarz and their instantly addictive "Unknown Number." Written and sung by the pre-irony Nick Lowe on their ace Silver Pistol album.

The reason it sounds a little roughhewn is that it was recorded, as you may be able to glean from the album cover, at home. The Brinsleys (with new 2nd guitarist Ian Gomm) had retreated to a communal house (inspired by you know who) to lick their wounds after their first two studio albums bombed in the midst of one of the most disastrous live hypes in rock history (the details are here). Their plan: Move a mobile 24-track recording machine into their living room and try to make music on a slightly more intimate scale.

It worked, as you can hear from this song, although it didn't translate into record sales. In any case, this is Lowe chanelling Buddy Holly's "Words of Love," I think, and it's just hauntingly lovely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ars Gratia Pecuniae

Well, another one of my -- what I thought were private -- obsessions has gone public. Specifically, the only 80s synth pop record I ever really loved, which I posted about back in January, has just showed up in a Palm Pre commercial.

That's Freur's magnificent 1984 "Doot Doot," in case you were wondering. Back in January, I didn't really think it was kosher to put up an audio link, but now that the guys in the band are (one hopes) making some dough from the use of the song in the ad, I think it may be okay.

If another obscure fave of mine shows up in an ad, though, I swear to god I'm gonna take a hostage.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I'm sure I've told this story before, but Keith Richards was once asked if he really thought the Stones were, as advertised, the greatest rock n roll band in the world. Keith modestly allowed that perhaps on a good night maybe they were, but that most times, on any other given night, somebody (not necessarily famous) somewhere else deserved the appellation.

In that spirit, then, please enjoy John Hiatt's astounding ode to generational continuity, "Your Dad Did." Recorded during a breathless four day 1987 session, with hardly any overdubbing, when Hiatt and his sidemen -- Nick Lowe on bass, Ry Cooder on guitar, and Jim Keltner on drums -- unquestionably were the greatest rock n roll band in the world.

Seriously -- everything about this track is perfect, starting with this verse.

Well the sun comes up and you stare your cup of coffee, yup
Right through the kitchen floor
And you feel like hell so you might as well get out and sell
Your smart ass door to door
And your mrs. wears her robe slightly undone
As your daughter dumps her oatmeal on your son
And you keep it hid
Just like your dad did

And just it keeps getting better from there; don't even get me started on the hilariously cheesy sitar that illustrates the line about the starving children in the last one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Great Lost Singles of the 60s (An Occasional Series)

You know, some days -- and I say this without a chinchilla of irony -- I think "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana" is the greatest rock record ever made.

Hey -- if you don't believe me, ask Liz Phair and Material Issue, who did a killer cover of it on that Saturday Morning Cartoons album back in 1995.

The original is still the greatest, of course. Incidentally, if you want to download the rest of the album for free, get yourself over to the fabulous redtelephone66 immediately.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special O Blinding Light! O Light That Blinds! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental groinal osteopath weight loss guru Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a little "Off the Pigs!" party at the house of distinguished Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates. Jr.

So posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a little while, especially if we need to post bail.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for you folks:

Most Memorable Post-Beatles Song or Record Involving Vision (In All Senses of the Word) in the Title or Lyrics!!!

No arbitrary rules this time, and yes, I posted something similar about the five senses a while back, blah blah blah. But this gives me a chance to put up downloadable mp3s of three songs I like (entries 1-3), so don't give me any grief, you ungrateful curs.

Okay, my totally top of my head Top Six is:

6. Mariah Carey -- Vision of Love

Hey, I didn't say it had to be good -- just memorable. And this one is totally unforgettable, no matter how fervently I wish I'd never heard it.

5. The Nazz -- Open My Eyes

Todd Rundgren in 1969, and already a god. Seriously -- this is as perfect a rock record as has ever been made.

4. KT Tunstall -- Suddenly I See

I haven't made my mind about Tunstall, but this song works, I think. Upped a few points just for having been recorded in this century, unlike most of my choices in the last hundred or so Listomanias.

3. The Byrds -- See the Sky About to Rain

The Neil Young song, of course, and one of the two or three really great tracks on the Byrds' patchy 1973 reunion album.

2. The Replacements -- Seen Your Video

As much as I loved this album unreservedly from the minute I heard it, I think it was this song -- throwaway that it is -- and its implicit attitude that made me fall in love with the band. Especially in an era when Sting and Mark Knopfler were pimping, however "ironically", for MTV.

And the numero uno song about the visual cortex, don't even argue with me or I'll poke your eyes out with a burnt stick, obviously is --

1. Moby Grape -- Seeing

Take me far away
My wiles and mind can't beat a dream of death today
Hard to get by
When what greets my eye takes my breath away

Cryin' "Save me, save me, save me!"
I'll save you. Can I spend you?

Their masterpiece -- terrifying and strangely beautiful. Written and sung (in part) by the great Skip Spence, a guy who had glimpsed the abyss and realized he wasn't coming back -- when he cried "Save me!" it was a desperate and very real plea for help.

Awrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: Movies With Characters That Are Completely Bonkers -- is now up over at you know where. As always, I'd take it as a personal favor if you could shlep over there and say something snarky. Thanks!]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is It Just Me, Or is Anybody Else Sick and Tired of These Goddamn Early Clues to the New Direction?

From 1965, please enjoy mod freakbeat purveyors extraordinaire The Eyes and their devastating "When The Night Falls."

Seriously, of all the bands who were sort of doing what Pete Townshend and company were doing at this point -- The Birds (with Ron Wood -- see Hammer's The Deady Bees) and The Creation, in particular -- I think these kids came the closest to the kind of proto-psychedelic mayhem of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." And of all their records, I think this is the one that most exemplifies their wonderfully bratty esthetic.

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

Let Them Eat Rock!

From 1995, please enjoy the incomparable Upper Crust and their better bred than you'll ever be ode to somebody else's manual labor -- "Little Rickshaw Boy."

In case you've never encountered these guys (or worse -- dismissed them as merely a joke) their shtick is posing as decadent foppish 18th century aristocrats and singing about subjects that would interest people of their class. My personal favorite of their songs -- apart from this one -- is the immortal "Ascot 'N' My Dickie," but they have a million as good, and as you can hear from the above, they're an absolutely first-rate hard rock band a la AC/DC or Cheap Trick despite the comic trappings.

As for "Little Rickshaw Boy," I've always assumed it was one of the few rock songs on Dick Cheney's iPod, but of course I'm a romantic.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Remember the Great Folk Scare of the 60s? That Shit Almost Caught On!

There was a very interesting piece on cult folkie Jackson C. Frank in MOJO last month; I must confess I'd never heard of the guy, but he was/is highly regarded by a lot of people and his story was genuinely heartbreaking.

Here's "Blues Run the Game," his most famous song (from 1965) and produced by Paul Simon, no less. Apparently it's been covered by all sorts of folks including Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch and even Counting Crows.

I haven't quite made up my mind whether it's kind of existentially poignant or just sort of maudlin in a period way. I'd be curious to know what you guys think...

If You Can't Sing or Dance, Honey, Show Us Your Boobs!

My god, this is really pretty awful. Unless you're one of those weirdos who actually likes the fake rock songs from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which is what this sounds like if you're otherwise being charitable.

If the name Carolyn Hester doesn't ring a bell, she was one of the original girl singers of the late 50s/early 60s folk revival; she was married for a time to the iconic Richard Farina, and apparently she was boinking Bob Dylan at some point (Dylan played on her third album, produced by the legendary John Hammond).

The song above, from 1968, comes from her attempted psychedelic album move; it bombed, obviously, and she's been more or less a marginal cult figure ever since. "Holy" Greil Marcus pretty much nailed the reason why in his classic Mystery Train -- Hester, he wrote, was "gorgeous, but hopelessly untalented."

Of course, if for some reason you're so perverse of ears as to want to hear the rest of the record, you can download it -- along with much, much else -- over at the fabulous redtelephone66.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Conceivably Great Albums of the 70s (An Occasional Series)

From 1970, please enjoy the most interesting cut from the eponymous album by Brit sort of mutant blues band Dada -- a slightly sinister cover of The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time."

I had a promo copy of this back in the day, but if truth be told, I never actually bothered to listen to it. In fact, the only reason I only bring it up now is because one of Dada's lead singers was a then uncelebrated Robert Palmer (yes, him) and because my college band -- we were called, with totally unearned arrogance, God -- opened for Dada at C.W. Post (my old school) in the spring of '70.

Of Dada's perfomance, I remember very little except that Palmer was already the annoyingly handsome fashion plate that captivated MTV viewers some years later; in particular, he was wearing an absolutely smashing crushed blue velvet sport jacket that I came this close to stealing from the dressing room, until I figured that karmically that might be a bad idea.

Of God's performance, I remember somewhat more, mostly because it was the first time we'd ever played to a crowd bigger than a frat party. It was also our first experience with a concert quality professional sound system; we were all like, "Whoa -- monitors! Awesome!" I can't imagine we were terribly good, but I know for a fact that when we did our interestingly rocked out cover of Bob Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing," as we went into the "Say hello to Valerie, say hello to Vivian" four part harmony chorus, we all -- more or less spontaneously, as a joke -- sang it as "Say hello to valium, say hello to librium." The fact that we could actually hear each other was astounding enough I recall we cracked up so badly we could barely continue.

Oh, if you're interested in the rest of the Dada album, you can download it from the estimable Redtelephone66 website here. There's all sorts of interesting stuff over at that site, BTW, and it's updated daily, so check it out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wails From the Crypt (An Occasional Series): Tonio K.

[I've been meaning to post this for ages, but better late than never. From the April 1979 issue of The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review, here's the most semi-legendary album review I ever wrote. I'll explain that statement and more when you've finished with the piece, so please read on.]


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

I can hear you already -- nitpickers, musicologists, the small-minded, owners of Book of Lists toilet paper. What, you cry, of Dennis Brain playing the Mozart horn concertos? What of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, B. B. King's Live at the Regal, Bruno Walter's Mahler Fourth, Sgt. Pepper and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme? Not to mention Nervous Norvus' "Transfusion," John Wayne's "America: Why I Love Her," and the Singing Dogs' "Jingle Bells."

Oh, all right. So I lied. But, honestly, it's the kind of lie that Life in the Foodchain inspires even in as responsible a critic as me. Its creator, Tonio K., is easily twice as angry as Elvis Costello and about six times funnier, and though he spent this decade's middle years in a Southern California booby hatch, rest assured that his songs sound nothing like James Taylor's. What they sound like, actually, is Loudon Wainwright if he'd O.D.'d on the absurdity of American life and then been drafted as the lead singer for Led Zeppelin. Beyond that, it's hard to describe the songs because to do so, or to quote the lyrics, would be like giving away the one-liners in a Woody Allen film.

Let me simply say, then, that Tonio K. thinks that humor is a serious business and that the next big dance craze will be "The Funky Western Civilization." Let me also say that he is the only rocker in memory whose album contains a cameo vocal appearance by Joan of Arc, that his music is bone-crushing rock-and-roll as manic as any punk band's but infinitely more sophisticated, and that his lyrics are so absurdly literate and corrosively cynical that they have reduced me to rolling on the floor from the mere reading of them. To hear them declaimed by Tonio in his marvelously twisted voice while the band conducts an aural demolition derby behind him is the most exciting experience I expect to have in my living room for the remainder of this year.

The bottom line? Tonio K., if not the future, is certainly at least the George Metesky of rock-and-roll. As a matter of fact, I think I'll have to take back my earlier disclaimer: this IS the greatest album ever recorded. -- Steve Simels

Okay, for starters, I should add that three months after the review appeared, we ran the following Letter to the Editor from the man himself.

Has Simels gone mad? "Life in the Foodchain." while certainly a good, great, maybe even swell album, can't possibly be the greatest album ever recorded. James Brown Live at the Apollo is. This can be substantiated with actual documentation. so don't argue with me. And what about the Seeds' first album? And is the cat still in the freezer?

Tonio K., Calabasas, Calif.

I should also add that while, as you may know, I am not cool enough to have my own Wikpedia entry, I am referenced at Tonio's, specifically in regard to his second record.

K.’s follow-up album, Amerika (Cars, Guitars and Teenage Violence), was released in 1980 by Full Moon (this time via Clive Davis’s Arista Records). Filled with literary and political references, the album was hailed as “Punk for academics” and once again pronounced by Simels to be “the greatest record ever recorded” (as was every ensuing Tonio K. disc) [emphasis mine].

And I'd obviously be remiss if I didn't post an audio clip, so here -- courtesy of an mp3 graciously supplied by Tonio himself -- is my personal favorite song from Foodchain, the immortal "H-A-T-R-E-D." In case you're wondering, among the sounds you'll hear at the song's conclusion are an AK-47 firing live ammunition into an accordion played by Garth Hudson of the The Band. To our knowledge, this marks the first occasion such a feat was ever attempted on a pop or rock record.

Two remaining notes: Over the last few months since I've been posting audio, I've not really worried about copyright questions and pesky little moral issues like that. This time, since I actually sort of know Tonio, I'm feeling a little queasy about putting that clip up for free, so let me try to assuage my guilt by giving you the Amazon link to go buy Foodchain, which obviously no home should be without.

You can find it over HERE, and, equally obviously, unless you're a complete schween you will order it immediately.

I'd also like to add that last year Tonio put together one of the coolest single CD blues samplers ever. I wrote about it in these precincts back in September; you can read the piece HERE, as well as find another Amazon link to the CD. Plus: there's a YouTube clip of the aforementioned "Funky Western Civilization," my second favorite track from Foodchain.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Off to See Sir Paul Tonight...

...I have mixed feelings about this, to put it mildly.

Seriously, in case you missed the Letterman interview from the other day, this is pretty funny. The oh-so-polite-but-firm digs at Michael Jackson are particularly...interesting.

Let's just say I really doubt he's going to do "The Girl is Mine" tonight...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special The Big Apple -- Don't Mind the Maggots! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental lap snacker acount executive Fah Lo Suee and I are off to South Carolina for a little Appalachian Trail hiking, if you know what I mean and I'm sure you do.

In any case, posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for you folks:

Best Post-Beatles Song or Record Referencing New York (City) -- and I Mean Specifically, With the Actual Words New York (City) -- in the Title or Lyrics

Yes, I did something similar to this last year, but as you can see from the above we're narrowing the parameters this time. Which means don't even try to sneak something like "Harlem Shuffle" past me or I'll come to your house and slap you silly. It's gotta say New York or New York City. Thank you.

Oh, and one really arbitrary rule. If you try to sneak "New York, New York" in here, don't even think about it unless it's some unbelievably sick, disgusting or ironic version that I'm unaware of. I dunno -- Nick Cave, maybe. Or GWAR. Other than that, watch it bub.

Also, I should probably mention that if you haven't already figured out how to do it, entries 3, 4 and 6 can all be downloaded simply by clicking on the divshare logo on the far right. You're welcome.

And with all that out of the way, my totally top of my head Top Six would be:

6. Tonio K -- American Love Affair

"Yes, and New York may be the New World, but she's still a filthy concrete bitch without a soul..."

Hey -- Tonio's from California, what can I tell you. I should also add that this song's from left field last line -- "It's an American underwear/it's in the washing machine" -- is one of the funniest things in the history of recorded sound.

5. The Rolling Stones -- She Was Hot

"New York was cold and damp" is one of my favorite opening lines, if truth be told, and this song is one of the best from Undercover, one of their several underrated 80s albums. The original video, of course, features the late paralytically sexy Broadway bombshell Anita Morris (woo hoo!), but the Stones seem to have gotten it pulled from YouTube, the bastards.

4. Willie Nile -- Streets of New York

"They come by the millions...the hipster, the prince and the clown..." From Willie's heart-as-big-as-all-outdoors album illoed above; if you haven't heard it -- including the flat out devastating "Cell Phones Ringing (In the Pockets of the Dead)" -- your life is the poorer for it.

3. The Ad-Libs -- The Boy From New York City

"And he's his mohair suit." That's poetry, folks.

2. The Strokes -- New York City Cops

If truth be told, again, I think these guys are the most overrated group of the last several years, but I will concede that if I was three decades younger and lived in the East Village they'd probably be my band. In any case, this is a perfectly acceptable ode to our Boys in Blue, so enjoy!!!!

And the numero uno song referencing the Humongous Mango, I think you already know this so let's not prolong the suspense unnecessarily, obviously is --

1. The Velvet Underground -- Rock and Roll

Lou: "Then one fine morning she puts on a New York station you know she don't believe what she heard at all...she started shakin' to that fine fine music you know her life was saved by rock and roll."

I think we all know the feeling...

Awrighty, then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: most memorable version of an often-filmed story -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, I'd take it as a personal favor if you could see your way to go over there and leave a comment. Thanks!]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Early Clue to the New Direction: Glam Guitar Hero Edition

From his 1974 solo album of the same name, please enjoy David Bowie's guitar foil and (apparently) all-around nice guy Mick Ronson and his post-Ventures instrumental take on Richard Rodgers' immortal "Slaughter on 10th Avenue."

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

I Know What It Means But...

I don't know if this cover of The Who's timeless powerpop classic "I Can't Explain" completely works. But I do know that I've been taken with it since I first stumbled across it on an otherwise crappy and ballad-laden album in the mid-70s, and that it features sensational guitar work by its composer, the redoubtable Pete Townshend.

In any case -- enjoy, and a Coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded the first reader who guesses who's singing lead. No peeking!!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Great Lost Singles of the 80s (An Occasional Series)

From 1983, please enjoy Greenwich Village's finest, the fabulous Floor Models, and their tear-jerking rendition of the greatest country song ever written about Jewish guilt, the exquisite "Excuses Excuses."

As you've probably guessed by now, the bass player on the above is a guy whose name rhymes with Sleeve Nimels. The song itself -- which I believe, perhaps immodestly, is good enough that it should have become a pop/rock standard by now -- was written by my old chum Andy "Folk Rock" Pasternack, who's also playing the cool Rickenbacker 12-string stuff. Recorded on 24-track during a breathless weekend demo session where we probably tried to do too much at one time -- which accounts for the bare-bones quality of the production -- but I think this is a beautiful piece of work nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Saw the Light

So last week when I posted a clip of Lisa Loeb as the clue to the weekend's Listomania, a number of people sensibly, if wrongly, guessed that the theme was "Songs About Eyeware."

Which struck me, actually, as a pretty funny, if limited idea. So here's one of my favorites (granted, I can't think of too many others).

From 1972, and The Night is Still Young (probably their only really good album featuring mostly original songs), please enjoy Sha Na Na and their haunting paean to the invention of corrective lenses, the Jeff Barry-produced "Glasses." Written, played and sung by nice Jewish boy Jon "Bowser" Bauman, a prince.

BTW, I interviewed Bauman not too long after this came out, and I asked him what Sha Na Na used to slick back their hair. His answer? K-Y Jelly, which despite being designed (or so I've heard) for other purposes makes perfect sense, when you think of it, as it's completely water soluble. To this day, I can't figure why the band never did commercials for the stuff.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Logrolling in Our Time

Apologies for the shameless blogwhore, but my thoughts on the greatest dramatic movie ever made about rock 'n' roll -- which has, criminally, never been available on home video, either tape or DVD -- are now up over at Box Office.

Complete with brief clip of the incomparable Screaming Jay Hawkins in full mau-mau regalia.

(Really) Great Lost Singles of the 70s: An Occasional Series

Okay, this one's a) a masterpiece, b) incredibly rare, and c) something I've been looking for a copy of for nearly twenty five years.

From 1973, please enjoy Stealer's Wheel and "Everyone's Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine," their fabulous followup to that song in the Tarantino movie whose name now escapes me. The promo single version, in stereo.

The short version: As I said, this was the followup to "Stuck in the Middle," and it flopped, inexplicably. The band then re-recorded it, hideously, for their second album, and that's the only version that has ever appeared on LP or CD since. Why they re-recorded it I have no idea, as the original is as close to perfection as any record ever gets; as you've heard by now, if "Stuck in the Middle" was the band channeling Dylan, this one is them channeling Revolver and late 60s pop psych in general. Simply gorgeous.

Adding to the wonder of it all, I should add that the circuitous route I took to finally finding the track involved -- unbeknownst to me at the time -- the help of a lurker at Eschaton. Talk about a fricking small world.

In any case -- enjoy the damn thing.

[h/t Richard Pachter and Hans Vaarkamp]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Anywhere But Here! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manual catharsis engineer fille de whoopee Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Wasilla, Alaska, where we'll be joining soon to be former Governor Sarah Palin [R-Mother of the Year] in a ceremony proclaiming Space Moose Alaska's Official State Animal. And I should add at this juncture that if you already know who Space Moose is, you ought to be deeply ashamed of yourself.

In any case, posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for you folks:

Best Post-Elvis Song or Record Referencing Going Somewhere (Anywhere!) in the Title or Lyric!!!

No arbitrary rules this time, you're welcome very much, and if this is a little too similar to a Listomania I may or may not have posted in the past, please forgive me -- I'm old and senile.

In any case, my totally top of my head Top Seven would be...

7. Dashboard Confessional -- As Lovers Go

Okay, I don't much care for these guys, and I know it's not really about going somewhere, but I wanted to have something recorded in this century for a change. So sue me.

6. Dionne Warwick -- Trains and Boats and Planes

Said this before, but I think on balance this is not only her best record but Bachrach and David's most beautiful song. Alas, Dionne's version isn't on YouTube, but I was absolutely staggered to find that the Box Tops cover (with the teenaged Alex Chilton) which I had no idea existed, is. Truly amazing....

5. The Smashing Pumpkins -- Bullet Train to Osaka

As in Billy Corgan's pretentious cue-ball noggin wants to get on board the titular vehicle enroute to the titular city. That voice you hear is saying "All aboard the bullet train to Osaka" in Japanese, obviously.

4. Bessie Banks -- Go Now

Much as I adore the Moody Blues version (with my fave piano solo of the Brit Invasion) I've come to appreciate the original even more.

3. Nils Lofgren -- Keith Don't Go (Ode to a Glimmer Twin)

That's Keith, as in Richards, and don't go, as in don't kill yourself. From 1975, when such a thing seemed eminently possible. Lofgren's a mensch, obviously. And a great guitarist (dig the "Satisfaction" quote).

2. Katrina and the Waves -- Going Down to Liverpool

The Bangles version is more famous, and it has that Leonard Nimoy video obviously. But the original, with composer (and once and future Soft Boy) Kimberly Rew on guitar is the great one, I think.

And the numero uno This Must Not Be the Place tune, let's not even argue about this okay, obviously is --

1. Fairport Convention -- Si Tu Dois Partir

"If You Gotta Go," the Bob Dylan song, and in fricking French. Invitations to take a walk don't get any cooler.

Awrighty -- what would you choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: movies with cool courtroom scenes -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and leaving a coment, I'd be your best friend. And you can watch the complete courtroom scene from Woody Allen's Bananas, which is about as funny as it gets, so it'll be worth your while. Thanks!]

Thursday, July 09, 2009

An Early Clue to the New Direction: Special Bad Eyewear Edition

From 1994, please enjoy Ethan Hawke's next door neighbor Lisa Loeb and her plaintive alt-rock New Waif ode to romantic indecisiveness "Stay (I Missed You)."

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

And Speaking of Gorgeous...

....please enjoy brilliant pop classicist Adam Schmitt's lightyears beyond addictive "Speed Kills." From volume 1 of the essential Yellow Pills series.

In all seriousness, if this one doesn't make you smile, I'd really have it looked at. You may recall that I posted another Schmitt song a couple of weeks ago; that one -- from his major label debut album -- was great, but on some level a response to grunge. "Speed Kills" is a little more traditional, and in retrospect I think it's even better. God knows that wordless "doo-doo-doo" chorus thing at the end is a hook for the ages....

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wails From the Crypt (An Occasional Series): Janis Joplin

[So I was browsing through some back issues of the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review the other day, and this piece on a Janis Joplin movie struck me as holding up rather better than a lot of my old stuff. In retrospect, I think I was a little too dismissive of the feminist critque, but hey, I was a kid; on the other hand, I think I nailed the then unimagined The Rose for the bullshit that it would be rather presciently. In any case, with nary a word changed, here's how it ran in the May 1975 issue.]


IT's more than a bit difficult to write about Janis Joplin without getting mired in the rhetoric of sexual politics, but I'm going to try because the new film about her -- titled, appropriately enough, simply Janis -- manages (if only by accident) to pull that little trick off. It's a flawed film, to be sure, not really a documentary and not really a concert flick either, but I'm told that its schizophrenia is just a reflection of the way the project was researched. It was supposed to be a compilation of concert footage, but along the way the filmmakers kept unearthing all sorts of fascinating material and they couldn't make up their minds.

Actually, I'm rather grateful for that. Had they really done the documentary number -- interviewing the people who were close to her who, from all accounts, were a rather venal and insensitive lot -- we would have been forced to confront all sorts of larger issues, which I think would have been brutally cruel to her memory. The woman is dead, and theorizing about her death, attempting to turn her somehow into a symbol, is both a violation of her privacy and terribly dehumanizing. Somehow it cheapens her very real personal agonies if you try to make them into something else, something representative of some currently fashionable philosophical position you may be pushing. We are also spared, thank God, the kind of morbid cult mongering such a documentary would have inevitably produced -- the Judy Garland-ization of Janis -- although, on the basis of the audience reactions I witnessed, such a process may already be underway and out of the control of the filmmakers in any event.

My own feeling is that what destroyed her had at least as much to do with an artistic decline helped along by the media as it did with her personal problems or the role of women in society. Those hewing to the feminist line on her case might reflect on the parallels in the career of Joe Cocker. Like Janis, he was built by the media into something other than what he really was -- a singer in a rock-and-roll band -- and forced to be the new Ray Charles, just as Janis was cast as the new Bessie Smith. These days, Joe is falling apart, on stage and off, in a manner heartbreakingly reminiscent of the latter days of Joplin.

At any rate, all this comes across very strongly in the film, especially in the scenes with Big Brother, who incidentally were the most criminally underrated band in rock history. They provided the perfect instrumental equivalent to the things Janis was doing vocally, and the music they made together, despite what we were reading at the time, had almost nothing to do with the subtlety of the blues, but instead with the anarchic and joyous (the key word) clatter of rock-and-roll. The Monterey Pop sequence, with Janis wailing "Ball and Chain," bears this out. The performance, despite what the song is supposed to be about, is nothing if not celebratory; the energy is all directed outwad and it's breathtaking. Later, of course, we see the band in the studio [recording what became Cheap Thrills], and producer John Simon is trying to turn them into musicians. This particular segment (shot by D.A. Pennebaker, probably for what her manager Albert Grossman visualized as another Don't Look Back) is especially telling. The band is listening to a playback and Simon is geting really annoyed at his lack of success in getting them to conform to his sterile musical conceptions. What finally does it for him is that Janis is having none of it. Rather than listening, she's simply babbling away energetically about whatever it was that had happened to her that day. Unfortunately, the John Simon's of the world eventually won out; Big Brother was fired, and for the rest of the film we watch Janis with a succession of predictably competent back-up musicians who, with their very anonymity and lack of feeling, forced Janis to strip herself naked onstage in an attempt to summon up something like the excitement that had come so easily and spontaneously in the days when she was just one of five loveable hippies making undiscplined but infectious noise.

The film does, however, without really trying to, convey the feeling of disintegration on a psychological rather than musical level, and there is one sequence that will haunt me. Janis is on the Dick Cavett Show, and she is witty, brash, and very much in control. She projects the image we all had of her -- one that was of course a total lie -- with such panache that it's next to impossible not to believe in it. In the course of the conversation, she mentions that she's about to attend her high school class' tenth-year reunion, and she seems to truly relish the idea of returning in triumph to a place where some basically creepy people had worked hard at making her unhappy. Ah, sweet revenge! Then we cut immediately to the reunion itself, where Janis is being inteviewed by a local TV reporter; she's obviously very high, and the facade is beginning to crumble. In the midst of some reminiscences there is a moment -- brief, but unmistakable -- when she is suddenly again the little girl nobody had asked to the prom, smarting from an entire adolescence of rejection, and for just that brief moment she is on the verge of breaking down completely. You see the realization of this in her face, and she pulls back, becoming the Tough Mama again. But you know you've just glimpsed someone almost literally on the brink. It's really rather horrifying, especially in the light of what was about to happen to her.

I have my own memories of Janis -- the first perfomance with Big Brother in New York, which was one of the most exciting rock-and-roll shows I've ever had the good fortune to attend -- and I prefer them to the kind of visions the films presents. But for the moment anyway I think the film will do. It distills an individual, her music, and even a whole era with remarkable power, and it has a great deal to say about the essential callousness of too many in the world of rock, on both sides of the stage. (In what other field of endeavor, after all, do journalists publish polls in which people vote on which star will be the next to kick the bucket?) Far better a movie like this than the kind of exploitive fictionalization you know Hollywood must be preparing at this very moment. Janis isn't a great piece of cinema, and I certainly can't recommend it as a particularly important musical document (for that we'll have to wait until Lou Adler and Pennebaker open up their vaults and give us the complete Big Brother set from Monterey) but I suggest you see it anyway.

A brief postscript: A check over at Amazon reveals that for whatever reason there is no video of this available. Odd, that.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I'm in Heaven!

Good Afternoon,

Just found this amazing clip of the great Easybeats on the 'Tube and wanted to share. This is of course their brilliant 1967 single Heaven and Hell. These guys had an amazing knack of sounding totally contemporary, yet they were always able to inject their own personality into the formula of the time. Love the keyboard flourishes on this too, and Stevie seemed to be in a rather playful mood at this shoot.

Great Lost Singles of the 80s (An Occasional Series)

From 1981, please enjoy The Fabulous Perms and the lead-off track to their not available on CD Good Answer EP -- the delightfully catchy slice of New Wave Girl Group revivalism that is "Touch Me."

The Perms are backed here by a bunch of folks out of the whole Springsteen/Southside Johnny Jersey Shore mafia (Betty Perm is actually the ex-Mrs. Southside). And in the interest of full disclosure, I should add that Laura Perm, who's singing lead on the track, is an old and dear friend, although I didn't actually meet her until a decade after this was recorded.

In any case, an adorable record, I think; for more on The Perms, just click on the clipping below for a more readable (i.e., full-size) version of their story, which behooves beholding.

I'm not sure any of that stuff about Finland is strictly true, BTW.

Monday, July 06, 2009

What We Need is Young Blood...and Brains!

Over at his fabulous Burning Wood blog today, our old friend Sal Nunziato has finally scored an mp3 of the not available on CD original (and superior) indie single version of The Brains New Wave classic "Money Changes Everything."

Get over to the site HERE to download it. And give Sal some love while you're on the premises.

Somehow, I Don't Think This is What Billy Joel Had in Mind

Q: What do you get when you cross a guy playing Bach riffs on a harpsichord faster than his fingers can safely move, a honking 50s sax section, crazed boogie woogie piano, a flanged bass solo and a twangy sitar plunking away vaguely out of tune?

A: The greatest, or at least the funniest, rock instrumental of the last several decades.

Ladies and germs, please enjoy "The Carlsberg Special (Pianos Demolished Phone 021 373 4472)", or as it's better known, the b-side of Wizzard's 1972 glam rock classic "Ball Park Incident."

Incidentally, that's the original 45 sleeve from the Israeli(!) single version. Now THERE's something you don't see every day, and I particularly like the spelling of "Spesial."

BTW, like most of Wizzard's B-sides of the period, this one was NOT written by group founder/genius Roy Wood. In this case, the song was the brainchild of one Bill Hunt, Wizzard's original keyboards and french horn maestro, who left the band shortly after the release of this and of whose work since then I can find no record. In any case, on the basis of this sole digital artifact, I think we can all agree that the guy deserves to be regarded as one of the immortals.

[Author's Note: Actually, I lied about that last bit about Bill Hunt. For lots more on his subsequent career, enjoy the interview with him HERE.]

Friday, July 03, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special I Can Name That Tune in.... Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental knob gobbler recording engineer Fah Lo Suee and I are off to California for a memorial sleepover and jam session at Neverland Ranch. Hey -- we loved you, Michael!

So posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for you folks:

Most Memorable Post-Elvis Record That Announces Itself Unmistakably Within the First Couple of Notes!!!!

No arbitrary rules this time, you're welcome very much. I should like to add, however, that I kinda wracked my brain trying to find an example from this century, until coming up with number 7. Maybe it's just me, but the kind of concision and gift for hooks this category demands seems to be something of a lost art. 60s and 70s examples? Gazillions, actually.

But if some of you younger kids have another recent song I've missed, please feel free to shame me for the preposterous old fogey I am.

Anyway, my totally top of my head Top Seven is:

7. Gnarls Barkley -- Crazy

That weirdly fragmented four-beat bass and drum hit is an odd hook, but it's damned effective, no?

6. Nirvana -- Smells Like Teen Spirit

That scratchy guitar doing what you think could be a Kinks riff -- once you've heard it, it's instantly etched on your cerebellum.

5. The Rolling Stones -- Satisfaction

Still the most famous opening fuzztone lick of all time. And a still exciting record; it may be a bad movie, but as you can see, it gets a memorable workout in the Angelina Jolie comedy Life or Something Like It.

4. The Byrds -- Mr. Tambourine Man

The Rickenbacker twelve-string that launched a thousand bands and records in its wake. And the most instantly identifiable opening bass riff.

3. The Byrds -- Eight Miles High

The SECOND most instantly identifiable opening bass riff, obviously.

2. The Beatles -- Paperback Writer

Oh, right -- like when they sing "Paperback Writer" in the opening, you'd think it was "Fuck You Like an Animal"?

And the numero uno you can't mistake if for anything else tune, c'mon you know this was gonna be the one so let's not waste time arguing about it, obviously is --

1. The Beatles -- A Hard Day's Night

The most famous heavily echoed suspended chord in all of music. It is, I think, no accident that it's played on one of those aforementioned Rickenbacker twelve-strings.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: Most Memorable Screen Shady Dames -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, I would take it as a personal favor if you could see your way to going over there and leaving a comment. Thanks!]