Monday, August 31, 2009

Larry Knechtel 1940 - 2009

Well, it's been a rotten couple of days. First Teddy Kennedy, then Ellie Greenwich, and now one of the greatest rock and pop keyboard players of them all.

Seriously, this guy's credits are ridiculous. In essence, he worked on every important record made in LA beween the early 60s and early 70s, starting with Duane Eddy and then with Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and Papas, The Fifth Dimension , Johnny Rivers (that's him on "Rockin' Pneumonia") and others too numerous to mention before joining Bread as a full time member. And he was active right up until the end -- in the last couple of years he had sessioned for the Dixie Chicks and was playing Hammond Organ with them on tour.

Perhaps his best-known credit, of course, is his piano on Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." But for my money, he deserves to be immortal for two records in particular that he contributed to in a major way.

Here he is playing one of the most famous bass guitar parts in music history (he was a multi-instrumentalist, obviously) on The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," thus participating in the birth of Folk Rock.

And here he is (back on piano) in 1973 as the only-non Jamaican in the band on Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion," the first -- and for my money still the best -- example of white boy reggae ever. And damned if Knechtel's descending octave passage work at approximately 1:50 seconds in doesn't kick the track into a whole other dimension.

Both of these records still sound fresh as paint, I might add.

Meanwhile, as a friend of mine said the other day...

Dear Grim Reaper:


[Byrds Geek Note: The version of "Tambourine Man" above is the first-time stereo remix by original Byrds manager Jim Dickson, from the 1989 album "Never Before," and it is out of print and in official disfavor, never to re-released. The stereo version to be heard on all the current and future Sony Byrds CDs pales by comparison, so download this one if you haven't already got it. Basically, the Dickson is a Gothic Cathedral; the Sony track is ...well, I'm too lazy to follow through on the metaphor, but I think the phrase "small beer" will suffice.]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special The Right Tool for the Job Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental Cialis Cutie interior decorator Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Boston, where we plan to hiss at anybody who has the poor taste to suggest that Teddy Kennedy was in fact a Liberal at his memorial service. That kind of shrill politicization will NOT be tolerated, thank you very much.

So posting by moi will more than likely be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for us all:

Most Memorable Post-Beatles Song or Record Referencing a Musical Instrument in the Title or Lyrics!!!

No arbitrary rules this time, you're welcome very much. Seriously -- no arbitrary rules. Anything goes as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure I've done a list like this already (I'm thinking that goddamn "Squeezebox") but I couldn't find it in the archives because I'm obviously senile AND tech illiterate. So one more time. (I'm pretty sure some of my choices are new this time out anyway).

And my totally top of my head Top Seven is:

7. Jimmy Silva and the Goats -- A Tin Whistle and a Wooden Drum

I know very little about Silva except that he was involved with the whole Young Fresh Fellows axis of Northwest coolness and that apparently he died not too long after making the absolutely gorgeous 1991 album this particular ecstatically Byrdsian song appears on. The rest of the album's really great, too, BTW...if you're curious you can download the whole thing free right here.

6. Tom Waits -- The Piano Has Been Drinking

Waits in '77, toward the end of his initial Beatnik period, and pretty damned funny.

5. The Tokens -- I Hear Trumpets Blow

I must confess to having a soft spot for these guys that goes way beyond "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (get me drunk sometime and I'll bore you with my theory that their gorgeous Carole King-penned "He's in Town" is a major influence on the sound of Springsteen's E-Street Band). This one, one of the very best Brill Building blue collar romantic ballads of the 60s, is another of my real faves.

4. Mike Oldfield -- Tubular Bells

Is it cool to admit liking this again? I've lost track. In any case, Philip Glass and all his subsequent minimalist stuff can frankly bite me.

4. Joni Mitchell -- For Free

A great song about a clarinet player, as unlikely as that sounds. Truly gorgeous, but it has much to answer for, perhaps, when you consider she later hired the appalling Tom Scott and the fricking L.A. Express to back her up.

3. The Aliens -- Theremin

Holy shit, I finally got a song recorded in the 21st century into Listomania! Seriously -- a pretty cool tune, even if it doesn't feature the titular instrument.

2. Cheap Trick -- Mandocello

Rick Nielsen's ode to the theoretically obsolete title instrument, and one of the very best songs on their epochal debut album.

And the numero uno "A Tinkling Piano in the Next Room" tune obviously is --

1. The Morells -- That Mellow Saxophone

Said it before and I'll say it again -- if I was throwing a party and I could afford to hire any band in the world, it would be these guys in their better known incarnation as The Skeletons, and don't give me any of that NRBQ shit 'cause I don't want to hear it. Seriously -- this song is an absolute hoot, and they've got a million of 'em just as good they can play at the drop of a hat.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: most memorable autobiographical films -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and leaving some sort of wise-ass comment, it would help cement my relationship with management. Thanks!]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An (Exceptionally Loud But Mostly) Early Clue to the New Direction!

From 1996, please enjoy the incomparable Webb Wilder -- last of the full grown men and idol of idle youth -- and the astounding rave-up that is "Loud Music." Written (and featuring frighteningly hot guitar work) by former Joe Ely fret monster David Grissom.

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

I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia

Okay, this isn't exactly news, but one of the nicest things about having the opportunity to vent here on a daily basis is that readers -- people I've never met, for heaven's sake -- frequently are kind enough to turn me on to all sorts of wonderful music I would have otherwise missed; it's no exaggeration to say that much of it has genuinely enriched my life, for which I'm eternally grateful.

But what you're about to hear is...well, words fail me.

The short version: The Kit Kats were a hugely popular live act in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area for several years (roughly from the mid-60s through 1971) and they had a couple of regional hits (the best of which they wrote themselves) before packing it in.

This one -- "That's the Way" -- came out in early 1966. It's a turbo-charged Phil Spector-influenced production mounted at a breakneck speed, with a punk don't-tread-on-me attitude in the lyrics, but it also has a soulful yet otherworldly quality quite unlike anything I've ever encountered. Listen to it and be changed.

Seriously -- at a breathless two minutes and fifteen seconds, that's as concise, exciting and musically sophisticated a record as could be heard in pop music's annis mirabilis, and I can't believe that I had to wait four decades to encounter it.

This one from three years later-- "Won't Find Better (Than Me)" (like it's predecessor, self-penned) -- is also a head turner, if not quite as viscerally overwhelming. It's a remake of the b-side of "That's the Way" (with the band briefly billed as The New Hope) and it was all over the radio in Philly in the winter of '69 and early '70.

I think you'll agree that a very young Bruce Springsteen must have been listening very, very hard to it on his car radio that season; in fact, just about every piano idea on his first three albums sounds to me like it was derived from the first half of the record. And the second half, where you can hear the band copping to their doo-wop roots, is merely gorgeous.

For more on the Kit Kats history, check out this terrific career retrospective; it's an amazing story on a number of levels.

And speaking of amazing, more or less their complete recorded outfit has been lovingly restored and remixed on a two CD set (with video) that you can still get over at Amazon here.

Oh -- and a coveted PowerPop No-Prize in Excelsis goes out to reader William Keen, who thought I might dig this stuff and kindly sent me the audio clips. Dig, of course, doesn't quite get it; the first time I listened to "That's the Way" I felt like somebody had just smacked me upside the head with a 2 X 4.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ellie Greenwich 1940 - 2009

Aw crap.

As a friend said a few moments ago --

Dear Grim Reaper:


Great Lost Singles of the 60s (Part XXXVIII)

Okay, let me simply say -- without a hint of snark or irony -- that this one is a masterpiece.

And by masterpiece, I mean one of the greatest short orchestral and vocal compositions written and recorded in any musical genre in the second half of the 20th century. As in this should be performed by large symphonic ensembles everywhere as part of the classical repertoire.

From 1964, enjoy Jan and Dean's remarkable b-side(!) to their rather more conventional hit "Ride the Wild Surf." The perhaps overly prolix-ly titled "The Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association."

This is, obviously, the apotheosis of what we think of us as the L.A. Surf sound, an everything but the kitchen sink production -- harpsichord, kettle drums, oboes and a Bach chorale on a rock record?-- approaching the level of mad genius. Seriously, Brian Wilson may have been a better songwriter than Jan [Berry], but nothing the Beach Boys -- or anybody else at the time, including The Beatles and Phil Spector --were doing in the studio approaches the sheer audacious Ivesian majesty of this. Not to mention it's hilariously funny as well.

Michael Tilson-Thomas, if you're out there, act now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Goodbye Baby and Amen

Okay, I'm going to go out on a limb with this one, but here's a song that I consider to be not only the last rave-up of the 60s but one of the most exciting.

From late 1969, please enjoy what is, in any case, one of the most outrageous productions ever staged by a rock-and-roll band.

It's the incomparable Easybeats -- well, mostly genius auteurs Harry Vanda and George Young working under the Easybeats moniker -- and their throwaway B-side masterpiece "Woman, You're On My Mind."

Seriously -- in many ways, this encapsulates the entire history of African-American influenced music in the 20th century into a dazzling four and a half minutes. It starts just to the left of a field-holler, with a one-chord drone of a blues riff and percussion provided by nothing more than the singer's tapping foot. Then, as the instrumentation layers on relentlessly as the song progresses, we wind up at the end with massed chorus vocals and guitars, a roiling sax, a manic rumbling walking bass and crazed drumming, the whole thing sounding for all the world like a cousin of those Sun Ra-influenced collisions of free jazz and heavy metal you hear on the MC5's best stuff (and which eventually mutated into funk and all sorts of interesting post-punk in the 70s and early 80s).

It's an astonishing record is what I'm saying, and all the more so in that it was essentially done as part of a contractual obligation album (and under a writer's pseudonym because of some weirdness with their publisher).

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Wanna Know About the Mystery Dance

From I have no idea when, please enjoy The Blade -- whoever they are -- and their terrific and I guess vaguely punkish(?) single "We Won't Sleep Tonight."

Seriously -- I have no idea who these guys are/were or when specifically this record was made. My good friend David Klein, who does business over at Merry Swankster, turned me on to it a few months ago, and he doesn't know its provenance either, except that he got it through his illegal file-sharing network and "it was in a folder that said something like 'check this out, obscure late '60s type band...'"

From the drum sound, of course, we both decided it has to date from no earlier than the mid-80s, but beyond that -- no man can say, and Google has been absolutely no help.

Obviously, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to any reader who has any info that can help us track these guys down.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Where the Hell is My Jet Pack? Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental boinkstress Technicolor Consultant Fah Lo Suee and I are off to Massachusetts, where we hope to confront Congressman Barney Frank about why he wants to send all his gay Jewish relatives to Obama's FEMA death camps.

Well, not really, but I want to see if I can get a date with that little pixie-ish chick who was asking him about that stuff at the townhall meeting this week. Wotta cutie!!!

So posting by moi will more than likely be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for us all:

Most Memorable Post-Elvis Song or Record Referencing Some Form of Science or Technology in the Title or Lyrics!!!

No arbitrary rules this time, you're welcome very much.

Seriously -- no arbitrary rules. The thing is fricking self-explanatory. And in case I've done a list like this one already, I'm sorry if I couldn't find it in the archives, but the fact is I'm senile AND tech illiterate.


And my totally top of my heard Top Six is:

6. Roy Wood -- Miss Clarke and the Computer

A brilliant conceit -- a computer falls in love with its programmer -- rendered as a perfect short story masquerading as a song. I hate to bring up a word like "art" this early in our discussion, but it's really unavoidable.

5. The Kinks -- Last of the Steam Powered Trains

One of my favorite songs from the Village Green album, and not just because it's so obviously blues-based (stolen from "Smokestack Lightning") and thus, ironically, so un Village Green-y in the pastoral English sense. I'd never seen this clip before, BTW, but it's got to be one of the very last things of its kind featuring the Kinks original lineup.

4. NRBQ -- Rocket # 9

A live version of the Sun Ra tune originally covered on the Q's very first (1969) album. Hawkwind probably kicked themselves they didn't get the idea first.

3. The Smashing Pumpkins -- Heavy Metal Machine

Proving once again that no matter what the Listomania theme du jour, we can always find a way to sneak Billy Corgan's pretentious cueball noggin into the mix.

2. The Dictators -- Young Fast Scientific

Okay, this one's a reach, but what the heck, it totally rocks.

And the numero uno she-blinded-me-with-science tune, I can prove it with cold mathematical logic, obviously is --

1. The Shadows of Knight -- Light Bulb Blues

I seem to recall this as the b-side to "Gloria," although my brief Google search has been unavailing on that issue. It's one of their best Yardbirds rip-offs in any case.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: Most Memorable Big Screen Period Piece Set in the Second Half of the 20th Century -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could find it in your heart to go over there and leave some sort of snarky comment about my hopeless inadequacy as a film critic, I'd be your best friend for life. Thanks!]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another (And They're Beginning to Be Really Annoying) Early Clue to the New Direction!

From 1962, please enjoy The Tornado's Joe Meek-produced proto-electronica space age instrumental smash hit -- and reputedly Margaret Thatcher's favorite pop record ever -- "Telstar."

As reimagined with typical understated brilliance in a short video directed by the great Alan Smithee.

Okay, that's really lame, but I was stuck for a joke.

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

If You Remember the 70s, You Weren't Really There

Okay, ladies and germs, please enjoy one of the rarest -- and certainly one of the most exciting -- Rolling Stones rarities of them all.

From 1978, it's the Bob Clearmountain remix of the great Some Girls track "Before They Make Me Run." Which kicks the album version's ass bigtime.

How rare is this? Pretty damned rare; it was released as a limited edition 45 for critics and press only (with that fabulous Annie Leibovitz photo of Keith as the picture sleeve) and over the years it's pretty much disappeared down the memory hole. I'd been trying to find a copy since the old Napster days, with no success, but I stumbled on it at a torrent site the other day.

True story: Three years ago, I e-mailed Bob Clearmountain himself (he has a website, obviously) and asked if there was any chance he could spare an mp3 of this magnum opus. I assured him that I wasn't going to bootleg it or anything, but that I simply wanted to have a copy for my personal listening pleasure.

He got back to me right away -- nice guy -- but his answer was "Sorry, Steve -- to be honest, I have absolutely no recollection of ever having done the record."

[h/t Gummo]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Born Too Late

Story of my freaking life. The 9YO, who has become completely boneless in front of the Cartoon Network this summer, has introduced me to this ridiculous thing: The Impossibles.

Any memories of this stuff? It seems like the kind of thing college students in the late 60s would get baked to watch.

And me, all I got was Mannequin 2. (Fast forward to 4:41 to see why.)

Let Us Now Praise Famous (Flee)Men

Or more specifically, the quite amazing Gregory Fleeman.

Greg's mainstream claim to fame is that he wrote the vastly entertaining 1986 action thriller F/X, which starred Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy and spawned a sequel and TV series.

But back in the day, he fronted without question the most hilarious rock act I ever witnessed, the genius-monikered Gregory Fleeman and the Fleewomen. I encountered them, initially, while researching a piece on the neo-folk scene that was briefly resurgent in Greenwich Village in the early 80s; here's what I wrote at the time (in The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review).

...Fleeman is a young ex-actor with one of the most warped sensibilities likely to be sprung on an unsuspecting public. His band is a motley collection of aging hippies, refugees from underground S-&-M clubs and punk/jazz fusion players, and his songs are about the funniest I've heard since...oh, since Tonio K. Take Touching Myself But Thinking of You, which asks the musical slash cosmic question "If we're all one, who needs you?" Or his children's lullabye about the little men who come out when you're asleep ("They massage your heart/and your private parts/and throw parties in your mouth"); his impassioned love song about the Tappan Zee Bridge; a 40s swing tune called Wisconsin Moon ("There's too much!"); not to mention his soon-to-be-immortal production number, "the song, nay metaphor" he calls simply Showbiz (although it's better known to his fans as Sucking My Way to the Top).

It gives me great pleasure, then, to note that all those songs -- and much more -- can now be found on Greg's fabulous new CD, which behooves behearing, obviously.

Hopefully, he won't be pissed at me for posting the audio clip of "Showbiz" --

-- as long as I urge you to be a mensch and order the album over here at CDBaby or download it at iTunes.

In the mean time, please be sure to check out more about Greg at his aptly named official website Fleemania!

You're welcome.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Present Day Antipodean Refuses to Die!

Okay, this one slays me. From 1972 and their Teenage Heaven album, it's the legendary-in-Australia Daddy Cool and their wonderful and wonderfully self-referential "Daddy Rocks Off."

The short version is that I used to have this album -- a consequence of being on the Warner Bros. Records freebie list as my old college paper's in-house rock crit -- and although I vaguely recalled likeing it (or at least some of the songs) I lost my vinyl copy ages ago and since then couldn't have remembered what it sounded like if you put a gun to my head. So when it turned up on the estimable redtelephone66 site the other day, I downloaded it out of basically idle curiosity.

The song in question is, in fact, an absolutely delightful moronic/genius three chord garage-rock hybrid with a monster swampy blues/rock groove and attitude to spare. Fabulous stuff, and what a pleasure to rediscover it.

I have since been informed by commenter Peter Scott, who blogs about Down Under bands over at Peter's Power Pop, that these guys are about as iconic as you can get in Australia; their biggest hit -- "Eagle Rock" -- was Number 1 on the Ozzie charts for ten(!) weeks back in 1971. Peter also informs me that said hit is so utterly ubiquitous in his homeland that it took him years before he could get over being sick of it and actually appreciate how great a band they were.

Anyway, as I said, "Daddy Rocks Off" just slays me; you can download the entire album, which is well worth the effort, over here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

From Hell It Came

So on Friday, over at his fabulous Burning Wood blog, our good friend Sal Nunziato posted a link where you can download the original records redone by David Bowie on his album of 60s covers Pin Ups.

The records in question? All fabulous, but if you don't recall them off the top of your head they are:

Rosalyn- The Pretty Things
Here Comes The Night - Them
I Wish You Would- The Yardbirds
See Emily Play- Pink Floyd
Everything's All Right- The Mojos
I Can't Explain- The Who
Friday On My Mind- The Easybeats
Sorrow- The Merseys
Don't Bring Me Down- The Pretty Things
Shapes Of Things- The Yardbirds
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere- The Who
Where Have All The Good Times Gone- The Kinks

Get thee over there right now and download the ZIP file -- you'll be glad you did.

Of course, I bring all this up not strictly out of altruism; long-time readers -- and Sal, who obviously disagrees -- are aware that I consider David Bowie to exist somewhere on a continuum between Most Overrated Figure in Rock History and Satanic Hellspawn Whose Entire Career is a Harbinger of the End Times.

You'll hardly be surprised, then, to learn that I consider Pin Ups to be not only one of the Three All-Time Worst Albums of Rock Covers Ever Made, but also to be among the worst sets of interpretations of any kind of music in the history of recorded sound.

Okay, that last may be an overstatement, but I stand by the Three Worst Covers album thing.

In case you're wondering, the other two are Bryan Ferry's 1973 These Foolish Things and Duran Duran's 1995 Thank You.

The former, I think, is an utterly appaling concept record in which Ferry, nitwit that he is, advances the concept that Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" has something in common artistically with Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" other than the fact that both were originally recorded by sentient mammals.

The latter, on the other hand, is merely a sloppy mess in which one of the world's most useless bands pays tribute to its non-roots and tries, unsuccessfully, to convince the world that Simon Le Bon has any business performing a Public Enemy song.

Pin Ups, however, I think is exponentially worse. At the time it came out, somebody who hadn't yet heard it (Lester Bangs, actually, who quoted me without attribution in his subsequent review) asked what it sounded like and I replied "Like twelve versions of 'Let's Spend the Night Together' on Aladdin Sane." (At the time, of course, Bowie's "Let's Spend the Night Together" was generally conceded to be the single lamest version of a Stones song evah).

What I would have added, time permitting, is that the entire attitude that Pin Ups exudes (reeks of, might be a more accurate phrase) is a Look at Me I'm Wonderful contempt for the material. The album, IMHO, is the work of a guy who's convinced that these silly little songs and the people who recorded them are ever so trivial and ridiculous, so thank god that he -- The Greatest Star -- is deigning to give them a little undeserved, reflected, acclaim in his trademark bullshit campy ironic way.

Not to mention that the singing is flatout awful; the affectless, emotionless, pretentious pseudo-operatic croon Bowie subjects the songs to is light years removed from the punkish snarl and passion that most of them (with the possible exception of The Mersey's "Sorrow") require.

Have I mentioned that I hate the goddamn album?

Oh well. Your favorite band sucks, and all that stuff, and I understand that where I hear dripping condescension, other reasonable people hear affectionate homage. In the meantime, here's the wonderful original version of the aforementioned "Sorrow."

You tell me if Bowie did it justice or not.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jim Dickinson 1941 - 2009

Dickinson, who died way too young on Friday, is one of the great unsung heroes of American vernacular music over the last couple of decades, a guy who moved effortlessly between blues, soul, rock, and even punk -- piano player on The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," producer of The Replacements' essential Pleased to Meet Me, and father of Cody and Luther, whose North Mississippi Allstars are hands down the best young modern blues rock band on the planet.

But the thing I'll remember him most fondly for is the absolute conceptual masterstroke behind his sort-of Memphis supergroup Mud Boy and the Neutrons. From the start, they planned to release four albums over a span of years, the titles of which would ultimately comprise a haiku. MB&TN only got to make the first three, but Dickinson used his final solo album to complete the poem.

The titles, in the order of their issue:

Known Felons in Drag

Negro Streets at Dawn

They Walk Among Us

Free Beer Tomorrow

Words fail me.

In any case, from the third (1995), please enjoy Dickinson and the rest of MB&TN with their simply astonishing version of the blues classic "Shake Your Money Maker," which a friend once described -- accurately, I think -- as sounding "like the work of 5000 demented dwarves pounding away as if possessed."

[h/t Sal Nunziato]

You Say It's Your Birthday...

PowerPop wishes a very happy birthday to pop luminary Richard X. Heyman! Have a wonderful day!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special The Kids in the Office Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental Bop on Your Schmeckel Specialist ethical consultant Fah Lo Suee and I are off to an undisclosed location to plead for veterinary care for my snake Reggie at one of those Obama Death Panel thingies.

So posting by moi will more than likely be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for us all:

Most Memorable Song or Record That Wouldn't Have Existed Without the Brill Building Writers Factory of the Sixties!!!!

No arbitrary rules this time, you're welcome very much. Just make sure that the song or record was written by somebody who actually toiled at 1619 Broadway, either literally or spiritually. Which is to say, if you want to nominate a cool song that was written in the Brill Building style but, say, on the West Coast, or even decades later as a tribute -- go for it!

And my totally top of my heard Top Seven is:

7. Jay and the Americans -- Come a Little Bit Closer (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart)

It needs to be said -- the entire esthetic of Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita" ultimately derives from this record.

6. Roseanne Cash -- I Count the Tears (Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman)

Originally a 1960 hit for The Drifters with Ben E. King; P.F. Sloan later ripped it off for the The Grass Roots "Let's Live For Today." This version, by the sublime Roseanne Cash (from a great 90s Pomus tribute album) is my fave, however. It doesn't get any more haunting...

5. Evie Sands -- I Can't Let Go (Al Gorgoni/Chip Taylor)

That's Chip Taylor as in brother of Jon Voight and uncle to some movie star with great lips. As for Evie, she's one of the great unsung heroes of rock and soul and I've had a mad crush on her since Shindig. Talk about a white chick (in Nick Tosches ' immortal phrase) really getting down to the heart of hep; if there's anybody in pop I'd like to meet and have a drink with someday, it's her.

4. Manfred Mann -- Pretty Flamingo (Mark Barkan)

One of the most sublime street corner blue collar romantic anthems of the 60s, and written, if you can believe it, by the same genius who also wrote the Banana Splits "Tra-La-La" song.

3. The Move -- Don't Make My Baby Blue (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill)

Originally a hit in England by Cliff Richard and the Shadows and redone in 1967 by (gasp!)Frankie Laine. The Move's 1970 Zeppelin-esque version, from their great Shazam album, with some of the most monster guitar riffage yet heard by sentient mammalian ears, remains the champion mind-boggler, however. Although you might want to check out the Laine cover if you happen to be tripping any time soon.

2. Lothar and the Hand People -- Machines (Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman)

A 1965 Manfred Mann track redone by these Village folk-rockers in 1968 as a sinister slice of proto-New Wave synth pop. Seriously -- it's Devo ten years ahead of its time.

And the numero uno coolest song to have emanated from this place --

-- quite obviously is....

1. The Chiffons -- One Fine Day (Gerry Goffin/Carole King)

I've said it before, but this is an absolutely perfect record, from the instantly memorable opening piano riff -- you may recall it in slightly altered form from the Raspberries "I Want to Be With You" -- to the yakety sax solo to the glorious romantic innocence of the lyric to the catch in the lead singers voice whenever she hits the title line. Honestly, I don't think I've ever listened to this without swooning.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel cinema Listomania -- theme: Most Memorable Big Screen Killer(s) -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and leaving a snarky comment, it would get in me really good with management. Bless you.]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Early Clue to the New Direction: Special Burning Down the House Edition)

From February of 1977, please enjoy the baby Talking Heads (without Jerry Harrison) and their very first (pre-debut album) single "Love → Building on Fire."

God, wasn't Tina Weymouth just the cutest thing in the world? Like Marianne Faithfull in a trash compactor.

True story: I went to some trendy SoHo loft party once that she attended; the Heads were just getting famous at the time, but she wasn't married to the drummer yet, and she was there unescorted, as they say.

The long and the short of it is that she just sat by herself, looking very lonely, in a big chair the whole night, and not a single one of the myriad hepster guys in attendance had the nerve to go up and talk to her.

Myself included, obviously.

In any case, 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.

The Present Day Post-Modernist Refuses to Die

Okay, this one is a certified work of genius.

A Fountains of Wayne parody that manages to replicate every trick in their book with eerie accuracy, is screamingly funny, and yet still works as a straight ahead powerpop number as good as anything FOW ever came up with. Seriously -- I'll bet Adam Schlesinger not only loves this, but wishes he'd written it.

Simply amazing.

[h/t M.Bowen]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quick, Henry, the Flit! (Part Deux)

From the summer of 1972, please enjoy perhaps unjustly forgotten NYC proto-glam rock punks The Sidewinders and their surf guitar/raga version of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff's immortal "Theme From The Green Hornet," a/k/a "The Flight of the Bumblebee."

Believe it or not, this is the first album I ever reviewed professionally, in a weekly NYC free paper whose name I can't even remember. I've long since lost the clip, so I have no idea what I said about the record, but having now listened to the entire thing for the first time in decades (it's downloadable over at the invaluable powerpopcriminals) I'm guessing my younger self wasn't particularly impressed. As for the above instrumental, I'd give it a 78; it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Incidentally, the reason these guys are even a footnote to rock history is that the album was a) produced by the great Lenny Kaye, of Patti Smith Group fame; b) it featured Andy Paley, who would later collaborate with Brian Wilson and do lots of other interesting stuff; and c) Billy Squier was briefly in the band, although not until after the album was recorded.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Through a Glass (Not So) Darkly

By way of a postscript to yesterday's little tribute to pioneering rock critic and indy label maven Greg Shaw (1949-2004), here's part of an editiorial he wrote for the January 1979 issue of his BOMP Magazine. In it Greg proposes the creation of a "society for the preservation of pop culture." But you'll notice that, almost as an afterthought, he also predicts a computer/musical future that looks almost exactly like the one we're actually living.

"...The primary goal would be the collection, on tape and microfilm, of a definitive library of music, film, video, and printed history of pop music, starting with today and working backwards into the early years of the century, eventually linking up with other organizations dedicated to preserving the history of jazz, folk music, etc. But first taking care of rock & roll. At the rate the cybernetic revolution is progressing, by the time this could be done every school, library and maybe even home, in America would probably be able to have direct access to all this material. Imagine 20 years from now, if every teenager could sit in his bedroom with a computer screen and terminal (with stereo speakers attached) and call up anything he wanted from Billy Ward & the Dominoes to Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds - see what they looked like, read extracts from fanzines and historians who wrote about them, cross-referenced to other artists and sources, and above all hear the music, and maybe even see film footage if any exists. All of this is feasible with the technology of today and the next couple of years. It's effect would be to create a lasting rampart against the danger of gigantic industry brainwashing the public and eliminating all roots, all variety from our culture. Even disregarding that, it would be a worthwhile effort from the standpoint of preserving a huge chunk of American culture..."
I actually read that one back in the day and thought, yeah, right -- like that'll happen.

In any case, I still want to know why the stuff Greg predicted has come true and yet we still don't have fricking jet packs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Present Day Record Geek Refuses to Die

Okay, this is a really long story, so please indulge me.

First, the set-up.

One of the greatest (and most obscure) lost singles of the 70s -- indeed, in rock history -- is a little number called "Natural Man" by The Marcus Hook Roll Band. The MHRB were actually Harry Vanda and George Young of The Easybeats, then toiling under various aliases in the period before they roared back as the production team behind the first couple of AC/DC albums (AC/DC's Malcolm and Angus, of course, are George's younger brothers).

In any case, the record itself is one of the landmarks of the Glam Era -- a perfect three chord "Sweet Jane" derivative with hilarious topical lyrics, gorgeous layered electric and accoustic guitars, and absolutely brilliant production, including a bass guitar and cowbell breakdown (a la the bit in Free's "Alright Now," but hookier) that sets up a massive series of final choruses that once heard are etched into your auditory canal forever. An absolute masterpiece, is what I'm saying. Unfortunately, it was not a hit when released in 1973 (I had a promo copy on Capitol at the time, but I lost it later in the decade) and it has never been on LP or CD. An inferior demo version was on a MHRB compilation in the 90s, but it lacked the gorgeousness of the original.

You can read a contemporary account of the single -- from the now defunct house organ of United Artists Records -- over here. Incidentally, the author of said piece, Martin Cerf, was one of the hipper record company guys at the time, and a friend to numerous rock journalists of the period including the late great Greg Shaw; he may, in fact, have been a partner in Greg's BOMP Records, although I'm hazy on that.

Anyway, take a minute to listen to it, and then we'll resume our convoluted narrative.

Great song, no?

The bottom line is I'd been searching, in vain, for a copy of the thing for close to thirty years; in fact, I had more or less convinced myself that the damn record existed only in some sort of fever dream I'd had once. Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally, last week, got an mp3 of "Natural Man" (exactly as I remembered it) from the estimable Robin Wills, who does business over at the wonderful purepop blog. Apart from running said site, Robin is/was guitarist and songwriter with The Barracudas, a terrific Brit-based band from the legendary class of 1978 (you might recall their 1980 hit "Summer Fun"). Before we go any further, please click the purepop link and check out the place -- it'll be worth your time, and I'm not saying that just because the design has a certain air of familiarity.

Seriously -- get over there now.

Thank you.

Anyway, Robin and I started swapping other rare tracks ("I am always looking for obscure US bubblegum and stuff" he told me) and finally, just to be a wiseguy, I sent him an mp3 of "On the Road" by The Hounds, i.e. the B-side of my 70s band's DIY single, of which a total of 1000 copies were ever pressed and only 800 or so, to my knowledge, were ever actually sold. (In another amusing irony, some of those were distributed overseas by the aforementioned Greg Shaw).

At which point he e-mailed me back the following...

Hi Steve: Believe it or not I have The Hounds single!!!!...I thought that the B side was a good Roy Loney era Groovies type number. I got it in a swap with a guy from NY

...and I damn near fainted. Talk about the smallest world in the world.

Anyway, here's the B-side in question, transferred from the original vinyl at great personal expense by moi as part of the 2009 Hounds CD Reissue Project. Actually I think it sounds more like Dave Edmunds than the Groovies; in fact, those Chuck Berry leads are my poor attempt at recreating Dave's work on the live version of "Let It Rock" (with Brinsley Schwarz) on the great Subtle as a Flying Mallet album. But you tell me.

Look, I told you it was a long story. I made no claims that it was an interesting one...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Your Favorite Band [or Song] Sucks! Audio Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental Me Love You Long Time! girl computer consultant Fah Lo Suee and I are off to a Ford dealership in South Jersey where we'll be trading in my gas guzzling '23 Alfa Romeo for a brand new 2009 Taurus and getting a Cash for Clunkers rebate in the bargain. Hey -- am I sticking it to The Man, or what?

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

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

Band or Song (or Both) You've Taken the Most Snark For Liking From Folks Over the Years!!!

Self-explanatory, obviously, and no arbitrary rules whatsoever, you're welcome very much. Basically, if anybody's ever looked at you with an alarmed raised eyebrow when you noted that, oh, The Swans' Filth was the record you'd most like to have played at a memorial service, then this category is for you.

And my totally top of my Top Three is:

3. The Guess Who

Seriously, back in the 70s, I can't tell you how often I would mention my fondness for these guys, only to notice that the people I was talking to were moving away, ever so slowly but firmly, from where I sat.

The clip above -- a medley called "Hi, Rockers!" -- is my favorite of several true gems from the band's masterpiece album. The transition from the hilarious beer-soaked barroom meeting of the minds that opens it into the seraphically lovely clavinet-driven "Heaven Only Moved Once" and finally the witty mutant rockabilly revenge number "Don't You Want Me" -- complete with faux Jordanaires harmony vocals -- is, frankly, a marvel to behold, and from where I sit one of the very greatest moments in 70s rock. I'm not kidding about this!!!

2. Procol Harum

These guys, although there's still a perception out there that they were one-hit wonders (hah!), actually get a fair amount of respect -- it's amazing how often I run into people who turn out to be closet fans. So I'm mostly including them here because the luminous NYMary, annotating a piece I'd written about the band in the early 70s for reprint in these precincts, couldn't resist taking a shot at "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (bless her heart). I think the phrase she used was "Dodgiest lyrics ever..."

Naturally enough, then, the clip above is "Repent Walpurgis," an instrumental that remains one of my all-time fave Procol numbers. It's a live version, featuring the classic five piece original lineup with Robin Trower and Matthew Fischer (the latter four decades away from settling his authorship suit over AWSOP last week) at the Fillmore West on April 11, 1969. I've been looking for a high quality boot of that incarnation of the band for years, actually, so it's a genuine pleasure for me to share this.

And the numero uno band or song whose Name I Most Dared Not Speak over the years, is obviously --

1. The Four Seasons -- Marlena

The Four Seasons, despite (or perhaps because of) their recent metamorphosis into the inspiration for a world-wide hit musical, remain somewhat less than hep in certain rock critic circles. I, of course, have said on numerous occasions (including here, if memory serves) that their great run of hits -- spanning the period between "Sherry" in 1962 through, say, "I've Got You Under My Skin" five years later -- comprise the purest pop confections in the history of the genre (the grittier class conscious romanticism of "Dawn" and "Rag Doll," and those songs' influence on Bruce Springsteen, is, of course, a subject for another day).

In any case, my advocacy of "Marlena" (which I think is their most profoundly silly accomplishment, and that's meant as a compliment) has gotten me into trouble on a couple of occasions, most notably sometime in the late 70s, when I -- along with twenty or thirty other folks, mostly writers and musicians -- was asked to make a list of our Five All-Time Favorite Songs by New York City rock colossus WNEW-FM (the station then played everybody's lists over the course of an entire day). I don't remember all five songs I picked -- one was The Who's "Glow Girl" -- but I did nominate "Marlena," and I recall that after the deejay ID'd it as one of my choices, I got at least three frantic phone calls from erstwhile friends questioning my sanity. Okay, I exaggerate just a tad, but you get the idea.

In any case, I think history has vindicated my assessment.

Incidentally, the audio clip of "Marlena" above is the original mono single mix, which I was able to find only after great personal effort and considerable financial expense. This is important because most currently available Four Seasons comps have the song in stereo, and as Pete Townshend famously said about The Who's "I Can See For Miles," the mono mix of "Marlena" makes the stereo sound like The Carpenters.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: Best or Worst Screen Performance By a Teen Idol of Any Age!!! -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, I would take it as a personal favor if you could take the time to go over there and leave as snarky a comment as you like. Thanks!]

Thursday, August 06, 2009

An Early Clue to the New Direction: Special Milli Vanilli Lives! Video Edition

From 1970, please enjoy bubblegum legends The Ohio Express and their infernally addictive (and more substantial than the genre usually gets) "Sausalito." Written by the great Graham Gouldman. Yes, the same guy who wrote "Bus Stop."

Okay, the interesting (I know, you'll be the judge of that) thing is that the guys in the clip were NOT the guys who played and sang the record. The clip guys, who admittedly have the then contemporary rock star look down pretty good, were a Mansfield, Ohio band called Sir Timothy & The Royals, who were renamed the Ohio Express and hired by the Kasenetz/Katz bubblegum factory to represent, as the kids say.

So who played on the record? Well, given Gouldman's fingerprints on the thing, you might guess it was his future band 10cc, and you'd be right; "Sausalito" is, in fact, the work of the same pop geniuses behind records like "Rubber Bullets" and "I'm Not in Love." Gouldman and company spent a year basically toiling as Brill Building hacks for Kasenetz and Katz; they had their own recording studio which they were trying to turn into a viable commercial enterprise at the time, and grinding out bubblegum tracks for K&K paid the bills. For more on the whole history of the Ohio Express, you should probably go over here.

And just to show you what a nice guy I am, here's a link so you can download a nice clean copy of the record itself. Love that twangy sitar!!!

In any case, 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.