Monday, February 28, 2011

Only the Dead Know Basel

"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." -- Orson Welles, The Third Man (1946)
Cut to 1965, and you'd have to add the eponymous debut album and several singles by Switzerland's The Sevens to the list.

Hands down the greatest rock band out of a historically neutral country. Ever.

Basically, these guys were the Rolling Stones of Switzerland; as you'll hear they might as easily be described as the Pretty Things/Animals/Kinks of Switzerland. In any case, they never had much impact outside of their home turf, where their peak years were 1965-66. I should confess at this point that I'd never encountered them until a few days ago, although I assume they're rather highly regarded in Garage Punk/Nuggets circles.

Here's their first single -- titled, with absolute pop perfection, "Seven," and a more eerily apocalyptic pop record had never been heard by sentient mammalian ears, I'll tell you that for free. Recorded essentially live -- the pistol shots were done in real time, although they never used the gimmick onstage -- and in just one take; if the freakout/raveup at the end doesn't get you going, you probably need to have it looked at.

Oh, and you'll never guess who the producer was.

Wait for it....

Giorgio Moroder. Yes, him.

Here's what they sounded like in stereo -- from the aforementioned album, it's the equally ominous "You Should Know." Which sounds to my ears like a mid-tempo ballad by The Zombies, albeit if that band consumed a case of Italian Swiss Colony before the recording session.

Obviously, the musicianship on both these tracks has a certain...primitive quality, I think is the phrase, but both of them also have a very palpable end-of-the-world vibe that I find remarkable. I should also add that lead singer Pierre Aebischer, who comes across as alternately creepy and amusingly suave, was either a genius or a madman, at least from the sound of this stuff.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

RIP: Clare Amory

via Pitchfork:
A post on the Facebook page of NYC experimental outfit Excepter confirms that band member Clare Amory has died of cancer. According to the blog of band member Jon Nicholson, she was 35. As a member of Excepter, she contributed to the band's free-form musical explorations and noisy, improvisational live shows (as well as their prolific release of live recordings).

I saw Clare in one of her earlier bands, more mainstream.

But I really knew her through her family, who I've known for 25 years. Her mom and I have been good friends, and as I watched her struggle with the devastating illness her daughter faced, she did so with all the strength and grace and obvious suffering of a parent losing a child.

Clare was a beautiful young woman (you can see in the video that I'm not exaggerating at all): smart, talented, graceful (she spent many years as a dancer) and creative. She died partly because we sneer at people who want to make their own way creatively in our world: she had no health insurance when she was diagnosed. Her death is a tragedy, and it sits heavily on me (as it has all week, knowing it was imminent), and I send my warmest sympathies to her family.

Big Star Third in NYC

I'm going. Will you come?

Hell, I'll even buy you a drink! Why not?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special A Broken Heart For Every Light On The Great White Way Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Is the Dreamworks DVD/Blu-ray combo of Megamind, the not as funny as it should have been supervillain animated flick featuring the voice of Will Ferrell, possibly in contention? Might Sony's DVD of Get Low, with Robert Duvall as an eccentric Tennessee woodsman who decides to organize his own funeral bash, by any chance what we're talking about? Or is there the remotest chance that Warner Home Video's Blu-ray edition of Due Date, the rather blatant rip-off of Planes Trains and Automobiles starring the ill-served Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Gallifinakis, could conceivably be The One?

A very middling field, I think you'll agree, so for my money it simply has to be the incredibly cool new Criterion Collection refurbishing of the quintessentially NYC-ish Sweet Smell of Success from 1957, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

If you haven't seen SSOS before -- in which case you're in for a treat -- it's about (among other things, including greed, lust and betrayal) the nexus between show biz celebrity and politics, which actually makes it even more relevant in our current media age than it was back in the day, when it seemed to be ripped from the headlines. Based on a script by North by Northwest writer Ernest Lehman (rewritten by lefty playwright Clifford Odets -- the unforgettable Broadway dialogue is mostly him), it stars Lancaster (in the performance of a lifetime) as sinister and deeply amoral gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a character that everybody in America recognized as a barely disguised portrait of real-life tabloid and radio journalist Walter Winchell; Curtis (equally good) is Sidney Falco, a small time press agent/hustler with a love/hate and vaguely parasitical relationship with the great man. The film's un-billed costar, however, is New York City itself; director Alexander Mackendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe staged the story against a backdrop of (many now sadly vanished) Manhattan locations, and it's hard to imagine a more exciting time capsule of the Big Apple in all its slightly sleazoid sharkskinned glory.

Here's Criterion's trailer to give you an idea.

Criterion's package begins with a gorgeous digital restoration from the original 35mm negative; it's so vivid you can practically smell the cigarette smoke and stale whiskey in the nightclub scenes. There's also a second disc with some bonus features that are almost as fascinating as the film itself, including Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 profile of the director (who is every bit as clear-eyed and acerbic about the movie business as you'd expect, and also charming as hell), a new video interview with Neal Gabler, who wrote the definitive book on Walter Winchell, and a terrific 1973 documentary on Oscar-winning cinematographer Howe. The accompanying booklet also features a characteristically perceptive essay on the film's history by critic Gary Giddins and (best of all) both of the Lehman short stories (from Colliers and Cosmopolitan) that introduced the Hunsecker and Falco characters.

The bottom line: You can -- and frankly what are you waiting for? -- head over to Amazon and order Sweet Smell of Success here.

Okay, and with that out of the way, and because things will as usual be mostly pretty quiet around here for the next couple of days, here's a relevant and hopefully amusing little project to wile away the hours until whenever:

Best or Worst Inside-Showbiz Film (Fictional OR Documentary)!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Lonely Boy (Roman Kroitor and Wolf Koenig, 1962)

Snicker if you will, but if there's a better look at the star-making machinery and the price of fame than this cinema verité portrait of teen idol Paul Anka back in the day then I, for one, haven't seen it.

4. Can't Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980)

A musical comedy(?) account of how the Village People got together in which the word "gay" is mentioned exactly never. And yes, it was directed by THAT Nancy Walker.

3. The Oscar (Russell Rouse, 1965)

The rise and fall of an incredibly obnoxious heel of a movie star (Stephen Boyd) and the bad actors (Tony Bennett) who enable them until they don't. Co-written by Harlan Ellison, of all people, and to his credit he's apologized for it on numerous occasions.

2. Stardust (Michael Apted, 1974)

The aspiring rock star Essex played in That'll Be the Day goes on to Beatles-size success in the 60s, with all the attendant drug use, artistic and personal sell-outs and betrayals that entails. Surprisingly downbeat and realistic, plus the fake band includes Dave Edmunds and Keith Moon.

And the Numero Uno perfectly awful that-business-we-call-show film of them all simply has to be...

1. Glitter (Vondie Curtis-Hall, 2001)

Rags to riches mishegass about an 80s pop diva, and also known as Somebody Almost Killed Mariah Carey's Career. Truly one of the worst films ever; see it for the scene where Carey gets seduced by a guy whose big move is playing the marimba for her.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be? )

Thursday, February 24, 2011

They Had Faces Then

No Early Clue to the New Direction™ today, due to tomorrow being one of our bi-weekly Cinema Listomanias.

In its stead, however, I thought I'd share this quite remarkable promo film from 1964 a friend hipped me to the other day -- the pre-cosmic Moody Blues, featuring the great Denny Laine, doing "Go Now."

I have no idea who directed the thing, and 'm not sure whether or not it was done as a deliberate homage to that iconic black-and-white Robert Freeman Meet the Beatles album cover. But it sure is arty in a wonderfully 60s sort of way.

[h/t Kerrin L. Griffith]

The Unreleased Beatles Albums: The Final Conflict

EMI's roll-out of archival material by the Fab Four concludes next week with two final releases.

First up on Monday:

The Little Red Album (1968)

From EMI's press release:
"Mainly inspired by John, who happened to be on acid while watching the Paris students riots in the summer of '68, this collection was recorded on one night between dusk and dawn, in a "very collective" session (John speaking). Its release was blocked by Yoko Ono, who, being a Jap, doesn't like Chinks."
Love Mao Do
(Won't You) Please Police Me
The Long and Winding Capitalist Roaders
Happiness Proceeds Out of the Barrel of a Warm Gun
Rice Paddies Forever
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, So I'll Criticize Myself
Paperback Tiger

And on Wednesday:

McCartney and Friend (1970)

EMI again:
"Not to be outdone by his colleagues, Paul sought to make a statement about his musical roots. The result was Paul McCartney and Friend, a lavish, saccharine overorchestrated Nelson Riddle production. McCartney blocked release of the LP when Sinatra dedicated "That's Why the Lady is a Tramp" to his wife Linda."
I Did It My Way
Theme from The Man With the Golden Arm
A Foggy Day
My Funny Valentine

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ask And You Shall Receive

My pal Andy Pasternack requested a Marshall Crenshaw version of The Walker Brothers classic "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" downstairs.

Here it is.

Actually, it's a one-off live version by Marshall, Jules Shear and the great Graham Maby on bass; if there's another solo Crenshaw version, I can't find it. When it was recorded -- at Tramps, sometime in the 90s, I believe -- the trio were doing business as Bag of Soup.

In any case, the song remains too gorgeous for words no matter who does it. Hell, I even like Cher's cover.

Honesty in Animal Husbandry

Okay, I'm acutely aware -- as I've noted here on numerous occasions -- that the name of this blog is PowerPop, not Pissed-Off Leftist, and out of a decent respect for the views of some of our faithful readers I try to limit expressions of my occasional righteous indignation over current events in the non-musical precincts of the world to a minimum.

That said, today I'd simply like to post my favorite crudely lettered sign from the recent protests in Madison.

And while I can't speak to the literal accuracy of the above statement, I will add this about the deeply cynical and deeply evil governor of Wisconsin -- it is extremely irksome that he has the same name as, and thus might be unfairly mistaken for, one of the truly great artists of our time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Old School

The things you can find on the intertubes.

The short version: Back in 1968, while dodging the draft by attending what I refer to as an unidentified college on Long Island, I met a fellow student -- a musician who I occasionally jammed with -- whose claim to fame was that he'd been in a pop band that had an East Coast (and NYC) radio hit the previous year. Said hit, alas, had been nationally eclipsed by a simultaneous cover version by some West Coast group, thus putting the brakes on his rock star future. For years, I've been trying to remember what the song was, who the kid was and what the name of his band was -- all info that apparently dribbled out of my brain sometime during the Ford administration.

The only thing I COULD remember, distinctly, is that at the time I kind of half suspected the kid might have been jiving me about the hit record thing, but no -- it (and he) were for real. As I discovered when I found his album, with his photo unmistakable on the cover, in the library of the college radio station.

Anyway, thanks to said intertubes I just stumbled upon the record again, at last. So, from 1967, please enjoy my long ago chum Dave Gordon and his pals in The Blades of Grass, with their East Coast hit version of the winsomely Harpers Bizarre-ish "Happy."

A record, I have since learned, that is very highly regarded by devotees of the rock genre now known as Sunshine Pop.

That's Dave on the right, with the glasses.

According to All-Music, these guys were "a real band from the New York metropolitan area, with two of the members coming from Maplewood, NY, and the other two from South Orange, NJ. They were finishing high school around the time they recorded their only album, and unlike many groups from the time (even high school-aged ones), they boasted the clean-cut, short-ish-haired look that was actually much more common among average high schoolers in 1967 than long hair."


As for Dave himself, a little Facebook detective work turned up the fact that he's currently teaching music at Columbia University, which isn't too shabby. If I can find an e-mail addy for him, perhaps I'll update the story in a few days.

Hey -- I didn't say this would necessarily be all that interesting.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Unreleased Beatles Album: Part II

EMI's roll-out of legendary vault material from the Fab Four continues.

New out this week -- The Beatles' often bootlegged Rabbi Saul from 1967.

From EMI's press release:
This album was recorded for the benefit of Queenie Epstein on the occasion of her son Brian's untimely death. The idea was simply to cheer her up after her terrible loss, but not content with being cheered up, Queenie wanted to have the album released, claiming it would make "a pile." When the group refused, she sued, claiming that since they had given her the album, she owned it outright. The court case was continued until Allen Klein took over the management of the Beatles, at which point Mrs. Epstein inexplicably dropped the suit.

Hey, Juden
Here Comes My Son, the Doctor Robert
Helter Schmelter
Your Mother Should Only Know
If I Kvell
Mocky Raccoon
Sexy Seder
The Schul on the Hill

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekend Listomania: Special My Mind is Aglow With Whirling,Transient Nodes of Thought! Edition)

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental fille de la boinque Fah Lo Suee and I are off to beautiful downtown Madison, Wisconsin, for a special taping of The Maury Povich Show featuring unfairly beleaguered governor Scott Walker [R-Living Saint]. Walker, who previously revealed that he'd been sexually abused as a child, will tell Maury that he's now being abused by selfish overpaid teachers, firefighters and police who resent his highly principled attempts to privatize their self-respect.

Good lord -- hasn't this heroic man of the people suffered enough already?

That being the case, and because things will most likely be quiet around here till our return, here's a fun little project to help us all wile away the darkening hours:

Best Psychedelic Pop or Rock Song Recorded AFTER the 1960s!!!

No arbitrary rules that I can see, you're welcome very much. We're talking about records that are either deliberately retro evocations of the era or simply have something of its lysergic spirit.

And just in case we've done this theme before, let me say in my defense that it's pretty obvious the drugs have taken their toll.

And my totally top of my head Top Five are/is:

5. The Aliens -- Honest Again

There's something irresistibly watery (for want of a better word) about this one. In any case, it's nice to have something that originated in the 21st century for a change.

4. The Loud Family -- Aerodeliria

From their 1993 masterpiece Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. Named, of course, after the America song which Randy Newman said "sounds like it was written by two kids who thought they had taken acid."

3. The Bears -- Raining

Yeah, I posted this one just a few weeks ago. But it's still knocking me out -- evocations of Revolver era Beatles don't come any sweeter.

2. The High Dials -- Diamonds in the Dark

My favorite Canadian popsters since Gino Vanelli. Seriously -- this is the coolest thing of it's ilk I've heard since The Who's "Instant Party."

And the Numero Uno you're-messing-with-my-head musical dose simply has to be...

1. Rob Lauffer -- Do You Fly in Your Dreams?

From the 1996 Wonderwood album, which as I've said here on numerous occasions is one of the truly great artifacts of its decade. As for the song itself, it's what prog-rock should have sounded like, but never did.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Early Clue to the New Direction Grows in Brooklyn

Now here's a rarity (alas) -- a brand new song by a young band that pushes all my buttons. In a good way.

From their second full length album Eve, please enjoy the enigmatically monikered Bridges and Powerlines and their (to me, anyway) eccentric yet ineffably haunting "Mirabell."

Who are these guys? From the e-mail I got from them:
We're an indie pop band from Brooklyn..Our one liner: psych-informed, experimental songs with chamber pop strings and horns, gospel-influenced percussion, dense backing vocals, looped guitar riffs and propulsive bass lines. Citing indie forefathers The Zombies and the Elephant 6 Collective as a starting point, teetering on the edge of organization, Eve sounds like it could fall apart at any second, but in a good way. Recorded in the same room as Sufjan Stevens' Illinois with some of the same players, the band tried to cultivate the ghost of Illinois as they made their record.

Sounds about right to me, although I could swear I hear some Smile-era Brian Wilson in there as well. In any case, I suggest you get to Amazon and snag a copy of Eve over here ASAP.

And as per usual, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who twigs "Mirabell"'s relevance to the theme of tomorrow's Weekend Listomania.

Keith's Legal Fees™ (A One-Shot Series)

This will be -- word of honor -- my last post based on Keith Richards' compulsively readable autobiography, which I've finally finished, but the stuff about Keith's growing estrangement from Mick is just too hilarious.
It was the beginning of the '80s when Mick started to become unbearable. That's when he became Brenda, or Her Majesty, or just Madam...I went to WHSmith, the English bookshop on the Rue De Rivoli. I forget the title of the book, but there it was, some lurid novel by Brenda Jagger. Gotcha, mate! Now you're Brenda whether you like it or not.

Heh. And then there's this, which explains a lot.
But Mick was chasing fashion...It gave him a spongelike mentality when it came to music. He'd hear something in a club and a week later he'd think he wrote it. I've had to check him on that. I've played him songs that I've come up with, ideas...He says, that's nice and we fiddle about for a bit and leave it alone. And a week later he'll come back and say, look, I've just written this. And I know it's totally innocent, because he wouldn't be that dumb.

The writers credits under "Anybody Seen My Baby" include K.D. Lang and a co-writer. My daughter Angela and her friend were at Redlands and I was playing the record and they start singing this totally different song over it. They were hearing K.D. Lang's "Constant Craving."

And the record was about to come out in a week. 'Oh shit, he's lifted another one.' I don't think he's ever done it deliberately, he's just a sponge. So I had to call up Rupert [Lowenstein, the Stones business manager. -Ed.] and all of the lawyers, and I said, have this checked out right now, otherwise we're going to be sued.

Heh again.

Compare and contrast: From 1992, here's the lovely and talented (and aforementioned) K.D. Lang and her quite gorgeous "Constant Craving"...

k.d. lang - Constant Craving .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

And from 1997, it's the very spongelike "Anybody Seen My Baby" by Brenda Jagger and company.

Not the Stones finest moment, no matter who wrote it, IMHO. Although at least they handled the problem more honestly than Coldplay did when they blatantly ripped-off that Joe Satriani tune a few years ago.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Unreleased Beatles Album: Part I

Interesting news from EMI -- as a followup to the Apple/Apple roll-out of The Beatles catalog to iTunes, they're also releasing, at long last, some of the vault stuff from the Fabs that fans have been clamoring for all these years.

First up next week: George Harrison's legendary solo album Lifting Material From the World (1969)

From the EMI press release:
"This album brings out a rather curious side of George Harrison's personality, which is perhaps related to his obsession with money. George recorded this album in disguise, didn't tell any of the rest of the group about it, tried nonetheless to get it released through Apple, and then lied about everything it involved when the whole sordid business came out."


My Sweet He's So Fine
My Sweet White Christmas
My Sweet Fair Lady
My Sweet Michelle
My Sweet Bobby McGee
My Sweet Lullaby of Birdland
My Sweet Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
My Sweet Greensleeves
My Sweet Ave Maria

Also out next Monday: John Lennon's primal screamer Fuck Me? Fuck You! (1970) [cover not shown]

From EMI:
"The big break-up brought a number of albums by John in its wake, of which this was the only not released. It consists entirely of John screaming at people."


Fuck You
Fuck Your Mother
Fuck Your Wife
Get Fucked
Fuck You Where You Breathe
Ah, Fuck
Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuckfuck Fuckfuck

[h/t Blank Frank]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Your Moment of Spinal Tap

You know, I was going to post a clip of Lady Gaga's not-as-smoothly-as-rehearsed emergence from a large vibrating egg at Sunday's Grammy Awards but, frankly, on balance it struck me like shooting ducks in a barrel.

So here's a couple of major moments of cringe-inducing embarrassment from an earlier TV pop music era. Specifically, from an episode of Hullaballoo in 1965.

Obviously, Michael Landon has no business singing anything, let alone "You Were On My Mind," but I can only begin to imagine how humiliated The Byrds had to feel doing that finger-snapping variety show version of the song by their pals from the Village.

On the other hand, they might have been stoned enough not to care. Certainly, that would explain McGuinn's Jerry Lewis act and the drummer's inability to clap on the beat.

The divine Jackie DeShannon, of course, acquits herself well amidst the smoldering wreckage of the other performances.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Now I Know Why I Never Liked You, You Bastard!"

That line -- attributed to Keith Richards during the sessions with Mick Taylor for the posthumously released John Phillips album I posted about last week -- reminded me that the aforementioned Taylor made a major label solo album debut in 1979.

Which I know I must have heard back in the day, but have absolutely no memory of whatsoever.

Actually, if truth be told, I do vaguely remember the above song -- the album's opener "Leather Jacket" (presumably about the lead singer of Taylor's former band) -- and I vaguely remember thinking, at the time, that it was kind of cute in a jangly guitar sort-of power pop kind of way. Now I'm thinking it's closer to pro forma 70s California soft-rock, and given that Taylor's singing is at best serviceable, I'm not surprised it made so little impression on me. As for the rest of the album, I suppose I'll give it a listen, but the fact that the third song is titled, with dazzling originality, "Slow Blues"(!) leads me to think there's probably nothing on it I might have overlooked with impunity in 1979.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Ghost in the Machine Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might Warner Home Video's Blu-ray of Life as We Know It, the bland and generic as its title romantic comedy starring Josh Duhamel and the desperately in need of better representation Katherine Heigl, be what we're talking about? Is VCI's DVD of The Prowler, the lesser known but terrific 1951 film noir thriller starring Van Heflin and directed by Joseph Losey, possibly in contention? Or, against the odds and all that is holy in this world, might Touchstone's respective disc editions of You Again (with Sigourney Weaver and Betty White in what the New York Times has raved about as "a rancid, misogynistic revenge comedy") by any chance be The One(s)?

All worthy, to be sure, with the obvious exception of that last, but for my money it simply has to be the Criterion Collection's splendid new Blu-ray update of David Cronenberg's deeply (typically?) disturbing 1983 sci-fi horror Videodrome, with James Woods and Deborah Harry.

Woods (not exactly cast against type) stars as the sleazeball programmer for a small cable network; Harry is a radio sex-therapist with a penchant for S&M. In the course of their relationship, they discover a pirate satellite broadcast of a grotesquely violent reality(?) torture porn show, and while they try to track down the source, they're simultaneously drawn into a shadowy underground world of paranoid conspiracies and -- eventually -- the kind of surrealistic bodily transformations that are the director's trademark. On the one hand, it's a fairly standard liebestod/meditation on the nexus of sex and death, but it's also a very ahead of its time (and depending on your sensibility) very funny media satire. Of course, like a lot of early Cronenerg, Videodrome betrays its low budget origins (particularly in some of the shall we say not stellar acting in the supporting roles) and even by its auteur's standards, the visual metaphors here -- the weirdly gynecological slit in a persons stomach that accepts a videocassette, the pistol that attaches itself biologically to the end of an arm (a handgun, get it?) -- are a little over the top (and as I said, disturbing). But you'll have a hard time shaking them, and they're in the service of a very carefully worked out script that's noticeably more coherent than some of the director's previous efforts; in a lot of ways, this is the first of Cronenberg's films that really works on more than just a conceptual level.

Oh, and yes -- Debbie Harry is naked a lot. Quite pleasantly.

Here's one of the original trailers (a better looking version of which appears in the Criterion set) to give you an idea.

The new Blu-ray features a beautifully cleaned-up high-def widescreen transfer of the unrated version, and there are the usual bonuses galore, including the aforementioned trailers, the complete unedited versions of some of the film-within-the-film videos, a couple of making-of docs, and an audio interview with special effects maven Rick Baker.

The bottom line: You can -- and very definitely should order Videodrome over here.

And I should add that Criterion's concurrently released Blu-ray update of Byron Haskin's 1964 Robinson Crusoe on Mars, an obviously more conventional sci-fi flick that nonetheless turns out to hold up surprisingly well...

...looks fantastic in its new transfer, and is also well worth your attention.

Okay, with all that out of the way, and because things are going to be relatively quiet around here until Monday, here's a fun and hopefully relevant little project to concentrate our minds:

Best or Worst Technology Gone Weird! Movie!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is...

5. The Twonky (Arch Oboler, 1953)

Absent-minded professor Hans Conreid doesn't know that the new TV set he bought is actually a mind-reading robot from the future with an authoritarian streak. It's a metaphor, obviously, but the film is played mostly for laughs, unlike the much better and much scarier Lewis Padgett short story it's based on.

4. The Invisible Boy (Hermann Hoffman, 1957)

Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet is sent into the past (i.e. 1957) to become the playmate of a lonely ten year old. Naturally, the two of them plot to take over the world.

3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979)

In the 23rd century, a NASA satellite from the 70s merges with a damaged alien superprobe from another galaxy and heads toward Earth to sterilize the planet. The Changeling, an earlier episode of the original TV show, handled the same story with considerably more wit and imagination, although the movie remains a dazzling piece of kinetic art.

2. Desk Set (Walter Lang, 1957)

Efficiency expert Spenser Tracy brings a giant 50s electronic brain into the research department of a big TV network and everybody, including Katherine Hepburn, thinks the machine is out for their jobs. The usual wacky hijinks (and double entendres) ensue.

And the Numero Uno cinematic battle of Us versus It clearly is...

1. Demon Seed (Donald Cammell, 1977)

A horny supercomputer decides it must have sex with Julie Christie or die. Granted, most of the men in the audience probably felt the same way, but still.

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

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Dog That Didn't Bark

No early clue to the new direction today, as tomorrow is another of our bi-weekly Cinema Listomanias.

And said CL will be up late tomorrow (or possibly early Saturday) due to my having just spent an entire day in New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicle hell. How bad was it? Let's just say that when I finally got to a bus stop to head into the city, I waited forty-five minutes in the freezing cold while standing next to a weird obese guy who apparently had Tourette's Syndrome, and it actually felt like an improvement.

I am not making this up.

Anyway, on a happier note and while I've got your attention, you really should check out our pal Sal Nunziato's take on the whole Cristina Aguilera National Anthem flap over at Burning Wood today.

Let's just say he finds more to worry about than her flubbing the lyrics.

And the secret word is..."oversouling."

Keith's Royalty Statements™: Part III

Almost done with the Richards autobiography, and I must say that it turns out that the nuts-and-bolts details of drug addiction are a lot less interesting than the stuff about how certain classic songs got written.

I should also add that the drug stuff involving John Phillips is really cringe-inducing, and that I had completely forgotten that the Stones had served as his backup band on an album recorded in the 70s but not released (as Pay Pack and Follow) until after Phillips death in 2001. Keith deals with the sessions in passing in the book; here's a more detailed account from a review by Robert E. Martin:
Originally the album was recorded for Atlantic Records, but Ahmet Ertegun, the label's founder, didn't think it was right for Phillips and the Stones to be on the same label, so Phillips bought the masters back from him.

Even more intriguing, however, is the work of former Stone's guitarist Mick Taylor. According to another interview Phillips did prior to his death with Matthew Greenwald, at the time Taylor was reluctant to record again with Jagger & Richards.

"I was able to get Mick Taylor to come out of hiding," said Phillips. "He had quit the Rolling Stones a few years before, and they hadn't spoken to each other. I said, 'What the hell, come out and play. It's just music.' So he showed up and it was a pretty tense situation for awhile. We recorded "Very Dread" and after Mick Taylor played a tremendous solo on "Oh Virginia," Keith turned to him and said, ' Now I know why I never liked you!'"
Here's the aforementioned "Oh Virginia."

Listening to that solo, which is absolutely gorgeous, I sort of know what Keith meant.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

It Came From the Basement: Part III

Okay, just to recap.

Attentive readers will perhaps recall that I recently got back together with some old high school garage band pals I hadn't seen for ages. These are guys with whom I spent an inordinate amount of time in the 70s making defiantly low-fi DIY albums in a dank Jersey basement, which is to say about a decade before Guided By Voices honcho Robert Pollard did something similar in the late 80s/early 90s and thought he was so cool.

And we called ourselves The Weasels, which is a better fricking name, too.

Anyway, I haven't inflicted too many Weasels songs on you guys because, if truth be told, most of them don't really fit into the powerpop template as such, but I'm going to make an exception with this one because I think it does. In fact, when we were recording it -- which was somewhere around 1973-74 -- I definitely thought of it as our big Badfinger move.

So -- please enjoy "Only You (Nobody)." Written by long-time Weasel Glenn Leeds and recorded on the four-track Teac reel-to-reel recently acquired by fellow Weasel Dave "Heavy D" Hawxwell for an album aptly titled...

For the sake of the historical record, the personnel here is the aforementioned Dave on vocals and acoustic guitar, the aforementioned Glenn on the out-of-tune upright piano in Dave's living room, Allan Weissman on bass, and Mike "The Drummer" Sorrentino on one of those rare occasions when he graciously consented to keep the beat for us. The overdriven and highly compressed sound of my guitar solo was achieved by plugging the instrument into a Pioneer cassette deck with a built-in limiter; where the interesting tape delay (or whatever the hell it is) came from has been lost in the mists of memory.

Oh, and the flutes at the end, in emulation of the Mellotron stuff from "Strawberry Fields," are in fact actual flutes also played by Glenn, talented multi-instrumentalist that he is.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Time Has Come Today...

Okay, if you get this one you're good.

A few pertinent comments before you listen to the mp3:

1. It's a very short -- barely a minute and a half -- orchestral piece and it's thrilling.

2. It is, deliberately, a sideways re-write (down to the identical closing organ chord) of a very famous classical work that everybody on the planet would recognize.

2. The first time anybody but a handful of the composer's friends and colleagues heard it was in 1993, when the score was first recorded and premiered on CD. The piece itself had actually been written nearly two decades earlier, though.

3. I reviewed the album at the time in the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review, and I got a major fact wrong.

4. Whatever you do, don't listen to it on ear buds -- plug it into your stereo and PLAY IT LOUD!!!! Or if you have good computer speakers, at least, crank it that way.

5. What are you waiting for?

In any case, a coveted PowerPop No-Prize will be awarded to the first reader who correctly identifies the thing.

Monday, February 07, 2011

That Melody....Haunts My Reverie

Apologies for the blogwhore, but there's a really cool song (notwithstanding my inadequate organ playing) to be heard right now over at FLOOR YOUR LOVE.

On the plus side, it occurs to me that this may have been the most succinct entry I've ever posted here. Heh.

Compare and Contrast: You Can't Get Good Help Anymore

From 1959, please enjoy -- in stereo! -- the original, jaunty Jimmy Jones version of the often (and deservedly) covered "Handy Man."

And from the same year, although recorded (in mono) in 1956, please enjoy -- if you can -- the (to my ears) downright creepy original version by The Sparks of Rhythm.

Seriously -- the Sparks record sounds like the lead singer is a stalker or something; he's got the kind of voice I always imagined Rondo Hatton would have had. It's just deeply disturbing and weird, although I'll grant you perhaps I'm missing the joke.

[h/t Steve Dworkin]

Friday, February 04, 2011

Weekend Listomania (Special Etaoin Shrdlu! Audio/Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental [insert slightly salacious joke here] Fah Lo Suee and I are off to beautiful downtown Cairo, Egypt for the local premiere of Brendan Fraser's new film The Mummy IV: The Search for a Better Agent.

Could be a hot one!

That being the case, here's a hopefully fun little project to help us knit up the raveled sleeve of care in my absence:

Best Post-Elvis Title of A Pop, Rock or Soul Song!!!

No arbitrary rules that I can think of this time out, you're welcome very much, except don't try to sneak in an album title. We're talking about individual songs, if not necessarily ones that were released as singles.

And yes -- it strikes me as unlikely that we haven't done something as obvious as this particular theme around here before, but on careful reflection, I'm pretty sure that no, we haven't.

And my totally top of my head Top Six are:

6. King Hell -- Retarded Forces of Doom

These guys just slay me, in case I haven't mentioned it lately. Buy their album over at Amazon here. Right now. Seriously.

5. The Rolling Stones -- Moonlight Mile.

Instantly evocative, obviously, but better yet the song itself lives up to (and sounds like) the title. The record itself gets bonus points for being (as we learned while reading Keith Richards' autobiography) the best Rolling Stones track ever recorded without any input or participation by Mr. Richards.

4. Napoleon XIV -- Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Er'yeht

For obvious reasons, obviously.

3. Warren Zevon -- Even a Dog Can Shake Hands

Perhaps his sunniest ode to the essential goodness of mankind.

2. Camper Van Beethoven -- Take the Skinheads Bowling

Let me just say, and for the record, that if you don't love this song and find it hilarious then I don't want to know you.

And the Numero Uno high concept moniker de la musique of them all simply has to be --

1. Nino Tempo and April Stevens -- I've Been Carrying a Torch for You So Long That I Burned a Great Big Hole in My Heart

The b-side of their sublime "Deep Purple," and although I've long chortled over the title, I must confess I'd never actually heard the track till yesterday. A pleasant surprise to find that it actually rocks, I must say, and Nino's falsetto is really a hoot.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Oh Sweet Jeebus, Not Another Damned Early Clue to the New Direction?

From their mostly awful Live 1967 album, please enjoy (if that is the word) The Monkees and their sub-garage take on Mickey Dolenz' actually quite wonderful (the studio version) "Randy Scouse Git."

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

That's Mighty Fine Sitar Playing, Mahatma!

You know, I don't get it: A morose sepulchral-voiced SOB like Leonard Cohen gets an adoring international hepster audience, while his back in the day Columbia Records labelmate Brute Force (aka Stephen Friedland) remains a wiseguy cult figure (this despite having written the the last great flowering of the Girl Group era, The Chiffons' "Nobody Knows What's Going On In My Mind But Me.")

Well, perhaps that's all about to change now that Bar/None Records has -- at long last -- reissued his masterwork.

I wrote about Mr. Force (as the New York Times would have him) twice last year; the first time, in praise of his hilarious intestinal rocker "Tapeworm of Love," and the second in honor of his legendarily banned Apple Records(!) single "King of Fuh". In both cases, of course, I was implicitly lamenting the unavailability on CD of his 1967 Confections of Love, hence my posting of mp3s of the aforementioned songs (still available at the above links for your listening pleasure, BTW.)

In any event Confections is one of the genuine oddball classics of its era, a beautifully produced (by John Simon, of Music From Big Pink and other important records fame) set of slightly skewed comedic songs delivered by Force/Friedland in a delightfully adenoidal yelp that once heard will never be forgotten. Bar/None's reissue fleshes out the original 11 LP tracks with the aforementioned "King of Fuh" (about a mysterious land where there was actually a Fuh King -- get it?) and the Brute's 1968 single version of "Nobody Knows," which one presumes predated the more familiar hit and sounds -- in its more minor-keyed and ominous way -- rather like Jay and the Americans after a two week bender, i.e. deeply but pleasantly weird. I should add that, according to the auteur's brand new liner notes, the aforementioned morose sepulchral-voiced SOB, i.e. Leonard Cohen himself, was in attendance at the sessions of "Hello Moscow," my favorite among several previously unreleased tracks that didn't make the original cut.

An essential purchase, obviously; for more info on all things Brute-ish, check out the official website at

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Keith's Record Collection™: The Final Countdown

Okay, this one I really, really like.

As recounted in Chapter Two of his autobiography, here's another of the "forgotten jewels" the teenaged Keith Richards purchased with his own lunch money in 1959 -- in this case, New Jersey-born Sammy Turner's Top Twenty version of Irving Berlin's 1926 classic "Always."

Produced, as you can see from the fine print, by the great team of Leiber and Stoller. Actually, I'm not quite sure why Keith thinks it's forgotten; apparently, it's one of the perennial faves on the Beach Music R&B scene that still flourishes in the vicinity of South Carolina. In any event, a great New York City proto-soul record, and I wouldn't have discovered it without the book.

Speaking of which, I'm almost finished with Keith's Life; let's just say the scene in 1984 where Charlie Watts nearly knocks Mick Jagger out of a hotel window in Amsterdam (I won't give away the perceived slight that pissed Charlie off) is absolutely hilarious and worth the price of admission all by itself.