Monday, October 31, 2011


Seriously...we were on the Metro today and there was a street musician in the car -- a bagpiper, actually -- who was blowing a goat.

In any case, flying back to the States today; slightly more serious posting will resume on the morrow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

There'll Always Be an England!!!

No Listomania this week -- I'm on vacation in Paris, for heaven's sake.

Fear not, however -- the list will return next Friday, all tanned, rested and ready after five days of croissants and heavy sauces.

But in the meantime I thought I'd share a bit more from last Monday and Tuesday's sojourn to London.

First -- noted without comment: A street sign glimpsed in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey.

This is the high rent district, apparently.

And then there was this charming establishment, which a certain shady dame and I discovered near the house where Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel once lived (at different times, obviously).

Imagine my amazement when a Google search revealed that it is not, alas, a local aberration, but rather one of 80 similarly titled pubs in the UK. Predominantly situated in London, South East England and the Midlands, but also elsewhere in England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man

Even more alarmingly, I discovered that "4,843 people like The Slug and Lettuce" on Facebook as of this writing.

You know, some days it seems more and more improbable that this was the nation that in the 19th century actually bestrode the narrow world like a collossus.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

London Calling!!!

Well, I had to do it, obviously.

Here I was, on Monday. And you know where...

...watching an actual Waterloo Sunset.

Let's just say Ray Davies got it right.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Late Travel Notes

Just arrived in Paris, deep in the heart of the land of the Ignoble Frog.

Out having a disgustingly rich dinner; normal posting resumes tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday Video Roundup: Attack of the Killer Criterions

I've been a fan of the Criterion Collection's deluxe video versions of interesting and important films from the beginning. And I mean that literally; back in 1984, when I was toiling at the late lamented VIDEO REVIEW magazine, I reviewed Criterion's first two laserdisc box sets, Citizen Kane and King Kong, which featured all sorts of bonus materials (trailers, commentaries, documentaries, alternate endings, deleted scenes, et cetera) and which established the special edition format that has since become the standard for DVD (and now Blu-ray).

In any case, herewith some musings on a bunch of the most recent Criterion releases; I should add that each of them would make an appropriate (and doubtless highly appreciated) Christmas gift for any film buffs on your list. Also, they can all be ordered (or pre-ordered) over at Amazon or at the Criterion website.

1. The Four Feathers (Zoltan Korda, 1939)

Stiff-upper-lip British colonials in the desert adventure epics don't get any better, and with the possible exception of Lawrence of Arabia, they don't get any more visually stunning either. In any case, this is one is world's better than the 2002 remake with Kate Hudson, thanks to a great ensemble cast of actual Brits (including Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith) and luscious Technicolor photography by Blood of a Poet cinematographer Georges PĂ©rinal. The new transfer is suitably eye-popping, and bonuses include a recent interview with Korda's son plus the original theatrical trailer and a short film featuring his old man at work on TFF's set.

2. Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932)

Charles Laughton hamming it up in an ice cream suit, Bela Lugosi (all but unrecognizable as the hirsute Speaker of the Law) asking the immortal question "Are we not men?" and some of the most disturbing and believable monster makeup ever photographed add up to perhaps the best American horror film of the 30s that wasn't made at Universal. Criterion's pleasingly crisp new transfer includes some pre-code dialogue scenes that were censored in subsequent re-releases over the years, and you also get an interesting discussion between American Werewolf in London director John Landis and make-up master Rick Baker.

3. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)

Kubrick's peerless film noir racetrack heist, a B-movie that transcended its genre, was the commercial breakthrough that put him on the Hollywood map and it's still as taut and suspenseful as ever. Co-written with genius pulp novelist Jim Thompson, and with a dream cast including Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr. as a sap of a small time crook and Marie Windsor (in the role she was born to play) as the Jezebel/moll who sells him out. Bonuses include excerpts from a French TV interview with Hayden, and -- worth the price of the set all by itself -- a restored high-def digital transfer of Kubrick's somewhat artier 1955 noir Killer's Kiss.

4. Cul-de-Sac (Roman Polanski, 1966)

Polanski's second English language film (and perhaps still his most perversely original) is a one-of-a-kind mashup of film noir crime flick and black comedy of the sexes, with Donald Pleasance (the most neurotic looking actor since Colin Clive) pitted against gravel-voiced (and then blacklisted) vulgarian tough guy Lionel Stander in a weird menage a trois with Francois Dorleac (in real life, Catherine Deneuve's younger and even more ethereally lovely sister). Weirdly funny and suspenseful stuff; Criterion's new high-def widescreen digital transfer comes blessed by Polanski himself, and there's a 2003 making-of documentary and a TV interview with the director from 1967 as bonuses.

6. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau, 1950)

Cocteau's gorgeous re-imagining of the Greek myth as a mix of apocalyptic sci-fi (those black riders on the motor-cyles rock!), pretentious post-war Left Bank Existential reverie and big-budget surrealist F/X film. And worth seeing if only for the reverent way cinematographer Nicholas Hayer's camera lingers on star Jean Marais, a French icon who (in David Thomson's immortal phrase) is perhaps the most fatuously good-looking slab of beef in movie history. Criterion's new digital restoration is sharp as a woodcut; engrossing bonuses include the original theatrical trailer, a documentary on Cocteau, and a 1957 film interview with the great man himself.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Moment of Bonjour Tristesse!!!

It's vacation time!!!

Which means I'm off to London (and thence) Paris, so posting will be weird and inconsistent for a bit.

But while I'm waiting in an airport lounge, please enjoy something I find I'm rather inordinately proud of -- new music by my high school and 70s garage band chums The Weasels.

Recently recorded on a laptop, in an attic somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey, the song -- a rough mix, to be sure, but getting near the finished product -- is written and sung by Glenn Leeds, who also contributes the jangly guitar stuff up the middle. My old chum Allan Weissman is on bass, and I'm doing the guitars left and right plus the solo mishegass.

I suspect I'm gonna rework the second half of the solo when I return from the land of the Ignoble Frog, and obviously that drum hit before the fade-out needs to be...well, let's just say it's a problem in search of a solution.

In any case, I think this is a very cool track, and frankly I can't quite believe it's us.

I should add that the "album" that will include this is entitled, as of this writing, either Weasels 65 (for obvious reasons) or Blame the Victim.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bringing Down the House: Adam Marsland

Spent last night at a house concert with Adam Marsland.

Marsland was the frontman of the late 90's critical darlings Cockeyed Ghost, whose truncated career is a tragedy, if not on the level of Big Star, then not far below it. Enjoy here their moody, melodic paean to the twilight state of transition, "Ludlow 6:18."

(Marsland's Best Of is called Daylight Kissing Night, from this song. Review here.)

Marsland then went on to a series of solo projects, including playing keys for Stew's The Negro Problem for a time, and basically just busted hump playing on his own any damn place that would have him, and making a living in the LA scene.

But I have a bone to pick with his online biographers. Marsland most certainly did not "grow up in California." He grew up not 40 miles from where I now sit, in chilly, gray upstate New York. We went to the same college (at the same time, for one semester), and the earnest garage band I ran sound for (they called me "Sound Chick" and it never occurred to me to be offended) played all the same venues in the same crappy small town as Marsland did when he was starting, with all the drama and petty politics and grudges that such a scene engenders. The smaller the stakes, the larger the investment. I didn't know him then, or at least I don't think I did, but we knew all the same people at the same time, so it's possible that we met at some point without remembering it. By the time he went to California, he was in his early 20's: still plenty of growing up to do, of course.

In any case, I'd heard his work on and off over the years, and I knew he was My Kind of People, so when I saw somewhat accidentally that he was going to play a house show in town, I leaped at the chance to attend.

House shows by their nature are peculiar affairs, oddly intense and intimate. And Marsland gave an astounding performance, by turns funny and serious, self-deprecating and thoughtful about his experiences. He did what he called "the singer-songwriter thing," providing context and descriptions for every song, welcoming all of us, the people he'd known for years and the ones who only knew his music, into the narratives of his songs and his life. It was pretty incredible.

He did a few songs from the Cockeyed Ghost catalog, like "Ludlow 6:18" and "Big Big Yeah," and a few from 2004's You Don't Know Me, including the incomparable "The Big Bear." (Actually, his performance last night was pretty close to this one here.) There was also a sturdy selection from the double concept album, 2009's Go West. (I was particularly taken with the acoustic rendition of "Half Life.") A further handful from the pissed-off road album Hello Cleveland (written over a few days, recorded in under eight hours), impressed my spouse, who still prides himself on a certain retention of his adolescent sensibility. "That's punk rock," he said, in an awed, serious tone.

I had been excited for this show. Marsland did not disappoint.

And he was pretty damned versatile. As the show wound down, he turned to the piano in the living room, noting jokingly that he has transposed some of his keyboard-based songs to the guitar, not realizing there would be a piano. He asked for requests: not just his songs, anything. Riffing off an earlier performance of Marsland's "The Night I Bought Micky Dolenz a Beer," someone asked for "The Porpoise Song," and damn if he didn't pull it out of his ass. Several Elton John songs followed, and a dreamy rendition of "God Only Knows," back on the guitar.

We hung out for a while afterward, rehashing our small-town scene from 25 years ago with a few other key participants, and talking about his role in the golden bubble of time and energy that was Poptopia. I haven't felt so energized in ages, and my thanks go out to Chris and Crystal, our lovely hosts, for allowing us the opportunity to hear this terrific performer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weekend Listomania (Special Got Live If You Don't Want It! Edition)

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Today just happens to be my birthday, and also -- according to the Rev. Harold Camping, whose track record is admittedly less than stellar -- the day the world officially comes to an end. That being the case, to those of you who have already wished me well, I thank you, but assuming the good Reverend is in fact correct this time, I also just want to say that it's been swell knowing all of you. -- S.S.]

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental fils de woo hoo! Fah Lo Suee and I are off to...

Okay, all kidding aside, in real life what's actually going on is that a certain shady dame of my acquaintance and I are heading to beautiful Paris, France on Monday. This will be our fourth annual sojourn in the City of Lights; this year, however, we're spending a day in London first, and then taking the Chunnel to the land of the Ignoble Frog. Current plans include having our picture taken at Waterloo Station at sunset, so you might want to check back here on Wednesday for the grisly evidence of my unhealthy obsession with Ray Davies.

In any case, what with packing and last minute stuff, things will probably be a little quiet around here until next week, so here's a (hopefully) amusing little project to help us all wile away the intervening hours:

Worst Live or In Concert Album by a Rock/Pop Artist or Group!!!

No arbitrary rules of any sort, you're welcome very much, and yes, you can include bootlegs if you're so inclined.

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

5. The Rolling Stones -- Love You Live

A wonderful club version of Bo Diddley's "Cracking Up" notwithstanding, this was pretty much two LPs worth of total dreck.

4. The Rolling Stones -- Still Life

A very bad live album from possibly the worst tour of the Stones' career.

3. The Rolling Stones -- Flashpoint

A live document of the Steel Wheels tour, and as professional and uninspired as the album that occasioned it.

2. The Rolling Stones -- No Security

Guys -- you're never going to top Ya-Yas. Please stop trying.

And the Numero Uno art-imitates-life-badly artifact of then all simply has to be...

1. Mummenschanz (Original Cast Recording)

A mime show. Recorded on-stage in 1978. You can check out the track listing over here.

Alrighty then -- what would YOUR choices be?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Early, Northern New Jersey-Centric, Clue to the New Direction!!!

From the fabulous George's Club 20 (in reality, a tiny little dive) in Hackensack, New Jersey -- the Paris of the Tri-State Metro area, and the current home (and childhood neighborhood) of your humble scribe -- please enjoy Jimi Hendrix (doing business as Jimmy James) with Curtis Knight and the Squires, in a spirited performance of "Driving South."

Recorded live, with better sound than you might expect, on the day after Christmas of 1965.

It is perhaps amusing to contemplate that barely a year after this performance was committed to tape Hendrix was a pop star in England on the cusp of becoming one of the most indelible icons of the 60s.

It is also amusing to contemplate the fact that I was Christmas vacationing in the neighborhood on 12-26-65, and had I had a clue who Hendrix was going to be -- or a little more courage about being the only white teenager in a bar on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks -- I could have attended the gig in question.

In any case, 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.

POSTSCRIPT: George's Club 20 was at the corner of Moore and Bridge Streets in Hackensack, so I took a walk over there yesterday with my new twenty dollar digital camera. Imagine my disappointment at finding that the building no longer exists.

A line from a Joni Mitchell song seems to come to mind, for some reason....

POST-POSCRIPT: The center photo below shows what that corner looked like in 1965. You can't see it in the photo I took, but the house next door is still there, unchanged.

I particularly like that George's is called the "Mecca of Cafe Society."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Everybody's a Critic

A classic exchange in the comments section of a recent CNN/Money article about KISS:

I play in a rock band. KISS songs are easy to cover. Rock N Roll All Night is super duper easy to do. But when we play it, something is missing and all of a sudden it sounds like crap. KISS music is easy and simple, but without KISS doing it, it ends up less somehow. They are the artists that take simple brush strokes and create masterpieces of music. Easy to play the notes, almost impossible to create the music.

And the reply:

Maybe your band sucks worse than Kiss. Ever consider that?

Bad Career Move of the Century

Well, it looks like history could have been changed in unfathomable ways if only somebody had looked in their mailbox.

LONDON Oct. 17, 2011 (AP) -- Somewhere, an aging drummer (identity unknown) is probably still kicking himself. A newly discovered letter found folded in a book at a Liverpool yard sale has shed new light on the Beatles' early days, revealing that Paul McCartney offered an audition to a mystery drummer in 1960, just a few days before the band left for a formative two-month gig in Hamburg, Germany.

The letter, to be auctioned next month by Christie's, has surprised Beatles scholars. It was written two years before the band bounced drummer Pete Best in favor of Ringo Starr, who arrived just in time to help the Beatles' conquer first England and then the world, earning untold millions along the way.

The Aug. 12, 1960 letter handwritten by McCartney offers an audition to someone who had advertised their availability in the Liverpool Echo newspaper four days earlier. The unsigned ad said simply: "Drummer--Young--Free."

McCartney, who was then playing guitar in the band while the late Stuart Sutcliffe handled bass guitar, offered the drummer an audition with the caveat that if he joins the band he must be ready to travel almost immediately to Hamburg. The Beatles honed their musical chops playing at low-rent clubs in the German's city's famed red-light district.

"Expenses paid 18 pounds per week (approx) for two months," McCartney writes. "If interested ring Jacaranda club."

The letter is signed, "Yours sincerely, Paul McCartney of the BEATLES."

It is not known if the drummer came for an audition, and failed to impress McCartney and the others, or if he simply didn't followup. McCartney addressed the letter "Dear Sir," assuming the drummer was a young man, as there were very few female drummers on the Liverpool rock scene at the time.

Christie's spokeswoman Leonie Pitts said the auction house's Beatles experts are certain that the letter was not an early feeler to Starr, who was a successful drummer with a rival Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, before he joined the Beatles.

She said auctioneers had not contacted McCartney to ask if he knew anything about the drummer who had placed the ad.

"We think he's on his honeymoon," she said. McCartney married U.S. heiress Nancy Shevell eight days ago. His representatives did not immediately return an AP request for comment.

Christie's auction house said Monday the letter would likely draw more than 7,000 pounds ($11,000) when it is sold Nov. 15 along with other pop memorabilia.

The letter was discovered by a man from Liverpool who has asked to remain anonymous. The auction house said he is a devoted collector of antique coins who regularly checks yard sales.

Wow, obviously.

But I've said it before and I'll say it again -- it boggles my mind that after all these years, there's still stuff left to be discovered about the Beatles.

[h/t Brooklyn Girl]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cries and Whimpers

A couple of interesting and/or alarming social and cultural notes for a Tuesday.

1. I did a phone interview last week with the producers of what looks like a really interesting (and long overdue, obviously) documentary on power pop gods Big Star.

The particular subject under discussion was the band's legendary performance at the notorious Rock Writers of the World convention in Memphis in early 1973, which I attended despite having been a professional rock critic for approximately four days at that point.

In any case, here's the official website for the documentary; if you putter about over there, you can probably find the review I wrote of Big Star's Radio City for The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review back in the day.

And here's an early trailer.

2. A few days after posting the second of the restored videos by my 70s garage band The Weasels, I received the following e-mail from a young woman in the former USSR. And I swear this is not a joke.
hello Steve!
my name is Angelina, im from Kiev, Ukraine
just saw your blog - and a band named The Weasels wanted to ask if there is a possibility to download their album somewhere?
i really like them, but i have only two songs and that makes me sad please write me back if you have a chance
thank you very much,
Needless to say, I immediately burned and dispatched three Weasels CDs to Angelina's home address. And I can't tell you how hilarious I find it that the alleged music my now geriatric friends and I made for our own amusement in a basement in Teaneck when we were kids will now be listened to by a 20-something in the Ukraine, i.e. a land where my ancestors spent a lot of time trying not to raped by Cossacks.

3. Thanks to real world concerns -- dealing with an ailing mom, a Paris vacation with a certain shady dame, and the whole holiday hoohah upcoming -- it's now obvious that The Floor Models reissue project I've been bugging you about all year will not, realistically, see the light of day until early in 2012.

In the meantime, here's a cut that won't be on the album -- a recently re-discovered four-track home demo (perhaps our earliest, circa 1981) of "Wheel Comes Around."

A vastly more exciting live version will kick off the forthcoming album, but this one -- produced by Beatlemania alumnus David Grahame -- has its charms, particularly the handclaps on the guitar solo.

I should also add that if you haven't been following the Floor Models saga, the entire history of the band can be accessed over at our semi-official website here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Way They Were

The Beatles in Hamburg, 1960. One of the most iconic photos of the second half of the 20th century -- rock or otherwise -- as you've never seen it before.

That Astrid Kircherr really had an eye, didn't she?

[h/t Steve Schwartz]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Return of the Jayhawks

A friend of mine says the new Jayhawks record is the best thing she's heard in years. Will look into that and report back.

But for now, enjoy this recent interview.
In 2000, The New York Times ran a story on The Jayhawks with the headline, "What If You Made a Classic and No One Cared?" — a reference to the band's unsung sixth album, Smile, as well as its failure thus far to break big in the pop world. Louris says that flying under the radar frustrated him at the time, but has proved to have an upside.

"I certainly wanted to be bigger; I think Mark just wanted to be good. That shows you how shallow I am," Louris jokes. "[But] the fact that we were never part of any particular scene, or had the one big radio hit or whatever, has kind of worked to our advantage. We have that thing called longevity going for us."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Weekend Listomania (Special Honey, They Shrank My Masterpiece! Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means, Yes, my Oriental fille de boinquage Fah Lo Sue and I are off to...well, I can't tell you just yet, but it involves yet another amazing find here in the Paris of the Tri-State Metro Area. A couple of blocks down the street from The Record King, actually.

I will say that although the address seems to still exist, the establishment that used to be there is long gone. And said establishment once hosted a certain rock star who became world famous a year after he recorded a live album there.

The results of this little archaeological dig will be revealed next week, if all goes well.

In the meantime, because as usual things are going to be a tad quiet around here for a bit, please wile away the idle hours till our return by pondering the following little project:

LP-Era Rock Album Whose Cover Art Has Been Least Well Served by Reduction to CD Size!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five are:

5. Led Zeppelin -- Physical Graffiti

It just doesn't work without the die-cut windows from the LP package.

4. The Rolling Stones -- Exile on Main Street

At LP size, this one looked really seedy and surreal. Reduced to a CD, it just looks seedy.

3. The Beatles -- Revolver

I think I need to have my eyes checked, because I can't make heads or tails out of this one anymore.

2. The Monkees -- Head

Seen on the LP racks in 1968, the silver foil packaging here was kind of interestingly trippy. As a CD, however, it looks like the cover of a Spinal Tap record.

And the Numero Uno reductio-ad-absurdum sleeve job of them all simply has to be....

1. Mark Levine -- Pilgrim's Progress

I discovered this extremely obscure little slice of vintage folk-psychedelia earlier this year, and I love it dearly, but jeebus -- that cover may have looked charmingly rustic on a 12 inch piece of cardboard, but on CD it just looks like some kid's scribbling.

Alrighty then -- what would YOUR choices be?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

And Speaking of Gorgeous....

The Fabs in the studio, August 14th of 1964, working on "I'm a Loser."

Words fail me.

Oh, and speaking of the Fabs, there's a surprisingly good little making-of book on A Hard Day's Night just out.

I've been less than enthusiastic about some of the earlier entries in this series, but this one is a fun read. It's a clip job, of course, but author Ray Morton has done the research, and he also talked at length with David Picker, the visionary exec at United Artists who instantly grokked what a non-schlock Beatles movie might be like, and who provides some personal insights. In any case, there's all sorts of interesting bits of tid here, including background history even this Beatlemaniac hadn't previously been aware of, and once you've read the thing, I can pretty much guarantee you'll want to listen to the album of the same name and watch a video of the film ASAP.

You can order it over here.

And yes -- there will be a Listomania tomorrow, but the clue was yesterday's record store post.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coelacanth Discovered in New Jersey!!!!

Actually, something even rarer, that I frankly didn't even know still existed.

An indie record store.

That's The Record King, at 303 Main Street in Hackensack, New Jersey, more or less just around the corner from where I grew up. I noticed it a couple of years ago when I moved back to the old neighborhood, and I've been meaning to stop in ever since, but it took me till yesterday to finally check it out.

Bottom line: I haven't seen so much vinyl in one place since the last time I was in John Swenson's loft. (An obscure rock critic reference -- sorry).

In any case, I chatted with the proprietor -- The Record King himself -- and he told me that he has been in residence at the place for 30 years, but that the store itself has been there since the early 60s. This blew my mind, because I don't remember it at all. And I spent a great deal of my teenage years on that very block, where the now vanished Fox and Oritani movie theaters used to be. (The Oritani, you may recall, was the venue where the young me first viewed The T.A.M.I. Show).

And my mind was blown yet again when I mentioned this to a certain Shady Dame of my acquaintance, who also grew up in the neighborhood, and she instantly remembered the place. In fact, she informs me that she purchased a (what would now probably be quite valuable) promo copy of The Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'" there a week or two in advance of the single's official release in the fall of 1966.

Anyway, a very cool establishment. If you're in the neighborhood stop by; besides more LPs and 45s than you can shake the proverbial stick it, they also have some very cool T-shirts [two words: Palisades Park] and all sorts of interesting vintage stereo gear and other obsolete technological marvels.

Or simply check out their website at for more info. And tell 'em PowerPop sent you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Mystery Track

The Beatles' classic "Baby's in Black." As performed at a jingle house demo studio in Manhattan, sometime between 1975-77 by -- guess who?

Hint: The artist in question is as close to being a powerpop god as anyone currently wearing shoeleather.

[h/t A Certain Unidentified Reader]

CORRECTION: A friend forwarded this post to the great Marshall Crenshaw himself.

His response:

"That ain't me.. I have no idea who it is, where it came from, nada..
Sometimes I pretend not to know what things are if they embarrass me but this really has nothing to do with me, honest..."

I regret the error.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Songs for the New Depression

Finally got around to scoring a copy of Del Shannon's 1964 country album Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams, which I've been curious about for years.

As you can hear from that version of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," it's remarkably authentic for a rock guy. In fact, it's easily as accomplished as anything that was done four or five years later during the initial country-rock boom, and I include the sainted Byrds and Gram Parsons in that assessment. Shannon, of course, came to his love of the genre honestly; country was the first music he listened to as a kid and the first that he played semi-professionally.

That said, you can also hear that the above version lacks the profound ache of Hank's original, but of course that can be said of just about every cover of the song by anybody.

I should also add that "Let's Dance," the final track on Shannon's gorgeous 1991 Rock On album -- recorded in 1990, just prior to its auteur blowing his brains out with a .22 caliber rifle -- has that haunted Hank vibe in spades.

On first encounter, it seems to be an upbeat country/zydeco hybrid, a party song. Listen to it again, however, and you can't miss a desperation behind the music that's almost scary. And Shannon's vocal is, unmistakably. the work of a guy with a hellhound on his trail.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday on (the Canyons of) My Mind

Attentive and/or long time readers may perhaps recall the story of my first high school rock band, The Plagues, and our 1965 adventures in the recording studio. Or not.

In any case, about two years after those epochal sessions -- during the fabled Summer of Love, if memory serves -- Allan Weissman, my old chum from The Plagues, and I were hanging out in his basement in sylvan Teaneck, New Jersey, when he informed me that he had just written a song in a style that might be considered Dylanesque. After he played it for me -- it was called "Cassandra," as in the Greek babe from the ancient legends -- I concurred, and we soon worked out a rudimentary arrangement; Allan was on bass and vocals, while I flailed around on a crappy Japanese guitar of some sort (I hadn't scored my fabled 1959 Les Paul goldtop at this point).

I decided that the song needed some kind of opening figure, a la the stuff Roger McGuinn did for The Byrds, and I finally came up with one. Unfortunately, given my limited guitar skills, what I came up was not merely lame, but in fact The Lamest Riff in History©. Which is to say a simple ascending and then descending single note sequence that was essentially...uh, just a G-major scale. And even that description overstates its level of inspiration.

Undeterred, Allan and I recorded a version of the tune, in mono, on one of those Wollensak reel-to-reel tape machines that everybody, including your high school AV department, had in those days, and I seem to recall thinking even then that my contribution to the track was vaguely cringe-inducing. What I would think now, I have no idea, because the tape itself has long since disappeared. And hopefully will remain so.

Anyway, cut to 2010. I had just reconnected with Allan and the rest of the high school chums with whom, as those same attentive and/or long-time readers mentioned above doubtless know, I had toiled for years in a subsequent garage/basement band called The Weasels. And Allan had given me a CD of (Weasel) The Other White Meat -- a home-made album the guys had recorded (without me, obviously) in 2004.

And suddenly, after I put the CD into my computer -- THERE WAS THE RIFF!!!!

Yes, nearly four decades after it was first committed to magnetic tape, the guys had done a remake, if that is the word, of "Cassandra." A song which is actually pretty cool, despite my...well, you know.

And here it is, exactly as my astonished ears first beheard it again.

The feeble contemplation that is going on inside
The mutilated warnings that they won't let you confide
Oh, ring the trumpets on their ears
The new Titanics come with years
Cassandra, turn your head to other people.

Hold your banner high until it stretches to the ground.
Shake the dead; the old, the buried recognize the sound.
Put yourself in ages hence
Glance, the foundlings never sense,
Cassandra, turn your head to other people.

Shout the call; the air is dead;
They'll never understand.
It echoes off the tired feet that walk upon their hands.
Deny the cradles, rob the graves,
The sirens drone, the prophet raves;
Cassandra, turn your head to other people.
I thought at the time, and still do, that "the tired feet that walk upon their hands" is one of the most, shall we say, remarkable lines ever.

I should also add that it is a mark of what a mensch I am that, despite the centrality of my riff to the entire "Cassandra" experience, I have never asked Allan for a co-writer credit.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Thursday Video Hoo Hah (An Occasional Series)

Okay, two interesting and alarming new titles have just crossed my desk from the invaluable MGM Limited Edition Collection, and I thought I'd share.

In case you're unfamiliar with the imprint, it's similar to what the folks at Warner Archive have been doing in recent years, i.e. they pick obscure but theoretically interesting films from the studio vaults -- films that wouldn't necessarily have enough admirers to warrant an official DVD rollout -- and make them available in bare-bones budget editions on a burn-on-demand basis.

The fly in the ointment -- or rather the factor that makes the whole venture economically viable -- is that the films in question are not remastered or restored; they're burned, instead, from whatever the most recent prior video master happens to be. Which means quality is hit and miss; some of them look great, some of them less so. And the widescreen entries aren't always letterboxed.

Exhibit A, in any case, is Captain America. Obviously, this isn't the not terrible 2011 extravaganza; rather it's a 1990 Cannon Films piece of crap (pardon the redundancy) directed by Albert Pyun.

Like millions of other folks, I didn't see this back in the day, but I must confess to a certain fondness for its auteur, who happens to be one of the four most heinous living filmmakers, after Jess Franco, Jim Wynorski, and the Spawn of Satan himself, Michael Bay (who at least isn't as prolific as the rest of them).

As for Pyun's Captain America, it has a pretty decent cast -- dependably hissable Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Michael Nouri -- and star Matt Salinger makes a believable pre-super powered Steve Rogers without the benefit of the CGI that converted Chris Evans into a 90 pound weakling in the 2011 version. Unfortunately, Pyun's film also features perhaps the least convincing mutant monster lab rat in film history, and after that I can think of very little else to say in its behalf.

Fortunately, Hickey and Boggs -- the 1972 urban film noir directed by Robert Culp and starring its auteur and his I Spy pal Bill Cosby -- is a genuine knock-out. Culp and Cosby, whose chemistry is if anything even more palpable than in their TV days, play a pair of down at the heels hard-drinking private eyes who get involved in a search for a missing girl. In classic noir style, nobody is who they appear to be, and the whole thing gets positively existential by the end, with a body count to rival a slasher movie and an extremely dark windup.

Fledgling scripter Walter Hill's screenplay didn't really click with critics in 1972, but in retrospect it's obvious he got the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles exactly right, and there are some fabulous character parts (a young Michael Moriarty is memorable as a small-time hood, and Rosalind Cash is aces as Cosby's ex-wife). This is, in sum, one of the most underrated movies of the 70s, and if there's a Cult Film God in Heaven, the occasion of this new DVD will bring it to the wider audience it so richly deserves.

Here's the trailer to give you an idea.

Alas, the new DVD version is not, as it claims on the box, in widescreen, but the print is otherwise fine.

In any case, you can order Hickey and Boggs -- and Captain America too, if you're somewhat perverse of eyes and ears -- over at the MGM/Amazon website here

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

And Speaking of Gorgeous...

...our chum Sal Nunziato, over at Burning Wood, discovered this quite seraphically beautiful mix of "Wendy," from the Beach Boys first great album All Summer Long (1964).

And he has an interesting critical perspective on it.

"Come down a bit on the reverb and vocals and turn up the bass, guitar and drums a tad higher, and what you have here may be one of the very first power pop songs. I've listened to 'Wendy' countless times, but it was always a fly-over tune, never a Beach Boys destination for me. Now suddenly, I actually hear it and I can't stop. The magic of music."
Obviously, I agree, although I've had a thing for this song since forever. In any case, as some of you may have already guessed, I'm mostly posting this as a big "I lurve you!" to a certain shady dame of my acquaintance.

UPDATE: I just found this live version from the Ed Sullivan show -- which I'd never seen before -- and the word "awesome" is inadequate.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Machine Stops (Part "Feh!")

Oh lordy....Firefox insists that I update it.

Regular posting resumes on the morrow, the gods willing.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Thank God We Never Covered "Peace Train"!

Long-time and/or attentive readers are perhaps aware of my fondness for The Tremeloes' 60s classic "Here Comes My Baby," written by The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens. They may also recall that my 80s skinny tie band The Floor Models used to cover it, but that no recording has survived.

However, amongst the artifacts I recently retrieved from a dank storage space in the Bronx was a rehearsal tape -- from 1989 -- of three of the four Flo Mos, plus guitarist extraordinaire Doug Goldberg, having a go at the song. In quite lovely stereo.

And here it is.

Lead singer Gerry Devine flubs the opening lyric, and my chum Glen "Bob" Allen is playing on an electronic drum kit, but I think it sounds pretty good none the less. That's me screwing up on bass and harmony vocals, of course.

In all seriousness, of all the songs I've ever played on stage, this has always been the one I enjoyed the most; I think it's something about the Buddy Holly-ish thing at the end of the choruses that gets me.

Given the year this was recorded, however, I can only assume that the then-current fatwah on Salman Rushdie was somewhere on our minds at the time.