Monday, December 31, 2012

It's New Year's Eve Day: Hey, 2012 -- You're Outta Here!!!

Submitted for your approval -- an utterly adorable video (I was under the impression it was done by a fan, but now it seems it's the official one) for "Nobody Knows Me at All" by The Weepies. Yes, the same band whose "All That I Want" prompted me to put up a perhaps overly sappy Christmas post on several occasions here over the years.

In any case, I think I posted the clip above most recently on New Year's Eve day of 2008, so think of it as a return to an ongoing PowerPop tradition.

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

Have a great time later, everybody.

And remember -- if you're out on your bike tonight, wear white.

Evening, all.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll: The Unsungiest One of Them All?

I refer, of course, to the legendary -- and still inexplicably not a household word -- Bert Berns (1929--1967).

Who died, tragically young, 45 years ago next Sunday

I thought I had written about Berns early in my tenure here, but as it turns out I was probably thinking about something I did for The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review, probably involving the great 2002 compilation of the guy's best work The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns (still in print, and you can get it at Amazon here).

In any event, why this guy isn't in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is fricking beyond me, as you can glean from this brief and (amazingly enough) incomplete list of the records he either produced or wrote or both.
"A Little Bit of Soap" The Jarmels (1961)
"Twist and Shout" The Isley Brothers (1962) / The Beatles (1963)
"Cry to Me" Solomon Burke (1962)
"Tell Him" The Exciters (1962)
"Cry Baby" Garnet Mimms (1963) / Janis Joplin (1971)
"Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" Solomon Burke (1964) / Wilson Pickett (1967)
"I Want Candy" The Strangeloves (1965) / Bow Wow Wow (1982)
"Hang on Sloopy" The McCoys (1965)
"Down in the Valley" Solomon Burke (1964) Otis Redding (1965)
"Are You Lonely For Me Baby" Freddie Scott (1967)
"Piece of My Heart" Erma Franklin (1967) / Big Brother and the Holding Company (1968)
"Twenty Five Miles" Edwin Starr (1968)
"Cry to Me" Solomon Burke (1962)
"Nobody but Me" The Isley Brothers (1963)
"Under The Boardwalk" The Drifters (1964)
"Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" Solomon Burke (1964)
"Baby Please Don't Go" Them (1965)
"Baby I'm Yours" Barbara Lewis (1965)
"Make Me Your Baby" Barbara Lewis (1965)
"Piece of My Heart" Erma Franklin (1967)Big Brother and the Holding Company (1968)
"Brown Eyed Girl" Van Morrison (1967)
I mean, sweet Jeebus -- but talk about a work ethic.

In any case, if he had done nothing more than write and produce this one --

-- he would deserve to be immortal.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Beat of a Different Drummer

So the other week, while we were discussing the recent grave injustice done to Procol Harum by the folks at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, some of our commenters were particularly irked by the fact that Public Enemy was going to be inducted this year.

Because their music is, you know, uh, rap. Not rock. And thus, you know, uh, shouldn't be in the Hall.

Now I'm not particularly a fan of Public Enemy -- actually, I thought Chuck D. was a self-righteous bag of gas back in the day, although I rather enjoyed him subsequently on the late lamented Air America.

But just to put things in perspective, here are three famous rap records, including a classic by P.E.

I dunno, kids, but all three of these -- both musically and in terms of attitude -- sound kinda like rock to me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Frank Christian 1952-2012

Sad news came on Christmas eve. Frank Christian -- guitarist, singer/songwriter, and all around good fellow, who was also one of the first genuine hepsters I ever met -- has passed unexpectedly.

Frank was mostly a blues/jazz/folk kind of guy, but he was a super versatile musician who played with everybody from The Smithereens ("In a Lonely Place" from Especially For You) to Nanci Griffith (he toured as her lead guitarist for ages).

He also wrote "Where Were You Last Night," which I will go to my own grave insisting is the best song about jealousy ever. Hear him perform it below and be changed.

Damn, but this death shit is really beginning to get on my nerves.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have Yourself A Merry (Lo-Fi) Christmas

Courtesy of some of our talented readers, please enjoy ace power popsters The Judes and their brand new (mono) holiday classic "Happy Happy Christmas Everybody."

After you've stuffed yourself with a holiday meal today, make sure you head over here to learn more about these guys; they're Canadian, but don't hold that against them.

Merry Grimble, everybody!!!


Monday, December 24, 2012

And In Conclusion Blogger -- Bite Me!

A piece I wrote and backed up several times for today was just eaten. A rather brilliant one, too.

To say I am irked would be an understatement along the lines of calling the Grand Canyon the World's Greatest Rut. In any case, I'll reconstruct it at some point down the line, but I'm too busy today and too pissed off.

Here's hoping my Christmas post, scheduled for tomorrow, doesn't suffer the same fate.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Video Guide: Part I -- The Episode Without a Sub-Title

Well, it's getting near Christmas, and you know what that means: Yes, it's time for me to comment on some of the interesting or alarming video product that has crossed my desk recently (and thus continue to justify the largesse the purveyors of said video product still unaccountably shower on me.)

This first batch is all pop culture stuff; Monday's installment will be tonier and perhaps more to the tastes of cineastes. Hey -- you know who you are.

Obviously, if you're so moved, they can all be ordered over at Amazon.

1. Charlie is My Darling (Abkco)

A gloriously restored version of Peter Whitehead's long out of print and rarely seen 1965 documentary on the Rolling Stones on tour in Ireland, which now takes its rightful place as the second best pop documentary of that miraculous year (the first, of course, is Don't Look Back.) The pricier deluxe set version of this includes a CD of astonishing live Stones tracks from their English tour around the same time; if you're really nice to me, I'll direct you to a download link where you can get it gratis.

2. The Kent Chronicles (Acorn)

Surprisingly entertaining collection (in a better transfer than you might expect, given the material's vintage and provenance) of the three made for TV movies based on the wonderfully pulpy Revolutionary War era novels by John Jakes, with a great cast of (mostly) 70s small screen stars including Ritchie Cunningham's dad. Five words: William. Shatner. As. Paul. Revere. Act now.

3. The Incredible Mel Brooks (Shout! Factory)

The Motherlode. Seriously. A six DVD box set collecting just about everything of any note Brooks ever did on television, including the How to Be a Jewish Son episode of the David Susskind show, his recent HBO special with Dick Cavett, his MTV music video for "The Hitler Rap," vintage appearances with Johnny Carson, pertinent episodes of Get Smart and (yay!) When Things Were Rotten, and of course the original 2000 Year Old Man cartoon. I should also add that Mel's impression of George Arliss -- which can be beheld in the bonus material with the HBO show -- made me laugh so hard I actually damaged a rib. If you buy nothing else this year -- food, clothing, whatever -- make sure you buy this.

4. The Ernie Kovacs Collection, Volume 2 (Shout! Factory)

A three disc follow-up to Shout! Factory's glorious 2011 Kovacs box set. Most of this stuff -- which derives from a mix of kinescopes and videotape, all of which looks surprisingly good -- hasn't been seen for more than 50 years, and almost all of it is drop dead funny. If you've never seen Kovacs, let's just say that he's one of the only genuine geniuses to have ever emerged from network TV, and that he's been ripped off by everybody who ever had a comedy show on the tube more times than you've had hot meals. Essential stuff.

5. Rock of Ages (New Line)

Tom Cruise in a (mostly) all-singing version of The Mötley Crüe Story. The only appropriate word for this one would seem to be mishegass, but to give the thing its due, it does have a certain jaw-dropping audacity, in the sense that you can't quite believe what you're seeing. The combo-pack above offers both the DVD and a Blu-ray version; "bonuses" include the likes of Pat Benatar reliving her 80s glory days. If any of your relatives are Homer Simpson-esque, this might be just the thing for their Christmas stocking.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Be Seeing You!

Okay, if there was ever any doubt that Patrick McGoohan -- star of Secret Agent and The Prisoner and my longtime hero -- was the coolest person who ever drew breath, then here's proof.

From 1962, gaze in breathless wonder as he pounds those pagan skins in All Night Long. Director Basil Dearden's jazz version of Othello.

I should add that said film is available in a budget set with three other equally astounding Dearden flicks -- Sapphire, The League of Gentlemen, and Victim -- from Criterion. It makes a great Xnas gift for any cineaste on your list and you can order it over at Amazon here.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Shorthand of Beauty

Via one of the Brit music rags, I just learned that George Gallacher -- lead singer of Scotland's finest beat group of the 60s, The Poets -- died this past August.

If memory serves, I first encountered these guys on NUGGETS II (the 2001 Rhino box set that documented all sorts of great garage rock and psych from parts of the world not located in the United States).

Here's the closest thing they had to a hit -- the quite remarkable (as in, boy, does that bass line and the overall sound of the record anticipate the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man") "That's the Way It's Got to Be."

Amazingly enough, they were actually on American television in 1965, via Shindig. I totally don't remember this clip, BTW, and I used to watch that show religiously.

That's not as good as song as "That the Way...", of course, but still -- a great sound and charisma to burn, which is probably why Rolling Stones svengali Andrew Loog Oldham produced them.

R.I.P, George.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Separated at Birth....

From 1965, please compare and contrast...

Jerry Lewis' less than stellarly talented son Gary Lewis (of Gary Lewis and the Playboys fame)...

...and your humble scribe, before the onset of his secondary sex characteristics.

Seriously, I can't tell you how irked I've been, for decades, that Gary was the only rock star I ever looked like.

Passion is No Ordinary Word

Attention world -- I will no longer brook any criticism of filmmaker Judd Apatow.

Why? He just facilitated the reunion and comeback of Graham Parker and the Rumour. One of the most exciting groups that ever wore shoe leather.

I haven't seen Apatow's new movie yet, but trust me -- the the new Rumour album is transplendent.

Also -- if you don't already own it, get thee over to Amazon immediately and download their masterpiece Squeezing Out Sparks, which should be on anybody's short list of the best rock records ever made.

And a big shout out to drummer Steve Goulding (who you might know from his work with the Mekons over the years). I toiled with Steve for about a year at a certain music website whose name I will not mention at this point, given that they employ lawyers.

But he's a great guy and a great musician, and I couldn't be happier that he's now in a Hollywood movie.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Okay, Okay -- Two Cheers for Billy Joel

And as a coda to last week's discussion of the merits of that guy who used to look like Roy Cohn...

...and now looks like John McGiver...

...may I simply say, and for the record, as it were, that he wrote these two songs.

Both of which are flat out great, and no excuses necessary.

Thank you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Okay, Let's Not Let This Billy Joel Mania Get Out of Hand

So -- like many of you, I watched the benefit concert for the Hurricane Sandy victims on Wednesday and mostly enjoyed it.

To my surprise, however, on Thursday morning I was moved to post the following on that Facebook thing the kids seem to like.

And may I simply say, and for the record, that although I have never been a Billy Joel fan particularly, and I don't think I ever even owned one of his albums -- he clearly stole the show at the Garden last night, despite the fact that he has turned into John McGiver in his old age.

And I think we have to face the fact that he has a seriously impressive body of work. If he's the Irving Berlin of his generation so be it -- and Irving was nowhere near as good a piano player. Or singer.

I will stand by that assessment, with the obvious caveat that the evening's other high point was clearly Kanye West, who looked just so darn good in a dress.

That said, however, I came across the following video of the young William Joel in 1967, performing a song from his first album with his first band The Hassles. And almost threw up something in my mouth.

Seriously -- I went to college on Long Island, and every goddamn band that ever got booked for a dance at my old school back then was just like this. Rascals/Vanilla Fudge clones with the requisite Hammond B-3 and the lead singer who could hit notes only dogs could hear. I hated every fucking one of them, and the Hassles -- who I saw in the South Cafeteria of the aforementioned old school -- were amongst the worst offenders.

On the other hand, we were all very young and there were probably drugs involved, so maybe I should cut them all some slack.

Have I mentioned that Kanye West looked good in a dress?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Like Most Rock Stars, He Secretly Wants to Be a Comedian

In case you missed it -- some guy named Mick Jagger does the Top 10 list on the Letterman show the other night. How he got the gig is beyond me.

"A good way to keep yourself entertained is signing every tenth autograph Doris Goldblatt."


And heh, actually.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 11th 2012 -- A Date That Will Live in Infamy

Well, I can't say I'm surprised, but I'm still pissed off.

Procol Harum didn't make the cut.

From Rolling

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has officially announced next year's inductees: Rush, Public Enemy, Heart, Randy Newman, Donna Summer and Albert King will all join the class of 2013, with Summer, who passed away this May, and King, who died in 1992, earning the honor posthumously. Lou Adler and Quincy Jones will both receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers.

I will console myself, as I often do, by listening to perhaps my favorite track from their masterpiece A Salty Dog -- Matthew Fisher's beyond gorgeous "Pilgrim's Progress."

Incidentally, the short concluding section of this one -- which starts at 3:11 seconds in -- has roughly the same relevance to the body of the song as the non-vocal ending section of "Layla" has to the rest of that record.

And, IMHO, it's the single best instrumental in rock history.

I am not kidding about this.

I should add that until today I had no idea this had ever been released as a single anywhere.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

And In Conclusion, Bill O'Reilly -- Bite Me!!!

From an undisclosed location at the North Pole, please enjoy power pop stalwarts The Mockers and their definitive rejoinder to Fox News, "(There's No War On Christmas) When Christmas Is In Your Heart."

Strictly on a musical level, I love everything about this record, which combines elements from all the best rock Xmas tunes, from the Beach Boys and Phil Spector to (dare I say it, because I actually really love it) Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas."

The fact that's it a heartfelt and gloriously melodic song that makes mincemeat of the whole War on Christmas bogosity on the Right is, of course, merely the icing on the holiday cake.

In any case, you can order the song itself, and the album it's from, over at Bandcamp. The single is also available at iTunes -- I can't seem to get the link to work, but you know what to do.

Oh -- and Happy Holidays, everybody!!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shoes: Ignition

A while back, steve asked me why I had not written anything on Shoes' excellent 2012 album Ignition. My response was complicated: after the last three-plus years, I feel.... implicated in the disc in a way I'm not accustomed to feeling.

But it's a helluva ride.....

There is no question that Ignition is a triumphal record, an assertion of life from these too-long-quiet guys, from the elegaic "Out of Round" to the soaring "Heaven Help Me" to the raucous "Hot Mess."  It was nearly a year ago that I heard these songs in Gary Klebe's basement studio, and the wave of glowing press that followed its release this summer was a joy to behold.

My reticence was also probably based on my own guilt: though my part of Boys Don't Lie: A History of Shoes is complete, I'm waiting on a cover and an index. And so no, it's not out, and I feel badly about the delay. But we inch closer day by day.

In the meantime, pick up a copy of Ignition: trust me. It's totally worth it.

And Something is Happening Here But You Don't Know What It Is -- Do You, Mr. Simels?

So I was perusing one of the Brit music rags the other day, and I learned that At the Drive-In -- a Texas post-hardcore punk band totally unknown to me, but apparently highly regarded by those younger and hepper than I -- had just engaged in a fairly lucrative reunion tour.

So, time hanging not too heavily on my hands, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. And in the process, I discovered this absolutely astonishing performance -- from 2000 -- that had occurred on Jools Holland's always invaluable TV program.

As you'll hear, the intro by Brit disc jockey Zane Lowe is hyperbolic even by my standards -- these guys were better and more exciting than the MC5 or God or the entire history of rock-and-roll blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda...

...and so when the band kicked into their fan-favorite "One Armed Scissor," I was, shall we say, skeptical.

And yet by about half way in, I was a complete convert.

Hell, I felt like I'd been smacked upside the head with a 2 X 4. Sweet jeebus, these guys were amazing.

In fact, if anything, Lowe's description of this performance sort of sells it short in terms of the energy level and its mix of the shambolic and total focus. And lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala -- who currently fronts The Mars Volta, who I don't particularly care for -- just might have been, at least at this point, the Latino punk Jagger of my dreams.

So now, one question remains.


Saturday, December 08, 2012

History: It's What's for Breakfast!

Well, hello strangers. Nice to see you all. Happy Hannukah to the Chosen People!

Came across a fascinating article in the Guardian this morning: a history of how one of our Christmas staples came to be: The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York." (That is, **I** came across it this morning; it was posted two days ago. h/t V4V for the link.)
Once upon a time, a band set out to make a Christmas song. Not about snow or sleigh rides or mistletoe or miracles, but lost youth and ruined dreams. A song in which Christmas is as much the problem as it is the solution. A kind of anti-Christmas song that ended up being, for a generation, the Christmas song.
That song, Fairytale of New York by the Pogues, has just been reissued to mark its 25th anniversary; it has entered the Top 20 every December since 2005, and shows no sign of losing its appeal.
It's a terrific article, turning on a bet between Elvis Costello and Shane McGowan, and includes an embryonic version of the song. 

 It's a great story: the images alone are brilliant.

The first demo was recorded by Costello at the same time as the cinematic romance of A Rainy Day in Soho, MacGowan's first song to draw on his love of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. When he brought that song into the studio in early 1986, Fearnley remembers: "He meant business, much more so than before. It was awe-inspiring to see him in the rehearsal room with his suit on and an attitude." 

The original demo was recording with Costello's wife, Cait O'Riordan, but by the time the band settled into record the final version, 18 months later, O'Riordan had left the band and Costello was no longer their producer. By now, they were working with Steve Lillywhite, who was married to the daughter of a folksinger and was herself a composer--she wrote "They Don't Know," which Tracey Ullmann made a hit--and singer: Kirsty MacColl.  She struggled with stage fright, so Lillywhite recorded her vocals at home, and the song's two widely divergent melodies completely separately. (I had missed the suspicious nature of her tragic death: awful.)

I won't rob of you of the pleasure of the history. It is Kick. Ass.

As is, and remains, the song in question.

It's Dutch Invasion Week: The Saturday Encore!!!

From their 1971 3rd Album, please enjoy my I'm-sorry-I'm-still-flogging-them- Hollandaise-favorite-rockers Shocking Blue and their meltingly beautiful masterpiece "Serenade."

These guys had broken up by the time (1974) this European album cut got released as a Stateside single by Buddah -- I actually owned a promo copy, a treasured possession for many years --

-- and it remains one of my all time obscure faves. The lyrics are gorgeous, despite the fact (or perhaps because) English is composer Robbie van Leeuwen's second language, and the interplay between the dry, scratchy electric guitar strums and the acoustic finger-picking is just great.

And then, of course, there's that lead vocal by actual Gypsy front woman Mariska is, as I am wont to say, to swoon.

Bottom line: I think this is as perfect a pop record as has ever been heard by sentient mammalian ears.

Coming next week: It's Serbo-Croatian Invasion Week!!! (I kid, I kid).

Friday, December 07, 2012

It's Dutch Invasion Week: Finale -- The Edam Stands Alone!!!

From 1972, and their fabulous "Live in Japan" album, please enjoy much-beloved of me Dutch rockers The Shocking Blue and their apparent PowerPop crowd pleaser "Hot Sand."

I first learned of the existence of this LP from a brief mention in one of the American record trade mags circa 1973, long after the group had broken up and even longer after it became apparent that nothing they had recorded (besides the album featuring "Venus") was ever going to be released in the States.

I tried to track it down for years, literally -- haunting record stores on the occasion of a mid-70s vacation in Spain, trying to deal with Dutch record dealers via highly expensive trans-continental phone calls in the 90s, etc. All to no avail.

So you can imagine my reaction when I chanced across a download link to it two years ago; in the words of Shakespeare, I plotzed.

You can also imagine my delight when it turned out the album was also really, really good.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

It's Dutch Invasion Week: Part Three!!!

From 1973 (and The Midnight Special) please enjoy -- if that's the word -- Netherlands prog-rockers Focus making the world safe for demented yodeling with their international smash hit "Hocus Pocus."

Prog with a sense of humor or just a complete piece of pretentious crap -- YOU make the call.

Personally, I always thought that Tales from Topographic Oceans was pretty funny, but then again -- as Chuck Barris famously said, what do I know, I like cold toilet seats.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

It's Dutch Invasion Week: Part Two!!!

In all seriousness, our younger readers may not believe this, but there really WAS a Dutch invasion of the American pop charts in the late 60s.

No kidding -- an indie record label called Colossus, run by a guy named Jerry Ross, who seems to have been one of the more colorful music biz hustlers of the period -- signed up a bunch of Dutch artists and actually scored a bunch of hits.

The most famous being -- still -- "Venus" by Shocking Blue. Deservedly.

This one, however, has irked me for decades now.

"Ma Belle Amie" by the too-cutely monikered The Tee-Set.

Let me stipulate up front that this is a very nicely produced record, and that the singer is not a bad simulacrum of certain Brit blues pop-rockers of the period.

Let me also stipulate up front that the song makes me want to shove pointed burnt sticks up my nose. Or the singer's nose, I'm not sure which.

Fun fact: The hippie chicks at my old school used to sing along to it as "Ralph Bellamy."

Monday, December 03, 2012

Today's Essay Question: Please Hammer (of the Gods), Don't Hurt 'Em

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but even though I like a lot of songs by last night's Kennedy Center honorees Led Zeppelin ...

...and despite the fact that I think Jimmy Page is something of a genius producer and arranger, I've never actually been what you might call a fan. In fact, I think it would be more accurate to call me a Zep agnostic.

I've also never actually been able to put my finger on what bothered me about them, until I read this quote from Trampled Under Foot, Brit author Barney's Hoskyn's new bio of the old lemon squeezers (in a recent issue of UNCUT).

Which seemed to me to get it, in the words of Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, on the nosey.

"Zeppelin songs," Hoskyns writes, "became battle cries for a lost generation of disowned teenagers swearching for dark magic in their suburban shopping mall lives."