Thursday, February 28, 2013

Girl Group Pop Psychedelia A-Go Go!!!

This subject came up during Tuesday's appearance on the Intertube radio show, but it occurred to me at the time that this may be the most under-developed pop music genre ever.

I mean, I can only come up with two obvious examples.

The first -- from late 1965(!), is of course The Chiffons and the quite remarkable "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me)."

And the second -- from the spring of 1971, would be the post-Diana Ross incarnation of The Supremes with the sublime "Nathan Jones."

I should also add that the original version of the Chiffons hit, by the song's composer Brute Force...

...which apparently was in fact released to an uncomprehending public in 1968, is pretty fricking confounding.

I should also also add that Bananarama , who as I get older I become more and more convinced may have been the greatest thing in the history of Western Civ...

...did a pretty terrific cover of "Nathan Jones" in 1988.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

They're Coming to Take Me Away (Ha Ha!)

Totally exhausted, in a good way mostly, after yesterday's intertube radio appearance, so I'm taking a Mental Health Day mini-vacation.

Regular interesting and/or alarming posting will resume tomorrow. Incidentally, in case you missed the show, it won't be archived till late next week; I'll be sure to alert you once its up, as I think it behooves behearing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Left of the Dial (An Occasional Series)

A brief programming note: I'm going to be on Lost at Sea, my old chum Allan Rosenberg's intertube radio show over at Area 24 tonight, between 5-7 pm...

...and for a change, and thank goodness, we WON"T be playing any music featuring bass by some idiot whose name rhymes with Sleeve Nimels. Instead, we'll be playing an amusing and alarming selection of my choices of Great Lost Singles of the '60s and '70s, and in the immortal words of Edith Prickley -- could be a hot one!

You can check us out, via streaming, over here; we'll be taking listener requests and comments via that e-mail invention that I'm told the kids are wild about, and I hope to hear from you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Official -- the Greatest Songwriter in the English Language of the Last Sixty Years Is....

...fuck you Lennon & McCartney, fuck you Bob Dylan, fuck you Townes Van Zandt, fuck you Jay-Z (and BTW, extremely fuck you Jay-Z, and this is a subject for a future posting but Jeebus fuck, the idea that anybody takes that hack seriously as a writer or anything else is simply mind-boggling), fuck you Stephen Merritt, fuck you Leonard Cohen, fuck you Holland-Dozier-Holland, and basically fuck everybody else because the winner is...

Mel Brooks.

That's right, Mel fucking Brooks.

Exhibit A, from the soundtrack to The Twelve Chairs -- "Hope For the Best, Expect the Worst."

Hope for the best, expect the worst,
Some drink champagne, some die of thirst.
No way of knowing which way it's going,
Hope for the best, expect the worst.

Hope for the best, expect the worst,
The world's a stage, we're unrehearsed.
Some reach the top, friends, while others flop, friends,
Hope for the best, expect the worst.

I knew a man who saved a fortune that was splendid
Then he died the day he planned to go and spend it
Shouting, Live while you're alive!
No one will survive!
Life is sorrow, here today and gone tomorrow
Live while you're alive
No one will survive
There's no guarantee.

Hope for the best, expect the worst,
You could be Tolstoy, or Fanny Hurst
So take your chances, there are no answers,
Hope for the best, expect the worst.

I knew a man who saved a fortune that was splendid
Then he died the day he planned to go and spend it
Shouting, Live while you're alive!
No one will survive!
Life is funny, drink your wine and spend your money
Live while you're alive
No one will survive
There's no guarantee.

Hope for the best, expect the worst,
The rich are blessed, the poor are cursed.
That is a fact, friends. The deck is stacked, friends.
Hope for the best, expect the...

Even with a good beginning
It's not certain that you're winning
Even with the best of chances
Fate can kick you in the pantses

Look out for the...
Watch out for the...


Wordplay, laughs, profundity -- it doesn't get any better than that. Seriously.

I should add that the above song can be found on the CD version of the fabulous late 70s elpee Elektra released of songs from Mel's movies through High Anxiety (which can be ordered over at Amazon here), and no finer anthology of popular music can be found anywhere at any price.

You're welcome.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rascals on Broadway

Oooo, this might have some potential!
The original members of the 1960's-era blue-eyed sould quartet -- singer Eddie Brigati, Keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, Guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli -- will reunite for what producers call "a hybrid of a rock 'n' roll concert and a Broadway show."
Performances of "The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream" will begin April 15 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and will last only 15 performances, ending May 5.  The show made its debut in late 2012 in Port Chester, NY. 
What do we think? Potential to be great, or terrifying?

Not one of their poppier ones, but--like steve's affection for the koto--I always dug the concertina in this one:

Turning Japanese

And speaking as we were yesterday of Monsters of Koto The Association and their possibly innovative use of said Japanese instrument, here's what's unquestionably the finest use of said instrument in a rock-and-roll context ever.

From 1972, and their superb Hot Wacks elpee, please enjoy Canadian power-poppers The Wackers and an astoundingly gorgeous cover of John Lennon's post-Beatles beauty "Oh My Love."

I'm pretty sure I've posted this here at some point in the dim dark past, but it just seemed relevant to yesterday's discussion, so sue me.

In any case, as spine-tinglingly beautiful a record as has ever been made. I should add that it's such a superb evocation of Abbey Road era Beatles studio craft that it was for a time widely -- and believably -- bootlegged as a lost track by the Fabs.

[h/t Jai Guru Dave]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tales From the Mystic East (An Occasional Series)

And speaking as we were the other day of perhaps unfairly underrated soft-rockers The Association -- from early 1967, please enjoy the psychedelic from stem to stern mind alteration that is "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies."

I must confess to being having been inordinately fond of this one from the long ago moment I first heard it on my car radio via WMCA-AM, but I gotta say -- the idea that anybody thought this was a smart choice as the follow-up single to the band's huge hit "Cherish" is proof positive that indulgence in certain recreational drugs is not always a good career move.

I should also add that one of my favorite things about this is the use of a Japanese koto -- played by the song's composer, Gary Alexander -- as the record's instrumental hook; I guess they figured if the Beatles could use a sitar, why not a koto? In any case, I believe this is the first (and only) use of said exotic instrument on a pop record until The Wackers covered John Lennon's "Oh My Love" some five years later.

Meanwhile, just because I like you guys, here's a mono version of the song's instrumental track.

And just in case you're as nutty and obsessed with this one as I am, here's a download link to the stereo version of the single.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beyond the Sound Barrier!!!

From tv's Hullabaloo, in late 1965, it's the original incarnation of The Rolling Stones and their don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it version of "She Said Yeah!".

Apart from the fact that the band just looks so cool it's frightening, I would like to note here, and for the record, that the entire performance clocks in at 1:38.

Let me repeat -- 1:38.

Hey -- if there's a more exciting one minute and thirty-eight seconds of anything anywhere else in all of recorded human history then I, for one, am unaware of it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tandyn Almer (1942--2013)

Almer -- who died at his D.C. home on January 8 (as reported in yesterday's Washington Post) -- is probably most famous for writing The Association's "Along Comes Mary," but he also co-wrote (with Brian Wilson, of course) these two, among the best things the Beach Boys did, not just in the 70s but, frankly, ever. And frankly he deserves to be immortal for both of them.

"Marcella" (from Carl and the Passions, 1970)

"Sail on Sailor" (from Holland, 1973)

Incidentally, I'd always assumed that the Association played the instruments on their records, but at least in the case of "Mary," apparently not.

Here's the actual instrumental track in mono (from a recent deluxe reissue of the band's first album).

According to the liner notes, the players are:

Mike Deasy, Lee Mallory, Ben Benay - guitars
Jerry Scheff - bass
Jim Troxel - drums, percussion ?
Toxey French - drums, percussion ?
Butch Parker - keyboards ?
Mike Henderson - keyboards ?
Terry Kirkman - possibly recorder

A great production, obviously, but for those of you keeping score, the only member of the Association on that list is Terry Kirkman.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots (and a Walker)

And speaking, as we were last week, of criminally underrated Sixties folk-rockers The Youngbloods, here's a truly remarkable recent (2010) performance of Richard Thompson's way cool "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," by Lowell Levinger (aka Banana aka Grandpa Banana), the Youngbloods' frighteningly talented multi-instrumentalist and secret weapon.

Apart from that just being a terrific version of one of my fave Thompson songs, it really warms my cockles to see an old geezer who's still firing on all thrusters, as Dr. McCoy would say.

And yes, I'm aware that the clip doesn't really have much to do with the music that is the nominal purview of this blog, but what the heck -- it's a holiday, so cut me some slack.

[h/t Peter Spencer]

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Most Underrated Band Ever? (An Occasional Series)

From 1966, please enjoy The Youngbloods and the absolutely perfect mashup of Brill Building pop and folk-rock that is "All Over the World (La-La)."

As in "it's the same all over the world when you lose your girl."

God, that's gorgeous. And who amongst us can't relate to the song's sentiment?

These guys have gotten a bad rap over the years, for a couple of reasons; the short version is that they're unfairly pegged as hippie one-hit wonders ("Get Together," which is actually a superb record that should have been a hit two years earlier than it actually was) and because the version of the band that did most of the touring in the hippie days did not include the dapper singer/songwriter of the above, Jerry Corbitt [the guy on the right in the photo]. Who was the Lennon to Jesse Colin Young's McCartney.

In any case, I can tell you from personal experience that the incarnation of the group pictured above was one of the best live rock acts ever (I would pay serious money for a high quality in-concert tape of them from back in the day, but alas, none seem to exist).

Also, too, their first two albums are among the most beautiful artifacts of their era.

They were snazzy dressers as well. Hell, I'd wear that suit Corbitt has on in a heartbeat today if I could find it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Great Moments in Alternate Universe History

Boy, here in our dimension, we really dodged a bullet.

I should add that the Concert From Hell pictured above actually took place in the reality where Mr. Spock looked like...


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Words Fail Me (An Occasional Series)

An (almost) all-brass Nirvana tribute band?

Ladies and germs, please behold in breathless wonder -- The Nevermind Orchestra.

The funny thing is, I actually really like this (and them).

With one cavil -- I would have left out the drums. Thus connecting Nirvana to a great classical tradition going back to Gabrieli and Renaissance polyphony.

That said, if you're in New York City this weekend, you can check 'em out live.

WHEN: This Friday, February 15 at 11:30 PM

WHERE: Sullivan Hall, 214 Sullivan Street at Bleecker Street.

ADMISSION: Open to the public, cover charge is $10.

And tell 'em PowerPop sent you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yoko Ono: "Stairway to Abuse" (Installation, 1968)

From the catalog of her retrospective one-woman show at London's Indica Gallery three years later:

Stairway to Abuse was a painting hung so high up on the wall that that those who wished to see it had to climb up a ladder (which was positioned directly underneath the painting). Upon climbing the ladder, one saw what appeared to be a blank canvas with a magnifying glass attached. Upon closer inspection, the canvas wasn't blank -- there was writing on it. The writing was so small, however, that it required the magnifying glass to be read.

One by one, spectators would climb up the ladder, peer through the magnifying glass, mutter words of amazement, look through the magnifying glass again (as though they hadn't believed it the first time), then climb down the ladder slowly and thoughtfully.

The message, when legible under the glass, was as follows:

You'll do anything anybody tells
you to do, won't you? You'll even
climb up a ladder in an art gallery!
Don't you have anything better to do?

No wonder John loved her.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Spirit is Willing But the Flesh is...(An Occasional Series)

Saw this interesting quote (from the Village Voice Critics poll in 1987) over at the newly active The guy flapping his gums is Chicago indie rock eminence grise Steve Albini.

"“I am of the belief that there are two distinct schools of rock journalists: (1) those for whom punk rock was the most important thing that ever happened, and, (2) everybody else (who, for lack of a better collective noun, I will call ‘shitheads’). Shitheads write about whatever is presented to them, non-judgmentally treating all styles of music as equals, distinguished from each other only by superficial stylistic elements. From the shithead school comes the deification of hip hop, AM radio floss, salsa, zydeco, blues and jazz artists, who ought really to be judged against either the entire spectrum of popular culture (against which their insignificance becomes obvious) or other practitioners of specific-genre music (against whom their minute differences might be measured).”

To which I think we can all say -- wow. Behold the perils of being one of the several billion people in the world with less integrity and principles than Albini.

Seriously, I wrote about the guy (who hadn't yet fucked up Nirvana's followup to Nevermind when he made the comment above) in these precincts in 2010, and at the time I allowed how I thought he was a talented guy if something of a large asshole, in part because he thought it was funny to name one of his side project bands Rapeman. (Yeah, I'm aware he got if from a Japanese manga and thus it's like, you know, cool and ironic. Fuck him.)

Anyway, it also occurred to me at the time that the most important reason I think Albini's an asshole is because of what he did, wearing his "I am not a record producer" hat, to The Fleshtones' "Let's Go," the should have been a huge hit first track from what should have been that band's commercial breakthrough album Laboratory of Sound from 1995.

Seriously, this is one of the absolutely greatest rock songs and performances ever -- the right three chords, those strategically placed yelps of the title acting as a terrific hook throughout, the atomic energy level (that "The hell with radiation!" movie sample at the beginning is doubly appropriate) and perhaps the funniest and most bordering on genius lyrics about the appeal of cheap thrills/transcendence in the history of the music.

Let's get gone
Get completely fucked
Let's go crazy on angel dust
Let's go -- let's get out of here!
Let's get drunk
Let's get in a fight
Let's get into something really wrong -- that's right!
And let's get out of here!
Doesn't get better than that, frankly. And yet you listen to the version that Albini "produced" and it sounds like every crappy teenage garage band that ever taped itself on an old Wollensak in their parents finished basement in 1965. Seriously -- I weep when I hear this; it's still thrilling, obviously, but when I think of how good it could have been if somebody not Albini (or an asshole) had been in charge of the recording it's enough to make you want to go to Chicago and smack the little twit upside the head.

Oh well, Could have would have yada yada.


Thursday, February 07, 2013

If It's Thursday, It Must Be Another Edition of "White Boys Getting Down to the Heart of Hep"

I think I've posted this track before, but it seems appropriate to post it again, given that I just got the fabulous new CD reissues of Swamp Dogg's Total Destruction to Your Mind and Rat On!.

Which are two of the most hilarious and down-and-dirty r&b/soul/rock albums ever made.

But I'll have more to say about them as we get closer to their official release dates in early March.

And may I add, once more and for the record, that sometimes I love my phony baloney job?

In any case, from 1988, please enjoy former Del Lord guy Eric Ambel and his absolutely swell guitar-driven cover of the title song to the aforementioned album "Total Destruction to Your Mind."

Baby, THAT is rock 'n' roll.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Picture, 1000 Words, Etc.

The original Pretenders lineup, posed about a year after their first album helped them conquer the world, as photographed by the great Chalkie Davies.

Has there been a more charismatic bunch in rock since this lot? I don't really think so.

I should add that Chalkie, who graciously consented to let me post the above, is a brilliant and charming guy who once slept on my couch for a couple of days sometime in late 1979, for reasons that we needn't go into at this time.

You can see more of his work -- and boy, has he been around -- over here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

They Had Work Ethics in Those Days

I'd never seen this particular juxtaposition before, but it kinda takes your breath away, doesn't it.

BTW, that top picture -- which as you can see predates the official Beatles logo -- is from a TV appearance on a show called Thank Your Lucky Stars, in April of '63.

What's really mind blowing is to recall exactly what the Fabs accomplished, creatively, in the approximately six year period that separates those two shots.

I mean, we can argue ad nauseum about whether or not they were the best rock band of all time -- I personally think there is no best rock band of all time, any more than there's a best romantic novel.

But you can certainly make a case for them being the most productive rock band ever, I'll tell you that for free.

Friday, February 01, 2013

My Back Pages (An Occasional Series)

[Just found this piece -- which originally appeared, in more or less identical form, in the June 1990 issue of the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review -- and for a variety of reasons I thought might be edifying to exhume it. Hey -- it's been a slow week. Anyway, enjoy if possible. -- S.S.]


A while back I was watching MTV (we needn't go into why) when I heard the news that Geffen Records had been sold to MCA (parent company of Universal Pictures) for a sum slightly in excess of the gross national product of several Third World countries.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not about to launch into some weepy old Bolshie-rock-critic harangue about corporate greed and people starving in Ethiopia. As far as I'm concerned, there's absolutely no reason a (still young) former William Morris Agency mailroom worker like David Geffen shouldn't be allowed to get stinking rich in the record business. Even if that means he releases three-disc boxed sets by the late Tommy Bolin.

Still, when I heard the news I found myself muttering "Uh-oh," like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Because if Geffen, the last really big independent pop label is being swallowed up by a major conglomerate, it means the record business -- worldwide -- is now controlled by only six or seven humongous companies, an unsettling turn of events if you believe the record business differs (or should differ) on some fundamental level from, say, the soft-drink business.

But back, however obliquely to MTV, itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of one of those aforementioned mega-companies. Now, there is much to be said about MTV, some of which I will say someday in another column. But this particular time, after staring at the screen, glassy eyed and sweating, for a couple of hours I came away with a fairly depressing insight -- that the Sex Pistols were right when they said there's No Future.

What brought on this epiphany? Simple: I suddenly noticed that just about nobody on MTV these days -- of any gender, in any genre, from dance pop to rap to heavy metal to college-radio rock -- seems to have the slightest shred of originality, personality, or any artistic ambition beyond getting stinking rich in a hurry.

Think I'm being overcritical? Okay, consider if you will a random example, like say Paul Abdul. Regardless of your opinion of her records, you'd be hard pressed to make a case for her as much than a Las Vegas showgirl who got lucky. Janet Jackson, anybody? C'mon -- a Disneyland animatron; you can almost see the money they spent on her dance lessons. New Kids on the Block? The Partridge Family come to ghastly contemporary life. And the list goes on and on.

Anyway, that's all an extremely roundabout way of getting to my real worry, which is, simply put, that because the vast sums of money to be made in the record business today have raised the corporate stakes so precipitously that no future performer who is not on some level a clone of an already established star is ever going to get a chance in front of the public again. Okay, okay, I'm deliberately overstating my case. But face it: It's not altogether alarmist to worry about whether the space for the emergence of a genuine against-the-grain weirdo -- the kind of misfit/genius who has fueled rock-and-roll from Buddy Holly and Elvis on down -- has been permanently foreclosed.

And so, lately, I've been thinking a lot about Esquerita, an obscure Fifties rocker whose work was recently exhumed on a remarkable Capitol CD. This was a guy who never sold many records, and judging from some of the tracks on this "Best-Of" collection, that's no particular mystery Simply put, the man was either years ahead of his time -- an impossible cross between Sun Ra and Little Richard on acid -- or else an out and out nut. Song after incredible song here finds him raging seemingly out of control, whooping in estrogenic falsetto at the most improbably moments, banging out what should be conventional rock-and-roll piano parts with so many wrong notes you have to assume they were planned, while his band -- featuring crack West Coast session cats -- abandons any attempt at keeping up with him. By all objective standards, this is preposterous, perhaps deranged stuff. And yet, and yet...weirdo or not Esquerita was onto something, and somebody was willing to give him a shot at expressing it.

Of course, that was back in 1958, when record industry rules were still made to be broken, and I suspect that if a contemporary weirdo, an Esquerita for the Nineties, is lurking out there in the darkness, he or she is not about to land a deal with, say, Geffen Records. Stranger things, of course, have happened, like an ex-mailroom guy selling a company for half a billion dollars. But if you think this situation bodes well for the state of music in the declining years of the twentieth century...well, then its time for you to check out the ship movements in the vicinity of Fantasy Island. In the meantime, get the Esquerita CD and prepare to have your life changed. or at least your speakers.

Obviously, a lot has happened since I wrote that, and equally obviously none of my specific end of the world predictions came true in precisely the way I feared.

On the other hand, the music biz actually is now pretty much controlled by an even tinier handful of mega-companies than it was in 1990; younger readers will have to take this on faith, but the idea that RCA Victor and Columbia are now the same record label would have, with justification, been greeted by music fans of the day as a sure sign of the End Times.