Like many of you, I imagine, I'm kind of done with superhero movies, etc. They're fine, and sometimes good fun, but if you had told me 20 years ago that it would be the whole of our media landscape, I would not have believed you.
I would have been wrong, obviously.
At this point, I'm what? 40 movies or so behind in the MCU, and have no real interest in catching up. I realize the Universe gave me whole damn pandemic with nothing much to do but watch superhero movies, but if you're caught up here, you know I had far more important things on my plate. (BTW, saw Sloan 11/23, and, though there was a little roughness in the brand-new songs, on the whole they were tight and rocking, as they have been every time I've seen them so far. And when I told Jay Ferguson where I was from, he recalled my (pretty small) town's 1980's AHL team, so there's that.) My obsessions do not tend toward the heroic and explosive.
But I have fallen into a couple of the more interesting (to me) MCU shows: WandaVision and SheHulk: Attorney at Law, the latter of which will probably stand as a model of third-wave feminism for many years. And I did see the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies (there are only two, right?), the problematic god-bothering of the lead actor notwithstanding.
Which brings me to my delightful point. I love power pop (duh), but I have come to think of it as woodland fungi, to a certain extent. It needs to be sought, it does not come to you, usually.
And yet here we are, Christmas 2022, with a bona fide power pop hit on the TV: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special's centerpiece hit by Bzermikitokolok and the Knowheremen, using ancient Earth instruments for the first time.
There's also some fun other favorites on the soundtrack, including the only holiday tune that really feels like the holidays feel, the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York." Fountains of Wayne's "I Want an Alien for Christmas," also makes an appearance, and there are a handful of others. But the Old 97s are the stars here.
Anyway, I'm always glad to add new stuff to my Power Pop Christmas playlists, and this one's pretty fun. Enjoy!
So I keep trying to get back to this to tell my weird little story, and I keep getting interrupted. This working-for-a-living thing is pretty inconvenient sometimes.
As I noted, this is all about lockdown, and that weird gray haze we were all living in, because popping out of it was far too disorienting and terrifying. There are times, these days, when I’m running from place to place nonstop (today is a 14-hour day, if you are curious), that I miss the days when I would roll out of bed, get the kids to cross their bedrooms to their computers, grab a coffee and wander into the spare bedroom to try and work. (Like the rest of us, I was only middlingly successful at that.) But that world–in black and white inside the fog, and jarring Soviet-era greens and browns and rusty oranges outside it–left me almost desperate for something new, something different, something that was mine without my knowing it yet.
Because I was at the computer essentially nonstop, I had music playing all the time. My music, and yours. Apples in Stereo and the Aerovons. Badfinger and Blue Ash and Blondie and Big Star and the Beatles. The Cars, the Clash, Cheap Trick (and you know I can’t keep this alphabetical thing up forever). XTC, Shoes, the Cars, Fountains of Wayne, Redd Kross, Guided By Voices, Teenage Fanclub, the New Pornographers…. You get the idea. Power pop once saved my life when I was mired in a deep depression: I needed it to come to the rescue now. And damn, it sure did.
It took a bit: the algorithms I had set up did pretty well, and when you have Spotify* on 12 hours a day, they dig pretty deep into the corners for you. Yeah, you start with the same hundred songs, but eventually it starts trying out new stuff. And as I noted in my first post on this topic, it was the words that pierced the veil first. That makes sense, I think. I am a writer, and words mean a lot to me. (I read recently somewhere an interview with a female musician (maybe Jill Sobule or someone in that vein?) that she has the words first and the music is written to fit them. I can tell you honestly: I have never heard a male composer say that. It’s music first, then words. I have no idea what this means; I just think it’s weird.) Anyway, these distinct little phrases just kept kind of reaching out for me. There was no consistency to the singing voice or the musical style, except insofar as they were in our general wheelhouse, but every time I clicked out of the work I was avoiding to check Spotify, it was the same name. Sloan.
I made a sensible adult decision (which I duly announced to the spouse) to become obsessed with this band. I mean, everyone went a little Covid-crazy, and this was better than making sourdough or posing my family like paintings or joining Q-Anon or something. I attacked it very methodically, in a scholarly fashion. First, I looked at their videos on YouTube, reasoning that these were more likely to be the “singles” than other songs. (Little did I know that Sloan releases basically every song as a video; it’s just that some of them are album cover art. But whatever you’re looking for, it’s probably on YouTube.) So that filled a couple of weeks as I started putting a timeline together in my head, reading old interviews, etc.
I was helped immensely in this aspect by finding Sloancast, an extraordinary podcast put together by two Sloan superfans, Rob Butcher and Ken Gildner. If you are interested in the band’s history, in people who have worked with them, and in a meticulous breakdown of almost every album, the Sloancast guys are your best bet. I never miss an episode. (And as of ten days or so ago, they have had all the members of the band–alphabetically by last name, Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, and Andrew Scott, as well as member-at-large Gregory MacDonald, on as guests.) A podcast like this would be any band’s dream, honestly. But there is another, called the Sloan Selection Podcast, which is more focused on putting songs from their (pretty immense) catalog side by side and choosing a winner. Good fun, but I personally prefer the history/background stuff more.
[insert here the requisite amazement that there are four singers and four songwriters in this band, that they have been doing this with the same lineup since 1991, that they do Cheap Trick-levels of touring, that they split everything equally. Not to say that these things aren’t amazing, because they are, but just that any profile of Sloan will mention them.]
So this is what happens when an academic dork takes on a new band. Figured out who they were, their likely most popular/well-know songs. Then (god help me, I wish I were making this up) I went to discogs and printed off every track list off every album. That meant reshuffling a bunch of stuff in my head, reorganizing the timeline, but remember that I got 30 years of music in one huge information dump. The process took a bit. Then (cringing again), I got a highlighter and marked off the songs I already knew. To quote Chris M, so far, so good. Starting with the EP Peppermint, I worked my way methodically through the entire catalog, highlighter in hand. It was kind of fun seeing songs I was already besotted with in their own context, like seeing a picture of your partner as a kid posing with their own family, or in a school picture. Peppermint (1992). Smeared (also 1992). Twice Removed (1994). One Chord to Another (1996). Navy Blues (1998). Between the Bridges (1999). Pretty Together (2001). Action Pact (2003). Never Hear the End of It (2006). Parallel Play (2008). The Double Cross (2011) Commonwealth (2014). Twelve (2018). So, so much to absorb, and man, was I absorbed. (I’m leaving out probably a dozen EPs, single releases, and live albums, maybe more.)
The thing is, the Sloan guys and I are about the same age. That means our musical inspirations and tastes are roughly analogous, or at least contemporary to each other. They pulled from sources I mostly knew, but some not intimately (My Bloody Valentine, who I only knew a bit of, loom large in the lore, for example.) But on most things? Hell, yeah, exactly in my sweet spot. (In a recent interview, Chris M was asked about a specific little musical grace note in one of their new songs, “Magical Thinking.” The interviewer suggested it was a callback to “People of the Sky” from Twice Removed. I said to myself, “Nope. That’s from Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth.” Like that ) The spouse says that if you went into a lab and made me a band, Sloan would be the one.
But this whole process, as absorbing and delightful as it was, also pissed me off. Why? Because I could not stop asking myself: HOW DID I MISS THIS BAND?!?!? It’s utterly inexplicable to me. I went to shows regularly, though in the 90s I was somewhat handicapped by being in a big city that was not on the way to anywhere (Miami), so few bands came that far south. I did go to shows in NYC, though only when they lined up with school breaks. But I listened to college radio. I watched 120 Minutes like it was my religion. I knew cool people, including one invaluable friend who worked in a used record store off Tompkins Square Park, who could turn me on to stuff. It makes no sense that a national border could make that much difference, and yet it did. (Even in the rollout to their most recent album, Steady, out less than a month at this writing, there were a couple of videos that I knew were dropping, yet we initially couldn’t see them in the States. It’s a global world, publishing/copyright/rights people. Catch the hell up.) And so, even in my pretty much pure delight with Sloan, I curse bitterly the years I didn’t know, the shows I didn’t see, and all of the rest of it. I’m making up for lost time (seeing them for the third time next week, and fourth in February), but still.
Anyway, there’s my Sloan story, and though I will never be the kind of superfan Rob and Ken are, I stand in awe of their encyclopedic knowledge. (And thank Rob in particular for being gracious to a complete noob in this world and helping me along.) So if you are reading this blog (and still reading this post), this band is something worth hunting down. They live in our world. This is our music.
Thank me later.
* I know, I know, I know. But for a lot of musicians (who weren't making Joe Rogan money), this was pretty much their only income stream for the last couple of years. I wasn't going to stop supporting them.
In the coming days, I’ll be unspooling the strange journey I’ve been on for the last two-ish years, but today I want to unpack the most recent gift from our friends from the north, Sloan’s new album, Steady, which came out Thursday.
Everywhere you look in Powerpopland, you’re going to find people gushing about this record. The original vinyl pressing started arriving at people’s houses about ten days ago; mine got here last Wednesday. (Available in the US from YepRoc.) It’s a gorgeous package, tones of silver on black, and inside, a glorious pink sleeve and purple vinyl. The band has been very careful to manage their visual presentation as well as their musical, and so it’s no surprise that it’s attractive. But we are music people, and as music people, you want to know what’s inside.
It’s a Sloan record, which means everything comes in fours: four writers, four singers, four distinct songwriting styles. You can count on bassist Chris Murphy for wry observation and wit. You can count on Andrew Scott for Dylan-esque reflections on modern life. You can count on Jay Ferguson for lush portraits of moments in time. And you can count on Patrick Pentland for killer melodies and raw emotion. But there’s something about the blend which is inexplicable. I often say that music is the only magic I believe in, and that’s true of Sloan more than almost any band I can think of.
Side A leads off with Murphy’s “Magical Thinking,” a sardonic catalog of the rationales offered by the sort of people who think the universe or the tarot or their horoscope or their Meyers-Briggs type will manifest itself just because, seeing to it that the world behaves as it’s supposed to, rewarding the just and punishing the deserving. Kicking off with a fairytale harp flourish, the song is driven by a low guitar and bass riff that is both melodic, and just a little dark, as is the song. That’s followed by “Spend the Day,” the first song released from this record. (YouTube tells me the video was posted three months ago: it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long, but I’ll take their word for it.) Patrick Pentland’s signature driving guitar underpins this invitation to avoid the world and “hide away/spend the day/ in here with me a while.” Tempting.
Then we turn to Jay Ferguson’s character sketch of a female ghost writer on a seemingly endless journey, “She Put Up With What She Put Down.” It’s a beautiful jangling pop song, Ferguson’s trademark, with the deceptive fragility so many of his songs have. (For longtime followers of the blog, I would argue that Ferguson is the “Shoes-iest” member of Sloan, for that reason.) I want to stay focused on this record, but it would be remiss of me to pass by this song without noting that the way Ferguson writes about women is extraordinary. Early on, he relied a bit on the distant goddess trope (thinking here of “Snowsuit Sound,” from Twice Removed: a song I love, but which I think buys into a certain framing he later outgrew). The first time I really noticed it was in the gut-wrenching “Light Years,” from Never Hear the End of It (2006), which I hear as the song of a person in love with an addict. But it’s not cruel or dismissive: It’s not “Kicks,” it’s not “The Needle and the Damage Done.” It’s sympathetic and poignant, and even a bit hopeful. But my favorite Jay song in this vein is on Commonwealth (2014): “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind.” I wasn’t looking at the lyrics, and I didn’t know the song, but when he sang the title and immediately followed it with “and I hope that you say it”.... I…. Look, the woman who never shuts up is a standard misogynist trope. The idea of a song that invites her to speak? That’s huge. And it's followed two songs later by the extraordinary “Cleopatra,” which is similarly empowering. I’ve digressed too long, but the point here is that Ferguson is just a really strong, really sensitive writer of women characters, and “She Put Up With What She Put Down” is another beautiful piece in that body of work.
We return to Chris Murphy for the piano-driven “Human Nature,” a rumination on the complex relationship we all have with gossip. It’s a lovely, contemplative work, and (because it’s CM) has a delightful Oscar Wilde twist at the end. There’s a great video of Murphy and indefatigable Sloan jack-of-all-trades Gregory Macdonald performing it live here. That’s followed by the Pentland-penned “Scratch the Surface,” a pop masterpiece about the alienation of city life and the false consciousness we fall into. This song became the first official Sloan video since 2011, and it’s charming: each of the members doing something characteristic (Andrew paints, Jay looks at records, etc.) interspersed with stunning drone footage of Toronto. The side closes out with the first Andrew Scott song on the disc: “Panic on Runnymede.” Like many of Scott’s songs, the lyrics are somewhat opaque, but the harmonies are gorgeous and the guitar work, especially at the end, strong. Plus, we get to hear from the dogs, which is always a treat.
Side B opens with two bangers: these may well be my favorite songs on the album. “Dream It All Over Again” could easily have been the album opener, representing as it does the by-now-standard report on how Sloan is dealing with their somewhat unusual cultural position. They’re pretty philosophical about it at this point: “If you wait a while /Then we’ll be back in style /But if you lose your thread /We’re never hard to find.” The real joy in this one is the back and forth between Chris and Jay, and then the soaring harmonies when they all come together. It’s just gorgeous. And “Nice Work If You Can Get It”? Holy. Shit. It starts out with a riff ripped right out of the mid-60s. It has kind of a “Day Tripper” vibe initially. But then it launches into these extended harmonies which put me in mind less of the Beatles than the Records in their heyday, and that chorus in unison? That is pure 1979, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give. It’s just perfect: that riff, that melody, those harmonies. Perfect.
It’s followed by a Patrick Pentland song unlike anything he’s done for a good while. Starting off with a Ronettes drum bit, it’s the softest and most pain-filled song on the record, about the loss of a relationship. But instead of focusing on the wrongs of the other person (like, say, “Backstabbin’” or “Unkind”) this song is just raw grief. Pentland has never had a problem wearing his heart on his sleeve, and it has served him well. It serves him well here, too. It’s beautiful, and heartbreaking.
When the next song, Scott’s “Close Encounters,” begins, you’d swear it was a Jay song, starting with a kind of mid-70s soft rock vibe, and when Scott comes in, it’s a delightful surprise. It’s a beautiful piece, reflecting on, among other things, the ongoing Covid crisis, though he uses the mask as a metaphor for hiding oneself more generally. He even makes a Murphy-ish plea: “So love your brothers /And your sisters the same,” because, you know, it’s all we got.
Murphy’s “I Dream of Sleep” is, and I am not kidding, a country song, pretty unusual for Sloan. (Do we have to go back to “I’m Not Through With You Yet”? Maybe.) But Murphy’s relentless calculation and checking the clock is familiar to any insomniac, and by “any insomniac,” I mean me, who just finished a month of 2 and 3 hour nights. This one is maybe too close for me to assess fairly. The album rounds off with Ferguson’s “Keep Your Name Alive,” driven by another of those tasty riffs. It’s an interesting closer, and for a band like Sloan, who have rarely been off the road for long over the last (checks calendar) decades, the question of whether “you have to leave your home /To keep your name alive” is a little existential. Maybe this is a hint that their punishing road schedule can’t go on forever.
I expected to like this record, maybe even to love it. But I didn’t actually think it would meet my newbie-enthusiastic expectations. This is the first Sloan release I've been conscious of as it dropped, and it's a tremendous record, full of juicy nuggets of melodic pop-rock and callbacks to the giants of the genre. Sloan has done a masterful job here. Run, don’t walk, to get this one.
Well, hello, strangers! It's been a good bit since I've stomped on these home grounds, and a ton of stuff has happened. I wrote a book, we had a pandemic, you know... stuff.
But I assure you, my love for our genre has never flickered for second. I spent a ton of lockdown staring at a computer, doomscrolling--but I'm sure none of you did anything like that--and listening to bands who had never crossed over my transom before, or if they did, I didn't register it. But if there was any joy there, it was that I had little to do except listen to music.
Which brings me to Sloan.
My friend Bill insists we caught the tail end of a set in early 2000, opening for GBV. Maybe? I had a newborn; I'm pretty sure I missed that show. My sister-in-law insists that she had spent literally years in the 90s trying to turn me on to them. Maybe? She wasn't someone I looked to for new bands, I guess, so I probably nodded politely.
A heartbreaking waste of time, if either of these things are true. Because when I fell, I fell HARD.
You all will understand what I mean when I say this: Sloan pierced the fog of my lockdown haze. Everything was gray and dangerous and lonely, and these, I dunno, tendrils? of music kept reaching out to me from my computer. It was words at first, odd little phrasings.
What's so bad about dying anyway?
I guess you caught me lying to myself.
You get rough, attack my self-esteem /It's not much, but it's the best I've got.
We've all been in one situation or another we regret.
She don't know what it means, she just knows that it's not what it seems.
Every now and then, I'm reminded that you /could say goodbye and then vanish from view.
They all struck me as profound and beautiful and just, you know TRUE. And they spanned almost 30 years, because I received Sloan in a tsunami, all at once.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be unpacking this weird journey I've been on, which gave me structure and kept me sane. I hope you'll enjoy it.
I should add that when this was written, Hentoff was also a jazz and pop critic at the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Reivew, and when I got my gig over there, I was briefly Nat's editor. Very nice guy.
I should also add that the Floor Models did a bunch of demos in that same CBS studio in NYC, which was a helluva thrill.
From 1966, please enjoy the original version of The Moody Blues, with the great Denny Laine, and their glorious almost hit single "Stop."
I should add that Laine -- who found greater fame and fortune as a member of Paul McCartney's Wings -- wrote and sang that. Jeebus, he was the real soulful deal.
But speaking of the post-Laine Moodys, I have a story, and its not really a funny one.
The short version -- I went to see the mellotron version of those guys -- with the insufferable irony-free Justin Heyward fronting -- at the old Fillmore East, circa late 1968. They were opening for whatever the edition of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers was, and apparently the Moody's thought it was somewhat demeaning to be paired with them..
And when the crowd didn't respond with the enthusiasm they thought their whey-faced British prog-rock deserved, Moody's flutist Ray Thomas looked at the audience and sneered-- and I quote verbatim -- "We're not doing any 12-bars tonight. Too complicated."
From 1987(!) and his sophomore studio album Lord of the Highway, please enjoy the incomparable Joe Ely and his killer ode to public rowdiness "Everybody Go Hammered."
That's just a great genre-bending rock song -- you can hear why Ely was credible collaborating with The Clash back in the day -- and what a pleasure it was to revisit it after all these years.
I should add that I bring it up because a publicist friend of mine (for decades) just sent me Ely's forthcoming album (of unreleased lullabyes he did for his daughter in their respective youths) is coming out on my birthday (Oct. 21) and its freaking great. But I'll have more to say about that when the time comes.
From 2014, please enjoy everybody's favorite pop tart Lydia Loveless and her spine-tingingly gorgeous cover of "They Don't Know."
Seriously -- that's just great. I think it's legitimately better than both the hit version by Tracey Ullman AND the original by the song's composer, the late great Kirsty MacColl. I mean, forgetting the vocal, which is about as well sung as you can get, but the backing band track is just outrageously cool in a jangly folk-rock way.
BTW, first time I heard that was when I was a guest on the much missed intertube radio show Lost at Sea formerly hosted by friend of PowerPop Captain Al.
As you may have heard, a certain Shady Dame and I welcomed a new furry friend into our home on Saturday.
And in honor of his arrival, please enjoy estimable power pop rockers Fantastic Cat -- featuring wise guy New York City raised front man/singer songwriter Brian Dunne -- and their hilarious video "Nobody's Coming to Get You."
Ah, irony is so ironic.
PS: Given that our new feline buddy was rescued in the Bronx, we have named him Mickey. As in Mantle.
From 2020, please enjoy my current favorite band Maná and a live remake (in their respective homes) of their 2011 hit "Huele a Tristeza."
Attentive readers will recall I discovered these guys recently on the sound system of my latest watering hole -- a Mexican restaurant in Forest Hills. The short version is that they're from south of the border, they've been around for a couple of decades, and they've sold a gazillion records (including in the good old USA, where one of their albums went platinum when I wasn't looking).
As you can hear, they're world class fucking great, and I can't believe I hadn't been aware of them before a month or so ago, despite the fact they're superstars in much of the Spanish-speaking world.
I should add that this update of one of their biggest songs was obviously done as a response to the isolation occasioned by the onset of the COVID pandemic, and the cohesiveness of it is a wonder to behold.
I should also add that the cute little dog at the lead singer's feet is a thoroughly charming touch, and that the tune is so good it kills me even though I have no idea what they're yowling about.
In case you're wondering, however, the song's title loosely translates as "Smells of Sadness." Which is kind of interestingly poetic, now that I think of it.
Okay, so here's the story about my obsession with this anti-nuke song which inspired the last couple of postings.
The melody is from an old Scottish folk ballad (supernatural variety) called "The Silkie." It was on the first album by Joan Baez, and say what you will about Joanie, when I was a kid, her achingly pure soprano knocked me out, and this particular track was a revelation. For some reason a junior high school teacher of mine played it for my class one day, and I went bonkers.
I mean, I really went nuts. I actually spent hours trying to write a piano fantasia based on it, which I ultimately did; my old friend and musical colleague Allan Weissman informs me he can still play it from memory.
Anyway, cut to 1966 and The ByrdsFifth Dimension album. I'm listening to it for the first time, and suddenly this song -- with the same tune as the Baez thingie but with absolutely brilliant lyrics about a 7 year old who was fried at Hiroshima (gorgeously sung by Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, I should add) -- comes on. And I totally lose it. Where the hell did that come from?
So I look it up, and -- short version -- the lyrics are an anti-nuke poem by a guy named Nâzım Hikmet, a Turkish-Polish political writer and general activist artist guy, who was famous for his problems with the regime in his home country. The lyrics were apparently notorious in his day -- in a good way -- and folk genius Pete Seeger was savvy enough to graft them onto
the melody of "The Silkie." And The Byrds were inspired to cover it, magnificently.
It still reduces me to tears, and many years later, I was moved to record a version of it myself -- with what success I leave you to decide.
So as I've mentioned for the last two days, this week marks the anniversaries of the 1945 nuclear devastation of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
That being the case, and because music speaks a million words, please enjoy -- from the 1982 EP of the same name -- wise guy folk/metal/punk rocker Tonio K and his cautionary Ritchie Valens remake "La Bomba."
Which seems a) relevant and b) has a good beat and you can dance to it.
Ah, yes, 1982. The Reagan Era. When nobody was worried about Republicans blowing up the world.
Tomorrow: a somewhat more profound musical exegis of the same themes we've been discussing.
So as I mentioned, yesterday was the anniversary of the annihilation of the Japanese city of Nagasaki (in 1945). Forgetting your opinions of the morality of the United States' actions in that matter, it inspired a really sarondically cool song -- "Old Man Atom," the 1950 hit version of which by folkie Sam Hinton I was a huge enthusiast of as a kid, and hence I posted it yesterday.
That said, there was a competing version -- by Roy Rogers' country backup band The Sons of the Pioneers -- which I had never heard previously, and offer here in the spirit with which it was recorded.
You usually don't associate that kind of black-humor irony with early bluegrass outfits, but hey -- this is America. Anything can happen.
Today is the anniversary of the World War II atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan (August, 1945), which I think we can all agree was one of the most morally reprehensible things ever done by this country.
Here's a reminder -- Sam Hinton's classic talking blues "Old Man Atom."
That was released (and a hit) in 1950, when I was three years old; my parents must have had a copy, because by the time I was in early elementary school I can remember obsessively playing it on the phonograph in my bedroom -- that red Columbia label is one of the most vivid images of my childhood. (I'm informed that The Sons of the Pioneers also did a version for RCA; I'll have to check that out).
In any case, given what's going on in Ukraine the song has lost none of its relevance. I should also add that the explosion at the end is a nice macabre production touch.
So as you may have have guessed by my absence since the weekend, I've had a couple of rough days lately, but by way of making it up to my beloved readers, please enjoy ewverybody's favorite sisters from Liverpool (by way of Austria) The Mona Lisa Twins and a lovely cover of Don McLean's "Vincent."
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- those gals have really got it.
I should add that McClean is not particularly in fashion these days (for reasons I neeedn't go into in a family blog) but that's still a really good song.
Well, it's late July and we've got our air conditioning turned up to the max. That being the case, here's a little fun project for us all -- Top Best or Worst Pop/Rock Songs about This Time of the Year.
And my Top Seven nominees are...
7. Chad and Jeremy -- A Summer Song
Glorious harmonies and acoustic guitar work that reduces you to tears.
6. Brian Hyland -- Sealed With a Kiss
Utter dreck. In my high school, we used to sing it as "Kissed by a Seal."
5. The Jamies--Summertime Summertime
I still don't know if that song sucks or not.
4. Eddie Cochran -- Summertime Blues
C'mon -- rock 'n' roll doesn't get any cooler.
3. The Kinks -- Sunny Afternoon
I'd never seen that clip before, but that's about as sublime as it can be.
2. The Tearjerkers -- Syracuse Summer
"The California sun shines all the time/but East Coast Summer's are a different kind/They don't last as long so they mean a little bit more..."
And the all time great pop song about the beauty of summer is...
From 1968 and her debut album Song for a Seagull, please enjoy everybody's sometimes favorite charmingly pretentious Southern California singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell and her nonetheless quite genuinely gorgeous "Marcie."
I bring this up for two reasons.
Number 1, apparently Joni made some kind of triumphant comeback at the Newport Folk Festival over the last weekend, and god bless her, obviously.
And number 2, recording-wise, she completely lost me after Blue, which is an inarguable freaking masterpiece of its sort of thing.
The rest of her ouevre not so much.
With the exception of her confessional autobiographical Laurel Canyon double LP Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, of course.
So as attentive readers are aware, for the longest time -- twenty or thirty years, beginning in 1973 -- I scribbled off and on about music and pop culture for a magazine best known as Stereo Review. Let's just say that a cooler post-collegiate gig was pretty much unthinkable -- the money was great, I was living in an affordable rent-controlled one bed-room apartment in lower Manhattan, and I got to see A-list rock bands and movies pretty much five nights a week. For free. Plus I got to write about them, which people seemed to enjoy.
I should add that a book version of my literary greatest hits is coming out some time at the end of the year...
...and you might find it amusing.
In any case, there's a back story, which I will make as short as I can. The bottom line is I had read said magazine religiously -- by which I mean with a yarmulke on my head (heh) -- for most of my adolescence; it had been published under a variety of names since approximately 1958, and over the years I learned a great deal about all sorts of music from some of its writer/contributors, including jazz critic Nat Hentoff, opera buff George Jellinek, and classical polymath and PBS host Martin Bookspan.
Be that as it may, some time around the fabled Summer of Love, Stereo Review -- like many other magazines of its type -- was starting to hire younger scribes to give themselves a patina of hip, regardless of how undeserved. And so they hired a guy named Rex Reed, who at the time was sort of a celebrity -- he'd had cameos (usually as himself) iin a number of major Hollywood flicks, he'd produced a few books on movies, he reviewed for a couple of prestigious newspapers (including the NY Times), and he was considered a sort of happening New Journalist in a class with Tom Wolfe. Which he manifestly wasn't. And I found his writing, shall we say, cutesy. and the work of somebody who was trying way too hard. But what the hey -- I was a kid, what did I know?
In any case, Reed was responsible for this review of The Beatles early middle masterpiece Revolver in SR, and I remember thinking at the time that it made me ill. Please take a moment and read it now, to enjoy its full bullshit quotient and level of bad writing and ignorance that characterizes it.
I mean, seriously, that sucks. Big time.
So like I said, early in 1973, I wound up with a gig as pop music editor at SR -- how that happened will be explained in that book I mentioned -- and for a brief period (perhaps a month or two) I was Rex's editor. And one month into my tenure as his sort of boss, he was late with his copy. So I called him up and said -- "Rex, dude, we need your reviews immediately -- I've got a messenger standing by, so let me know when I can send him."
And Rex said -- swear to god, this is a true story -- "give me half an hour; as soon as I plug in the adjectives I'll be done."
Reed went on to a very lucrative career as a TV film critic and contributor to that little pisher Jared Kushner's pink-tinted New York newspaper/cat litter box filler The Observer, and he's apparently still alive and well. What he's doing otherwise, I have no idea.
More Stereo Review anecdotes will be forthcoming as the mood strikes me.
From 1965, please enjoy incomparable Brit Invasion rockers The Hollies and their killer single "Don't Run and Hide."
For years, I thought this was a b-side to something or other, but I was delighted to discover recently that it's actually an album cut from the Bus Stop album. A great fucking song in any case, and what a delight to hear it in stereo.
From 1975, please enjoy The Hollies' brilliant lead singer Allan Clarke and his way-before-its-time cover of Bruce Springsteen's immortal ode to cultural freedom "Born to Run."
I've been trying to figure out just how earlier than Bruce's version this came out -- it was definitiely the same year, but beyond that I remain confused -- and in any case it was pretty hep of Clarke to record it.
I should add that I've got an absolutely hilarious true story involving Springsteen, the Hollies, and me at a club where the Hollies were performing. Get me drunk sometime and I'll tell it to you.
From 1995, and his album Train a Comin', please enjoy the incomparable Steve Earle and his sublime take on The Beatles' classic "I'm Looking Through You."
I had completely forgotten that one until last weekend, when our friend Sal Nunziato, proprietor of the invaluable Burning Wood blog, posted it along with some other really cool covers. I'll think you'll agree that it's totally exquisite.
From 1959, with guest sideman Neil Sedaka on piano, please enjoy Bobby Darin's transplendent original studio take on his glorious "Dream Lover."
I believe I first heard this version when it appeared on a fabulous Darin reissue CD anthology called "Aces Back to Back" in (I think) 2004, although the song remains itself best known from the 1961 hit version by Dion. In any event, it's been covered over the years by all sorts of other artists in a variety of genres and I suspect it's pretty much impossible to do a bad performance of it.
From 1985, and the deservedly smash hit Scarecrow album, please enjoy John Mellencamp and band with their oddly less familiar ode to that 1920s kind of dirty sexual wink-wink automotive accesssory the "Rumble Seat."
I think it's the best song on the record, but hey -- what do I know?
Lots of stuff -- mostly good -- happening at Casa Simels, including perhaps a new pussycat in the family -- and I'm exhausted. Regular musical posting, including a brand new Weekend Listomamia, resumes on the morrow, you bastids.
From 1980, please enjoy mistakenly-dismissed-as one-hit-wonders [you know, that song with the phone number and the girl's name in the title] L.A. New Wave rockers Tommy Tutone and their MTV fave "Angel Say No."
Apart from just being a great single with a great groove, this song was a huge influence on me musically. The short version is I learned how to play bass by rocking out to it on an old Pioneer two track cassette deck you could overdub on. (Come to think of it, I got a lot of mileage out of that gizmo; I also recall working out the bass part to "Dance With Me" by Orleans the same way.)
In any event, if you put a gun to my head, I could probably still play this song from memory, so -- hey Tommy Tutone, wherever you are, thanks for the music lessons.
From his first solo album, in 1974, please enjoy The Easybeats' lead singer Stevie Wright and his definitively rocking hit single "Hard Road."
That was produced and written, unsurprisingly, by Harry Vanda and George Young, also of The Easybeats, and who happened to be the cousins(?) and board twirlers behind AC/DC. Rod Stewart had a minor hit with it in the same year, but it doesn't hold a candle to the above.
Fron 2004, live in concert in Mexico, please enjoy Enanitos Verdes and their drop dead gorgeous "Tu Carcel."
The band's name translates loosely as Little Green Men, and they hail from Argentina. They're a very big deal in Latin America, although they're pretty much unknown in the States, which is a shame, as you can hear. (Assuming that the internet is reliable, the song's title translates to "Your Jail.")
I should add that the first time I heard these guys was a couple days ago at my new part-time watering hole, a Forest Hills Mexican joint called Mas Tortilla (try their grilled corn on the cob.) They mostly play tradtional Latin pop over the sound system, although they occasionally blast Rock en español , a genre I'm finding more interesting than I had expected. (As attentive readers will recall, I first paid attention to it after hearing this fabulous Police-ish rocker).
From 1983, please enjoy -- from their sadly overlooked reunion album What Goes Around -- the magisterial Hollies and their superb cover of The Supremes' "Stop in the Name of Love."
Apart from being utterly gorgeous, that track is particularly notable for the return of the band's original -- and damn near John Entwistle level good -- bassist Eric Haydock. I had always wondered why he left the band in the first place, but Wiki informs me it had something to do with problems with the band's management. Too bad -- Bernie Calvert, who replaced him for over a decade and a lot of hits, was apparently a nice enough dude and a competent musician, but he couldn't hold a candle to Haydock, who was the first guy in England to play (superbly) a Fender five-string bass.
Why you pay the big bucks to live in the five boros: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (at Lincoln Center) is curently running Lou Reed: Under the Twisted Stars, an absolutely smashing exhibit and tribute to the late great rock auteur.
And I should know, because I was dere, Charlie, a few weeks ago, for the show's official opening night party.
Among the attractions at the show, which runs till March 4th, is a listening room where (including other sonic assaults) you can hear excerpts from Metal Machine Music when it was a work in progress; explore a recreation of Reed collaborator Hal Willner's recording studio; and sample a DJ set of doo wop singles from Lou's record collection spun by Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye. The Library also now features a Reed research archive, i.e. a definitive collection of his lyrics, poetry, correspondence, hand-written notebooks, etc, which was donated by Lou's partner and main squeeze Laurie Anderson last year.
I should add that the opening night-- which was lavishly catered, i.e. with lots of free food and booze -- was the kind of fete that (back in the 70s) I attended, for professional reasons, pretty much five evenings a week. Which is to say that not only was the exhibition absolutely splendid, but as a social event it inspired a certain slack-jawed nostalgia in yours truly. Damn -- I was a really lucky bastard in my days at the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review.
I should also add that I once got to meet and shake hands with Lou at a party the magazine threw (I believe) in early 1973; it was one of our Record of the Year shebangs, and it was among the most awkward experiences of my life. Fortunately, there's a lovely capper to the story which perhaps I'll tell later this week.
In any case, for more info on the show, check out the NYPL's website OVER HERE.
From 1967, please enjoy The Hollies and (the b-side of "Carrie-Anne") their gorgeous (Clarke-Hicks-Nash penned) "Signs That Will Never Change."
The song itself first saw the light of vinyl in 1966, on The Everly BrothersTwo Yanks in England LP, on which the Bros were backed by The Hollies. But this rendition has some vaguely psychedelic touches that to my ears make it definitive. In any case, a genuine overlooked classic.
From their 1982 Album -- Generic Flipper, please enjoy the aforementioned Flipper and their toe-tapping classic "Sex Bomb Baby."
These guys made an idiosyncratic brand of punk rock that was simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. I must admit that I was kind of late to the party where they were concerned, but the first time I heard the song above I knew I would never be the same.
I should add that Flipper's 1993 masterpiece (American Grafishy) sported the greatest album title in history.
From early 1967, please enjoy Los Angeles country-folk-pop-garage-psychedelic band The Poor and their terrific minor hit single -- okay, it made the Top 40 in New York City, and I actually owned a copy of the 45 seen below when it came out -- "She's Got the Time (She's Got the Changes").
The short version: These guys were bassist Randy Meisner's band before he joined Poco (and later The Eagles), and they were managed by the guys who handled Buffalo Springfield. Also as you can hear and see...
...the song -- which is terrific -- was written by Tom Shipley, later of the duo responsible for "One Toke Over the Line." Okay, I've forgiven both of them.
I should add that the comp album above is one of the coolest artifacts of the just-pre-San Francisco rock era, and well worth checking out.
From late 1966, and the B-side to their deserved hit single "Hello, Hello," please enjoy the vastly underrated Sopwith Camel and "Treadin'," one of the great lost folk-rock records of all time. Sort of a cross between the original Byrds and middle-period Zombies.
Don't get me started on the Camel; those guys were historically important for being the first of the Fillmore era hippie San Francisco bands to score a hit single, and their album pictured above -- which didn't come out for a year or so after their breakthough success for reasons that have been murky ever since -- is an utter masterpiece. God knows it's vastly superior on every level to both the debut LPs by their contemporaries the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane.
I should add that it was produced, brilliantly, by Erik Jacobsen (who helmed the records of the Lovin' Spoonful, Norman Greenbaum and Chris Isaak) and that to the best of my knowledge "Treadin'" did not appear on any actual version of the Camel album back in the day, nor was it available in a stereo mix previously. Discovering this version has been one of the biggest surprises I've had since I woke up in 2016 and learned that a mediocre James Bond Villain had mysteriously become president of these United States.
From their eponymous 1985 debut album, please enjoy should-have-been-bigger LA band Lone Justice and their terrific -- written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell -- single "Ways to Be Wicked."
If memory serves I first became aware of these kids when they did the song above on Saturday Night Live; in any case, I remember flipping out over the album and raving about it in the pages of The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review. Haven't heard any of the rest of the record in years, but this one -- which I rediscovered last week -- holds up, I think.
Trivia Note: lead singer Maria McKee is the half sister of the late Bryan Maclean, the Brian Jones blonde look-alike in Arthur Lee's Love.
From 1965, please enjoy Brit popsters Unit Four plus Two (featuring future Argent drummer Bob Henrit) and their quite lovely Beatles/Beach Boys-esque take on the venerable pop hit "When I Fall In Love."
The song itself -- co-written written by celebrated film composer Victor Young -- was originally featured in a 1952 Robert Mitchum Cold War thriller, and has been covered innumerable times, including by Linda Ronstadt and Rick (It Was Ghastly) Astley.
The version above, however, was the B-side of the international hit "Concrete and Clay," and as a teenager I used to play it obsessively. I mean more than the A-side; it had a Dion and the Belmonts doo wop vibe that somehow connected with the pre-college me.
A lovely record, in any case, and nice to be re-acquainted with it after all these years.
From 1982, please enjoy first generation greaseballs The Capris -- of "There's a Moon Out Tonight" fame -- and their fabulous modern day doo wop cult hit "Morse Code of Love."
The short backstory:
As attentive readers are no doubt aware, I'm a sucker for doo wop. Apparently so were some people at Sony Music -- a couple of rock critics, if memory serves -- who ran, briefly, a low budget label subsidiary called Ambient Sound, which was devoted to doo wop old and and new.
In any event, I was vaguely aware of all this, but for some reason never bothered to listen to the stuff Ambient released when their vinyl crossed my desk at the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review. But then sometime in the late 80s I happened to hear "Morse Code of Love" for the first time on WCBS-FM (our local oldies radio station) while travellling home from a weekend long recording session in Delaware, and practically leapt out of the car in joy at the innocent gorgeousnesss of the song. And when I looked it up and found out that it was a actually a contemporary track, my little heart danced in ways I find difficult to describe.
Since then, I've binge-listened to it every couple of years, and last week I went nuts over it all over again. Hopefully, you guys will have the same reaction to it as I did.
Oh and BTW -- I should add that Manhattan Transfer did a drop dead great cover of it (billed as "Baby Come Back") that is the perfect capper to the saga, especially since it actually charted.
From just the other day, please enjoy everybody's favorite sisters from Liverpool (or wherever the hell they're from) doing a fabulous unplugged version of The Who's classic early single.
(Look at the bookshelf top right, BTW).
From Mona and Lisa:
"When tlhe legend himself, Pete Townshend, got in touch with us a few years ago, simply to write some encouraging words to us, it felt like a circle was closing and real life got elevated to some surreal fairy tale."
Sometime last year, I got an e-mail out of the blue from a lovely gentleman from Canada (specifically Quebec) previously unknown to me named Martin Tremblay. Turned out Martin ran an indie label -- Mean Bean -- which specialized in late 70s/early 80s power pop and punk reissues on vinyl. Martin -- god only knows how -- had heard of The Floor Models, asked me if I would like to contribute a track, and specifically asked for our "Enough's Enough," which is the song I would have picked myself. He had previously issued two volumes of this stuff, beautifully packaged -- liner notes about each band, an insert map poster showing where each band was based -- and, flattered beyond belief, I told him I was in (duh), and sent him a remastered version of our song.
In any case, the album was released earlier in the week -- as promised, a 12-inch LP like the good old days -- and it's absolutely fabulous on every level (love the cover, for example).
Anyway, here's a couple of representative tracks, beginning with the opener -- The Tearjerkers' Beach Boys-esque "Syracuse Summer" (bet you can't guess where those guys were from)...
...plus my favorite track (for obvious reasons) -- The Floor Models' "Enough's Enough," featuring yours truly on bass...
...and The Toasters' hard-rocking, melodic and funny "Stuck On You."
To my surprise, I had only previously heard of a couple of the bands on the record; here's the complete song and artist listing...
...and you can -- and should -- order the album at the link HERE.
Act now, because only 500 copies are gonna be available to the anxiously awaiting public, and when they're gone, they're gone baby gone.
And a tip of the Floor Models hat to Martin Tremblay, who made it all happen.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am so gassed about this release that I am leaving the blog post up for one more day. Regular new stuff resumes tomorrow.