Monday, July 10, 2017

Opal - "Happy Nightmare Baby" (LP Review)

Keith Mitchell, the drummer for Opal and Mazzy Star, died in May 2017.  While you've probably heard of Mazzy Star you might not have heard of their predecessor, Opal.  Coming from the California "Paisley Underground" psychedelic, jangle pop movement, Keith Mitchell, guitarist David Roback (formerly of Rain Parade) and bassist/vocalist Kendra Smith (formerly of Dream Syndicate) formed the band Clay Allison.  After releasing a 7" ("Fell from the Sun"), they renamed themselves Opal.  The Opal discography is pretty confusing: an EP as Clay Allison, an EP as Opal, the latter two collected as a posthumous LP, and a bootleg LP of unreleased tracks.  Most of these releases are out of print and can fetch big $ among collectors.

Their 1987 LP "Happy Nightmare Baby" was really their only contemporary, official release.  Unfortunately, it came during the slow motion wreckage of the once-mighty SST Records, and was not well-promoted.  Kendra Smith quit during the following tour, and David Roback recruited Hope Sandoval to replace her.  After continuing for a while as Opal, they changed their name to Mazzy Star and finally enjoyed the success they deserved.  I don't believe Mitchell ever shared any writing credits during his time in Opal or Mazzy Star (instead, Roback, Smith, and Sandoval were the primary writers), but he was with them since the beginning and his passing deserves to be recognized. 

My own story with this LP ties together several of the friends I regularly mention here.  It was either my college freshman (87/88) or sophomore year (88/89) and I was shopping at the Blacksburg Record Exchange, which was the "cool" record store.  While I was browsing the records, the song "Soul Giver" came on the store's sound system.  I was quickly mesmerized and I had to stop and go ask the clerks who was playing.  I left with a copy of "Happy Nightmare Baby".  In my later professional life I met Butch and learned that he used to work at the Record Exchange; if this was 1987 he might have even been working there that day.  I also bought Terry a copy of the LP for Christmas and on returning back home to Newport News for the holidays,  I went to Drew's house, where Terry was, and proclaimed to the many people there that I had an awesome new LP that they had to listen to immediately.  We did, and Terry was a big fan afterwards. 

The LP itself can be triangulated between The Doors, The Velvet Underground, and Black Sabbath.  The lineage to Mazzy Star is clear, although this LP lacks the quieter dream pop and alt-folk/country sounds that Mazzy Star would introduce.  This LP has several good tracks and a couple that, while not bad, don't quite work for me ("A Falling Star", "She's a Diamond").  But that doesn't matter -- even if the rest of the songs were bad, there's still "Soul Giver", which is as commanding now as the day I first heard it in the Record Exchange; in part because of the strong rhythm from Smith (now retired) and Mitchell (now deceased).  And much like I was bursting to share it with Terry, Drew, et al. some 30 years ago, I'm happy to share it with you now.

Standout songs: "Rocket Machine", "Magick Power", "Supernova", "Happy Nightmare Baby", "Soul Giver"

Skip 'em songs: none

Final Score: 8/10  -- "Happy Nightmare Baby" doesn't have accessible songs like "Halah" and "Fade Into You", so casual Mazzy Star fans won't care for it but it's necessary for serious collectors. 

Bonus link: a live version of "Soul Giver" (ca. 1988) with Hope Sandoval singing.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Soundgarden - "Rusty Cage" (the song remains the same)

Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell passed last month, which I have to think will mark the end of Soundgarden, and possibly leaving only Pearl Jam as the lone survivor of the grunge movement of the early 90s.   I first learned of Soundgarden from my friend Drew, who in 90 or 91 lent me a copy of "Louder Than Love".  I don't think I have any Soundgarden CDs in my collection now, but I used to have the "Singles" soundtrack and I guess that counts.

Although Nirvana is probably the first among equals for the Seattle sound, it's hard to convey the impact of Soundgarden in the 90s.  Let's put it like this: when it came time for Johnny Cash's comeback LP, 1996's "Unchained", Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" was one of the songs Cash covered.  Surely Rick Rubin had a big hand in the song selection, but it's hard to think of a higher honor than having Johnny Cash cover your song.

 "Rusty Cage" was the third single from Soundgarden's 1991 LP "Badmotorfinger" and while it's hardly their most popular song, it's the one Johnny Cash chose and so it's the one I choose to mark the death of Chris Cornell.

Soundgarden: "Rusty Cage"
Johnny Cash: "Rusty Cage"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sonic Youth - Paulínia, Brazil 2011-11-14 (concert)

I recently read Kim Gordon's excellent 2015 autobiography "Girl in a Band", which chronicles the rise and fall of Sonic Youth and Kim's relationship with SY co-founder, Thurston Moore.   I previously blogged about the Gordon / Moore split, and as much as I'm a Thurston Moore fan he does not come off as a sympathetic character in Kim's version of the story.

I can't help but compare this to Chrissie Hynde's biography, which I read immediately prior to "Girl in a Band".  While both are good, there are several reasons why I enjoyed Kim's book more.  First, under Kim's aloof, arms-length persona is a poignant and vulnerable storyteller, and under Chrissie's armored exterior, there's just another layer of armor.   At the end of both books, you know Kim far more than you know Chrissie.  Second, Sonic Youth's music means more to me personally, and Kim arranged a good portion of the book to temporally aligned with major releases in SY's extensive discography.  In addition to the broader SY story, I learned interesting trivia such as Kim's father was a professor at UCLA, her teenage boyfriend was Danny Elfman, her life briefly intersected with Bruce Berry, and her dislike of Billy Corgan is rivaled only by Danette's. 

The book began with a description of SY's last concert in Brazil (soon after the announcement of their split), esp. the scene captured above of Thurston's mock surprise when the tech hands him his guitar.  Kim stated that she had not been able to watch this concert because of the emotional entanglement it represents.  Of course, this only increased the voyeuristic appeal of my seeing SY's last concert, and  Kim definitely seems detached from the rest of the band.  Since I would assess the probability of a SY reunion at roughly 0.0, this last show from 2011 is all we're likely to have.

See the reviews of "Girl in a Band" from the NY Times, Slate, The Guardian, and Stereogum

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

LCD Soundsystem - "No Love Lost" (the song remains the same)

LCD Soundsystem's SNL performance last weekend reminded me that I had recently uncovered their 2007 cover of Joy Division's "No Love Lost".  To mark their 2007 tour, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem released a split 7" single to sell at concerts.  LCD Soundsystem's contribution was a cover of "No Love Lost", which first appeared on Joy Division's debut 1978 EP "An Ideal for Living".  My first exposure to the song was on their 1988 compilation LP "Substance", where this song captured my attention because it illustrates Joy Division's early, post-punk influence.  I've written earlier about Joy Division's influence on LCD Soundsystem, and this song is a nice tribute from James Murphy and company.

LCD Soundsystem - "No Love Lost"
Joy Division - "No Love Lost" (with footage from "Control") (live)

B-Side (?) Bonus links:
Arcade Fire - "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son" (2007 live)
France Gall - "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son"

Monday, May 1, 2017

System of a Down - "BYOB" (forgotten song)

A while back Herbert and I were talking about the lack of protest songs from the Second Gulf War.  Not protest songs from Vietnam-era artists (e.g., "Living With War") or from obscure artists, but protest from popular, contemporary artists with airplay on regular radio stations.  Part of the reason is surely a side-effect of the all-volunteer military: the burden is not shared across the general population and the conflict largely disappears from the public consciousness. 

One notable exception is System of a Down's "B.Y.O.B." which received a good bit of airplay on stations like FM99.  The song, from the 2005 LP Mezmerize, came out in the height of the Iraq War.  I'm really not even a "fan" of System of a Down, but 1) this song rawks, and 2) for blistering commentary, I'll put this up against any 60s folk-protest song.  With Trump spoiling for a fight with North Korea, sadly it's time to dust off "B.Y.O.B."  -- perhaps we can get SOAD to rewrite the references to "oil" and "desert" to be replaced with the frozen wastes of North Korea. 
Blast off! It's party time!
And we don't live in a fascist nation!
Blast off! It's party time!
And where the fuck are you?!

Where the fuck are you?
Where the fuck are you?

Why don't presidents fight the war?
Why do they always send the poor?
Why don't presidents fight the war?
Why do they always send the poor?
Why do they always send the poor?
Why do they always send the poor?
Why do they always send the poor?
System of a Down "B.Y.O.B."

Monday, April 24, 2017

J. Geils Band - "Love Stinks" (forgotten song)

John Geils, aka J. Geils of the J. Geils Band, died about two weeks ago.  And no, the guy you're thinking of is lead singer Peter Wolf; J. Geils was the guitarist.  Songs like "Centerfold", "Freeze-Frame" or the over-looked "Angel in Blue" would be obvious choices to mark his passing -- anyone who remembers the early days of MTV can attest to how huge all the singles were from their 1981 LP "Freeze Frame" (I recall Bill Glidden had both "Freeze Frame" and "Showtime!" on vinyl).  Or I could go all obscure fan-boy and choose something like "Must of Got Lost" from 1974.  But instead I'll take the middle road and choose 1980's "Love Stinks", the third single from the LP of the same name.  It was a pretty big hit for them (the 84th video MTV played), but it's mostly been bumped from rotation on classic rock stations by "Centerfold".  It's a fun song, with a lovably bad early 80s video, and the final, deciding factor in my choosing this song is the awesome, crunchy guitar riff from J. Geils...

J. Geils Band - "Love Stinks

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Pretenders - "Tattooed Love Boys" (forgotten song)

For my final installment for Women's History Month, I'm focusing on a song whose video got a fair amount of play in the early days of MTV (the 196th video they played), but I don't recall ever hearing it on the radio.  Even though it had its own video, "Tattooed Love Boys" was the B-side to The Pretenders' 1979 single "Kid", from their eponymous LP

"Tattooed Love Boys" is a fast-paced, gritty song with an unconventional structure (i.e., no real chorus).  In 1981 I didn't know what all the lyrics were or exactly what the song was about, but the song (and Chrissie) had my full attention. 

Fast forward some 36 (!) years and I'm reading Chrissie's autobiography "Reckless", only to discover that the lyric "Stop snivellin' / You're gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man" derives from "Shut up, or you’re going to make some plastic surgeon rich!", which was said to her while she was being gang-raped by bikers.  Chrissie faced significant backlash for this story and taking responsibility for the situation by acknowledging that she knowingly put herself into dangerous situations.

While I enjoyed reading "Reckless", Chrissie's detatched and obfuscated story-telling style made for a difficult read in which she recounts a lot and reveals little.   More importantly, I was aghast to learn that "Tattooed Love Boys", which had an outsized impact on my pre-teen sexuality, was based on a rape.  If I can't unread the book, can I least unread this chapter?

The Pretenders - "Tattooed Love Boys"

Bonus link:  The Pretenders - "Kid"