Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Connells - "Stone Cold Yesterday" (forgotten song)

Some time ago while discussing their excellent single "Scotty's Lament", I covered the situation with the majority of The Connells' back catalog being in legal limbo. I'm not sure we're any closer to a reissue, and although used copies can be reasonably had via places like Amazon, we'll just have to make do by revisiting one of their forgotten songs.

"Stone Cold Yesterday" is the opening track of their fourth LP, 1990's "One Simple Word". 1990 was an interesting time -- the jangle pop, college radio sound of the 80s about to fall out of favor; the spotlight would soon move from places like Athens, GA to Seattle, WA and "alternative" music was about to become mainstream. And although The Connells continued to release their brand of music for another decade (scoring another hit in 1993 with "74-75"), we can mark the passing of the 1980s college radio sound with this nostalgic song. A strong hook, jangly guitars, cryptic & sentimental lyrics -- it's like the 1980s never ended.

"Stone Cold Yesterday": YouTube (the sound quality is a little distorted, presumably from VHS transfer), Rhapsody.com.

P.S. Notice the "120 Minutes" logo near the beginning of the video? Stone cold yesterday indeed!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Negativland - "Guns" (LP Review)

"Guns" was the first Negativland release I bought. In retrospect, that was fortunate because this two song EP is one of their most accessible releases. It was released in 1992, replacing the withdrawn 1991 "U2" EP. The saga between Negativland vs. U2's label, Island Records, as well as Negativland vs. their own label, SST Records, is well documented and will not be rehashed here (see: "The Letter U and Numeral 2", "Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2" and "These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit"). The cover art of the "Guns" EP is clear nod to the then-current U2 situation.

"Guns" consists of two songs: "Then" and "Now". "Then" samples from 1950s-1960s icons of TV and film, humorously and critically examining the cultural status of firearms. "Now" is similar, but pulls from more recent sources. I could try to describe the songs further, but since they're available online it is easier to just listen. Due to their dispute with SST, Negativland makes the mp3s freely available from their web site even though SST still sells the EP. How many bands do you know that actually promote free mp3s over their CDs?

Peter Neville has created an excellent video for "Then", providing many of the TV & movie clips that correspond to the samples in the song.

Standout tracks: "Then" (Negativland.com, YouTube), "Now" (Negativland.com).

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final Score: 8/10. Not their most experimental release, but a good intro to their body of work. If this EP resonates with you, you should explore their other releases. If this is not to your liking... well, it pretty much gets weirder and noisier from here.

P.S. Terry went to a Negativland show in Norfolk (ca. late 1992) and got Mark Hosler to autograph my copy of "Guns". There are probably dozens of people (besides Terry and me) that think that's cool.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Order - "Ceremony" (the song remains the same)

In my review of New Order's first LP, Movement, I stated that I especially liked New Order's early, post-Joy Division sound. Of all the songs to come out of that era, "Ceremony" is my favorite. It was written while Joy Division was still active, but Ian Curtis died before JD could do a proper studio recording of it. Two JD versions of "Ceremony" exist: a badly recorded live version (which appears on 1981's posthumous collection "Still") and a rough rehearsal version (on the 1997 box set "Heart and Soul"). The JD versions are of interest only to collectors and hard-core fans and these versions are not recommended for those unfamiliar with the New Order version and subsequent covers.

New Order's first single and its B-side, "In A Lonely Place", were both songs originally written by Joy Division. NO itself released two versions of this "Ceremony": the March 1981 version, which has a more raw, heavy sound; and the September 1981 version, which has a cleaner sound and a slightly faster tempo. The September 1981 version also features Gillian Gilbert, recently promoted to a full member of the band. The September version is the one that appears on the 1987 compilation "Substance" while the March version was not reissued until the 2005 compilation "Singles".

Perhaps the most well-known cover version of this song is on Galaxie 500's second LP, "On Fire". Galaxie 500 was well known for their excellent choice of cover songs (in addition to writing excellent original material). For their treatment of "Ceremony", they slowed it down to the point where it sounds like Black Sabbath covering New Order. Galaxie 500 was an amazing band that never got the recognition they deserved.

Radiohead* also covered "Ceremony" in their 2007 "Thumbs Down" webcast (the full 2.5 hours of which has been uploaded to Google Videos). The do a lovingly sloppy, garage band version of the song (which is obviously not indicative of their studio sound).

New Order: March 1981 version, September 1981 version.

Joy Division: Live version, Rehearsal version (note: neither version has good sound quality).

Galaxie 500: Studio version, live version.

Radiohead: Thumbs Down Webcast version.

New Order B-Side Bonus Link for "In A Lonely Place": Original 7" version, 1981 Berlin live version, 1984 BBC Radio 1 version.




* = Despite all of Radiohead's accolades, they'll never be as good as Gooey.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fleetwod Mac - "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)" (the song remains the same)

"Now, when the day goes to sleep and the full moon looks..." If you know the next line, chances are good that you are a Judas Priest fan. If you're a knowledgeable Priest fan, you also know that "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)" is a cover of a 1970 Fleetwood Mac song. If you're more than a casual Fleetwood Mac fan, you know that FM released nine LPs prior to Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joining in 1975 and releasing the breakthrough LP "Fleetwood Mac".

A non-LP single, "The Green Manalishi" was the last song written by Fleetwood Mac founder, guitarist and vocalist Peter Green before leaving the band. The Green Manalishi can be a symbol for drugs, monetary greed, evil, or perhaps even Peter Green himself. Green was dealing with drug-induced schizophrenia at the time and the lyrics reflect this: they don't strictly make sense, but they do paint a picture that is menacing, paranoid and erotic.

The original version is nearly a heavy metal song (especially when compared to their Rumours-era sound), so it should not be a complete surprise that Judas Priest covered the song on their 1978 LP "Hell Bent for Leather" (the US title, the UK title was "Killing Machine"). Judas Priest did not become big in the US until after their 1980 LP "British Steel" (corresponding with the NWOBHM), so casual fans might not be familiar with the song. Interestingly enough Judas Priest, at the height of their popularity, did choose "The Green Manalishi" as one of the three songs for their Live Aid set in 1985.

The song has been covered by numerous (but mostly obscure) metal bands. The only one that deserves mention here is the cover by Corrosion of Conformity (COC) on their 1983 debut LP, "An Eye for an Eye". COC became more metal with each successive LP, but their first is strictly hardcore.

Fleetwood Mac: Studio version; Live version (note Christine McVie as one of the keyboard players; she went from session player to official member during this time); live 1970 (with Peter Green), live 1974 (with Bob Welch), live 1975 (with Lindsey Buckingham)

Judas Priest: Studio version; Live Aid version, 1982 live version (where it appears Rob Halford has gone off his meds, but good nonetheless)

COC: Live version (ca. 1983, with vocalist Eric Eycke, approximately 1:35 into the video).

Bonus Link: The B-side to the original FM 7", World in Harmony.