Wednesday, December 17, 2014

States - "My Latest Girl" (forgotten song)

Three years ago (!) I covered Norfolk's States and "Picture Me With You" as a forgotten song.  Today, on a whim, I played that song again and in the Youtube recommendations was a song called "My Latest Girl".  The title seemed vaguely familiar so I clicked on it and there it was -- a song I haven't heard in probably 30+ years.  I can't remember the room number of my office but I can remember a song title I haven't heard since middle school?!

This song is the first single of their 1979 debut LP "The States", and the sound is squarely in the late 70s / early 80s, Cars-influenced new wave genre.  I don't remember much about the song, but I assume this is another thing we can credit to the late Carol Taylor and her commitment to local music.  Of course at the time, to me it was just "music on the radio" and I didn't really understand the difference between local and national acts.

Anyone else remember this song from K94 and/or FM99 from back in the day?

States - "My Latest Girl"

Friday, December 5, 2014

Utopia - "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" (forgotten song)

I was watching college basketball the other night and after a commercial break ESPN was promoting "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" by Needtobreath.  My one word review for that: "yuck".  Or perhaps "blech".  Or "ZZZzzz".  Or "shit sandwich" (ok, that's two words...)

But it wasn't a total loss since the title was familiar and reminded me of a catchy chorus from the early MTV days.  A quick google search and I found the fun & quirky video for "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" that I had all but forgotten.  Turns out it is by Utopia, a Todd Rundgren-led band active primarily in the 70s & 80s (the song is a single from their self-titled 1982 LP).  I didn't remember any of that (and in 1982 I probably didn't really know who Todd Rundgren was), but I recall the video and the song's strong hook.

Anyone else recall this video?

Utopia - "Feet Don't Fail Me Now"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jimmy Ruffin - "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" (forgotten song)

Jimmy Ruffin, brother of David Ruffin (of The Temptations) & best known for his 1966 single "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?", died this week.  Although Motown is not discussed much on F-measure (what could I possibly add to what has already been said?), this might be my favorite Motown song (remember: "(You) Got What I Need" is not a Motown song).  I've labeled this a "forgotten song", and although that's not entirely true it is eclipsed by many other Motown songs.

Apparently St. Paul & The Broken Bones haven't covered this song -- they need to fix that. 

Jimmy Ruffin - "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?": studio version, 1975 live TV version

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Waxahatchee - "American Weekend" (LP Review)

"Crave, desolate, you dive in, we follow along.
I contrive you with whiskey and Sam Cooke songs
and we lay on our backs, soaking wet
below a static TV set.
Conversation flows, counting shooting stars and catfish,
but I'll never make a wish."

After I don't know how many listens, I still get chills from the opening lines to "Catfish", the first song on Waxahatchee's debut LP "American Weekend".  I did not discover Waxahatchee until the release of the release of "Cerulean Salt" a year later, and then made my way back to "American Weekend".  All the hipsters know the story by now, but here's the short version in case you don't: twins Katie & Allison Crutchfield were in the cleverly named (but terminally underground) band P.S. Eliot.  When they broke up in 2011, Allison formed Swearin', and Katie recorded as Waxahatchee during an extended retreat to her parent's lake house on Waxahatchee Creek, essentially off the grid and far away from everything. 

The result is an intimate, confessional, lo-fi masterpiece.  I  know I've overused the reference to Liz Phair's "Girlysound" tapes, but in this case the reference is unavoidable (and I'm not the only one, see this Pitchfork review).  (I suppose I could also compare it to the "Texas Campfire Tapes", but those references have gone out of style now that Michelle Shocked is a self-hating traitor.)  I know the idea of a solo, acoustic, coffee house, autobiographical, neo-hippie, female folk singer is a 3rd stage Lilith Fair cliche, but trust me: Katie's different.  There is a unpretentious, wrenching, earnest, piercing sincerity that transcends the sparse, almost harsh recording.  Where Liz channeled a battle-of-the-sexes anger borrowed from early Pat Benatar, the villain in Katie's songs is Katie: paralyzed with self-doubt and a millennial-flavored self-absorption.  Despite this, and the fact that I'm nearly old enough to be her father, the music connects with me, in part because Katie's provided a universal soundtrack for awkward, early 20s relationships (e.g., I'd like to imagine a particular college relationship-but-not-quite-girlfriend addressing me in the manner of "Bathtub" and "Grass Stain").

But it's not just romantic relationships that are the subject of Katie's songs.  "Rose, 1956" is her attempt to fathom the difference in her reality and that of her grandmother (?):
Sharp hangover, it is Christmas Eve.
It fades and evaporates passing the trains and lakes and trees.
Your breaths are short and urgent and it is unsettling.
Cause you got married when you were 15, 15.

Now I hide out from telephone wires at Waxahatchee Creek.
Your body, weak from smoke and tar and subsequent disease.
You got married when you were 15, 15.
More insight about Katie and Waxahatchee can be found in this interview with Pitchfork.  I can say more about this LP, but then it would be more about me and less about Katie/Waxahatchee.

Since there are no bad song on the LP and quite a few live versions on the web, I'm changing the format a bit:

Standout songs:
Final score: 9/10.  I reserve the right to adjust this upwards in the future.

And to close out the review, here are the closing lyrics to "Catfish".  As Danette pointed out, all of the songs "sweat" with subtle Southern cultural references.  Although not really the point of this song, it provides color in a way that only those familiar with sticky, Southern nights can appreciate:
We stick to our slow motion memory.
It's 1 in the morning and 90 degrees
and though now it is hovering darkly over me,
it'll look just like heaven when I get up and leave.
You're a ghost
and I can't breathe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Blackstreet - "No Diggity" (the song remains the same)

This post is for Danette, who absolutely loves the song "No Diggity" from Blackstreet's 1996 LP "Another Level".  I'm not going to save it for a birthday post for her for obvious reasons: the song is about a guy in love with a prostitute because of her technical proficiency and voracity*. 

I was reminded of this song recently when I heard the 2012 cover by Chet Faker from his EP "Thinking in Textures".  I'm pretty sure I had seen the Ed Sheeran version before, but that doesn't come close to the smooth, downtempo version that Faker turns in.  The Faker version also has some interesting percussion towards the end, with the drums emulating the piano (?) sample from the original. 

Blackstreet - "No Diggity"
Chet Faker - "No Diggity" (live version)
Ed Sheeran - "No Diggity"
and for completeness #1: "Pitch Perfect" - "No Diggity"
completeness #2: Bill Withers - "Grandma's Hands" (which Blackstreet sampled for "No Diggity")

* If you read the lyrics I guess it is just a coarser version of The Police's "Roxanne".  Yet I can't help but think about the Chris Rock routine "I Love Rap Music" -- "He Ain't Talking About Me!" (video).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ani DiFranco - "32 Flavors" (forgotten song)

Another song for Danette's birthday!  I first heard "32 Flavors" in early 1998 when Alana Davis released it as her first single off her first LP.  It was a good song and received a good bit of radio airplay, but I soon learned it was originally released by Ani DiFranco, off her 1995 LP.  And although Alana turned in a nice, shorter, radio-friendly version, it does not approach the depth and richness of the original. 

Early 1998 was right before Danette and I got together, and I had a number of significant life decisions to make.  And although Danette never said anything like this to me at the time, I imagined that she did and that's nearly the same thing:
Squint your eyes and look closer
I'm not between you and your ambition
I am a poster girl with no poster
I am thirty-two flavors and then some
And I'm beyond your peripheral vision
So you might want to turn your head
Cause someday you're going to get hungry
And eat most of the words you just said
And after 16+ years, I can say 32 is a significant underestimate.  

Ani DiFranco - "32 Flavors" (studio), "32 Flavors" (live)
Alana Davis - "32 Flavors"

Previous birthday songs:

2013: The Green Pajamas - "Kim the Waitress"
2012: The Cure - "High"
2011: Blink 182 - "Josie"
2010:  Dead Milkmen - "Punk Rock Girl"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Let's Active - "Every Word Means No" (forgotten song)

This installment of "forgotten songs" comes from our friend Hillary, who while at dinner with Danette last week mentioned being a fan of Winston-Salem's Let's Active back in the day.  Danette had never heard of them and I only knew that there was a band by that name (probably via Terry). 

I did some poking around and their first real song was "Every Word Means No", from their 1983 EP "Afoot".  The song sounds vaguely familiar, but I'm not sure if I actually remember it or if, sounding like a cross between R.E.M. and The Connells,  it is just representative of the early- to mid-80s college sound.  The connection with R.E.M. is not accidental -- guitarist and vocalist Mitch Easter produced the first two R.E.M. LPs (as well as other bands) for I.R.S. Records.

This is the kind of band that fleshes out a musical scene, even if they are overshadowed by the scene's more central bands.  So is it new, overlooked, or simply forgotten?  In the car collecting world, we'd call this "new old stock".  Enjoy like its 1983.

Let's Active -- "Every Word Means No"

Edit: After poking around some more, I'm pretty sure I remember their 1989 song "Every Dog Has His Day", even though I could not have told you it was by Let's Active.  Regardless, "Every Word Means No" is a better song.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Specials - "Rock Goes to College (1979)" (concert)

A couple of weeks ago, Mat and I were driving back from DC and searching for common interests on the ipod.  Enter The Specials.   We made it through their first two LPs, both of which I plan to review some day.  In the interim, I found this great concert footage recorded in late 1979 and aired in early 1980.

Apparently the BBC (and NPR-types like myself just love the BBC) had a four year series (1978-1981) called "Rock Goes To College", where up and coming bands played at college venues in the UK.  Few of these concerts are available in any format now (cf. the Pink Floyd 1970 KQED concert), but fortunately The Specials concert exists on YouTube. 

The concert is early in their career, drawing from their first LPEP, and single.  The track list:
  • (Dawning of a) New Era
  • Do the Dog
  • Monkey Man
  • Rat Race
  • Blank Expression
  • Rude Boys Outta Jail
  • Doesn't Make it Alright
  • Concrete Jungle
  • Too Much Too Young
  • Guns of Navarone
  • Nite Klub
  • Gangsters
  • Longshot Kick de Bucket
  • Madness
  • You're Wondering Now

This is a fun 1979 time capsule from a great band (check out audience on stage at the end).  And in an interesting cross over with the archival aspect of my professional career, if you study all the other episodes that were broadcast you'll be hoping they surface some time too.  Hey BBC, open up your archives!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

St. Paul & The Broken Bones - Live KEXP 2014-04-19 (concert)

Breaking with the metal theme of the last few posts but staying with the NPR theme of the previous post, today I feature St. Paul & The Broken Bones.  The easiest way to explain the sound of SP&TBB is that the ghosts of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, and the rest of the Stax Records back catalog have found new life, new shoes, and moved from Memphis TN to Birmingham AL. 

I suppose a critic could say they're derivative, but I think it would be more fair to say they're celebrating an established genre.  I mean, Otis died before these guys were born, and I welcome new artists revisiting classic sounds. 

I learned of them a few months ago on NPR's Morning Edition.  That NPR did a feature on these guys should surprise no one.  Joy hooked us up with their debut LP "Half The City" but until I find the time for a proper review, this four song live in the studio set will have to suffice.

BTW  -- The KEXP Youtube channel is simply amazing; tons of good stuff there.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Horseback - "Live at Nightlights 2011-11" (concert)

I came to know about Chapel Hill's Horseback by way of Butch at Squealer Music.  Last week he gave me a pointer about alt-country Mount Moriah (great stuff), and apparently the guitarist, Jenks Miller, also plays in Horseback, a sort of Crazy-Horse-plays-drone-metal band.  I thought I was posting something new and edgy but apparently NPR covered them over two years ago, so once again I'm less than timely.

I've listened to some of their studio material online, but I have to say I like this short concert better (I'm pretty sure there are just two songs).  The music is quite heavy, mostly instrumental, and the cookie monster vocals are further back in the mix and thus less distracting.  The end result sounds more like a 32 minute metal version of "Careful With That Axe Eugene".

I haven't decided whether or not to pick up one of their studio releases, but this nicely edited video is worth checking out.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Motorhead - "Ace of Spades" (spotlight)

Let's keep the Motorhead theme going... Rik Mayall died just over a month ago.  Rik, of course, played "Rick" on The Young Ones.  I'm not even going to attempt to explain The Young Ones, other than to say it was one of the many BBC shows that PBS and MTV imported in the mid-80s that were a breath of fresh air to teenagers, like myself, marooned in an otherwise dull suburbia.

I remember, like it was yesterday, being at Terry's house sometime in high school when this episode came on and Mike looked at the camera and simply said "Music!"  I was already a Motorhead fan, and "Ace of Spades" is probably their most enduring song, but The Young Ones version is especially fun.

Ace of Spades: The Young Ones version, official video

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Motorhead - "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." (spotlight)

Tommy Ramone, the last of the original Ramones, died yesterday.  Tommy was originally their manager & producer but drummed on the first three LPs because they couldn't find anyone else. That is the very essence of punk.   I've only reviewed the Ramones once so far, but that has been more of an oversight rather than a conscious decision because their impact and influence cannot be easily overstated.  I remember when Danette and I first learned that Joey Ramone died in 2001 (we were still in Chapel Hill), followed quickly by Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004).

How influential were the Ramones?  So influential that Motorhead wrote a tribute song for them, "R.A.M.O.N.E.S.", which appears on their 1991 LP "1916":
New York City, N.Y.C.,
Pretty mean when it wants to be,
Black leather, knee-hole pants,
Can't play no high school dance,
Fuzz tone, hear 'em go,
Hear 'em on the radio,

Misfits, twilight zone,

Bad boy rock, bad boy roll,
Gabba gabba, see them go,
C.J. now hit the gas,
Hear Marky kick some ass,
Go Johnny, go, go, go
Go Tommy o-way-o,

Bad boys then, bad boys now,
Good buddies, mau-mau-mau
Keep it up, rock'n'roll,
Good music save your soul,
Dee Dee, he left home,
Joey call me on the phone.
If Motorhead namechecks you... well, I'm hard pressed to think of a higher honor. 

Motorhead: "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." (live), studio
Ramones + Lemmy: "R.A.M.O.N.E.S" (live)
Ramones: "R.A.M.O.N.E.S" (studio)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

We Were Promised Jetpacks - "Live in Nashville, 2012-03-29" (concert)

Following on from the previous review of "These Four Walls", I wanted to share this excellent hour-long concert video of We Were Promised Jetpacks.  There is no shortage of live videos of WWPJ on Youtube, but I especially like this one camera shoot of their March 29, 2012 show in Nashville.  With only minimal panning or zooming, it nicely complements the "jeans & t-shirt" lo-fi sound of the band. 

The band itself is in fine form, reworking many of the songs with a different sound from the LP versions while still sounding crisp.  For example, they offer a completely different and extended version of "A Half Built House", this time serving as an intro to "Keeping Warm" (starting at about 17:10).  There is even a nice bit of (nearly) a capella singing at about 38:10 (I'm not sure of the song (edit: it's "Sore Thumb" from "In the Pit of the Stomach").

Thanks to palabra17 and exitin for sharing this.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

We Were Promised Jetpacks - "These Four Walls" (LP Review)

I wish I had a better story of my discovery of We Were Promised Jetpacks...  Perhaps a recommendation from one of my well-connected friends (Butch, Terry, Herbert, Johan, Joy, Scott, etc.), or hearing them at a small club while on travel, or some connection to The Cribs, or something equally cool.  Instead, I first heard them in the soundtrack of "Hall Pass", which featured the song "Quiet Little Voices" as the otherwise bland film's most memorable moment.  From the little snippet of lyrics I heard ("I'm young again..."), it took me a while to determine the artist and song, but afterwards I quickly sampled some of their other music and then ordered their debut 2009 LP "These Four Walls".

I haven't been disappointed.  WWPJ works the Pixies loud-soft-loud formula to perfection, and their Scottish burr makes it sound all the better (e.g., "beh-her star-ah naow" --> "better start now").  I think there is a rule that all reviews of WWPJ must compare them to fellow Scotts & label mates "Frightened Rabbit" (e.g., the Allmusic review).  I realize I discovered WWPJ first, but after several listenings of "The Midnight Organ Fight", I can say WWPJ rawks much harder than FR.  In fact, that might be what I like best about this LP: this is basically a metal LP for grown ups.  And I don't mean that in an alt-metal, later Queensryche Pink-Floyd-wannabe kind of way, but rather in a more Pixies or Weezer kind of way, but without the wry humor.  For example, when Frank Black sings "Got me a movie / I want you to know/ Slicin' up eyeballs / I want you to know", its playful and mischievous.  But it is just disturbing when Adam Thompson sings:
Somethings happened in the attic,  
There's no way I am going up there,                                                                    
Somethings happened in the attic,                                                                      
We both know I'm not going up there,                                                                   
Somethings happened in the attic,                                                                      
This is my house, This is my home 
Lyrically, many of the songs have a creepy ambiguity between the victim and antagonist.  Musically, it is more like metal (albeit with a melodic pop sensibility), with an almost martial, heavily structured and almost formal progression from segment to segment.  Listen to "It's Thunder and It's Lightning" and how the tension builds from 1:20-3:10 on the way to the chorus.  That's not how punk songs are structured (the Pixies would never take two minutes to reach their destination); that's pure metal.  Weezer occasionally does that with songs like "Only In Dreams". 

I suppose an unkind review could say WWPJ has just written the same song 11 times.  Sure, there is a formula here but who cares when the formula is this good.

Standout songs: "It's Thunder and It's Lightning" (live), "Ships With Holes Will Sink" (live), "A Half Built House" / "This Is My House, This Is My Home" (live), "Quiet Little Voices" (live), "Short Bursts" (live), "Keeping Warm" (live)

Skip 'em songs: none

Final score: 9/10.  I considered giving it an "8", but the best songs just don't wear out.  

Bonus link: KEXP has a link to an MP3 of "Quiet Little Voices" (this is either the EP version or a live version, I'm not sure).

Gratuitous "OK Computer" link: In my book, "A Half-Built House" sounds like the guitar version of "Fitter Happier". 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Camera Obscura - "My Maudlin Career" (LP Review)

My fascination with Camera Obscura continues; they're still perhaps the biggest cult band that you've never heard of.  2009 saw the release of their fourth studio LP, "My Maudlin Career".  I have to confess that I was disappointed at first, especially considering how much I loved their prior LP "Let's Get Out Of This Country".  The lead single and the LP's opening song, "French Navy", might be their strongest song ever, but after that the LP treads water.  While none of the songs are bad -- some are even quite good -- it just doesn't come together as well as their prior LPs even though all the standard Camera Obscura motifs are present.

Having said that, Camera Obscura treading water is still better than most bands and after repeated listening my opinion of this LP has improved.  In prior reviews I've struggled to describe their sound with terms like "NPR indie rock" and "pop songs for adults", so I won't try further here.  Even though it might be their weakest LP to date, it should still be in your collection.

Standout songs: "French Navy" (if you listen to only one Camera Obscura song in your life, make it "French Navy"), "Sweetest Thing", "Swans", "James", "My Maudlin Career", "Honey in the Sun"

Skip 'em songs: none

Final rating: 7/10.  On a good day I'd give it an 8/10, but I sure would like at least one more song with a hook as strong as "French Navy". 

Bonus live links (incomplete, there are many more):

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ultravox - "Vienna" (forgotten song)

I helped Danette pick up a rental car yesterday and it had satellite radio (her favorite car feature and one we don't have on our daily drivers).  As I bounced around the stations, Ultravox's 1981 single "Vienna", the title track from their 1980 LP, came on 1st wave which is one of our favorite satellite radio stations because it features alternative 80s songs.

I have only the vaguest memory of "Vienna" from the early MTV period and I'm almost certain it did not receive radio airplay.  I can't remember the last time I heard this song -- it must have been 30+ years.  It sounds just a bit dated (sort of a synth pop version of Joy Division's "Atmosphere"), but altogether has held up surprisingly well.  I don't really know that much about Ultravox other than 1) they exist and 2) their European success never really crossed over to the US like their contemporaries such as The Furs and Modern English.

"This means nothing to me..."

Ultravox - "Vienna" (studio, live)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Queen & David Bowie - "Under Pressure" (the song remains the same)

With arguably the world's most recognizable bass line (somewhat unfortunately), the 1981 David Bowie & Queen collaboration "Under Pressure" might be my personal favorite song from Queen or David Bowie.  Although I respect both, I've never been a huge fan of either, and on this song I think the balance each other out and the result works, musically and lyrically.  Even the video was a welcome break from de rigueur  lip synced, faux-concert videos of the time.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this 2011 version by The Cribs, live in the studio.  To the best of my knowledge, it isn't on any of their official releases and is just a knockabout version they did for a music web site.  There is no shortage of cover versions of this song, but it does seem like a bit of a departure for The Cribs, who favor more obscure covers by cult bands like The Replacements, The Kaiser Chiefs, Comet Gain, etc.

Queen & David Bowie: "Under Pressure" (a cappella version)
The Cribs: "Under Pressure"

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Times New Viking - "Dancer Equired!" (LP Review)

Underneath all the lo-fi fuzz, Times New Viking provides surprisingly strong pop songs.  Their 2011 LP, "Dancer Equired!", is the only release of theirs I have, but apparently they experienced some backlash for it being "too polished" compared to their earlier works (for example, the Pitchfork review starts with "There were whispers that this might happen...").  Most of the reviews I've read compare their sound to Guided By Voices, but I'm only a little familiar with them.  To me, TNV are evocative of the Beat Happening / K Records sound.  Or perhaps the aural equivalent of Kevin Smith's "Clerks".

Regardless, their fuzzy & purposefully slightly out of tune sound is endearing, fun, and addictive.  On songs like "Ever Falling In Love", you ask yourself "is it polyphony or are Jared Phillips and Beth Murphy singing two completely different songs?"  I guess the former since it all works beautifully.  There are no bad moments, but the last five tracks (starting with "Don't Go to Liverpool") close out the LP in especially fine form. 

Standout songs: "It’s a Culture" (live), "Ever Falling in Love", "No Room to Live" (live), "Try Harder", "Don't Go To Liverpool" (alternate video), "Fuck Her Tears", "Want to Exist", "Somebody’s Slave", "No Good"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10

Bonus links: LP Trailer from Merge Records, and a short 2012 documentary from Pitchfork called "Do Not Do It Yourself"

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wire - "On The Box: 1979" (concert)

This gem comes from Herbert who tweeted about a week ago "whatever your indie band does, [Wire] did it first".  Prior to this tweet, I wasn't really familiar with Wire -- I knew that a band of that name existed, and I have some of their stuff on remix LPs, but that's not really representative of their sound.  Apparently they've been active off and on since 1976, as well as being quite influential if not exactly popular.  Unlike some of their contemporaries (e.g., The Clash, The Jam, The Cure) I don't think they ever made it in the US onto radio, MTV, etc.  Maybe they should have been "The Wire" instead of just "Wire".

Herbert's tweet included this 1979 concert for the German TV show "Rockpalast", which Wire released in 2004 as "On The Box: 1979", a joint CD/DVD.  Despite having the standard issue awkward, subdued TV audience, this is actually quite a nice time capsule of a band I was mostly unaware of.  A track listing is available, but trust me: you probably haven't heard any of these songs.

I'm not really familiar enough with the band to rate this, so I'll just link to the Pitchfork review.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

GWAR - "Phallus in Wonderland" (spotlight)

Dave Brockie, aka "Oderus Urungus", a founding member of Gwar died this week in Richmond.

What can I say about Gwar?  Other than it is possibly short for "Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh".  With Gwar, you either get the joke or you don't; Gwar is equal parts band, performance art, long-running (~30 years) inside-joke, and social commentary.  It's like they combined KISS, Gallagher, This Is Spinal Tap, grindhouse, and He-Man and the Masters of The Universe and decided "that's a good start, but what would happen if we took it to 11?" 

Terry first introduced me to Gwar.  He was pretty plugged into the VA music scene during the 90s and I'm pretty sure he's visited Gwar's headquarters, The Slave Pit, in Richmond where they made their costumes, filmed their videos, held GWAR-B-Qs, etc.  I was always simultaneously proud that something as odd as Gwar would come from VA, and sad that VA is such a religiously conformist environment that it would effectively create a backlash like Gwar.

IIRC, Terry told me that Gwar was advanced a small amount of $ to make a music video but instead they made an hour long movie.  That would be 1992's "Phallus in Wonderland", which is now out of print and Terry's copy is probably worth a good bit. The plot: the "Morality Squad" steals Oderus's "Cuttlefish of Cthulu" and Gwar creates the T-Rex "Gor-Gor" to get it back.  I'd say it makes sense in context but, again, you either get the joke or you don't:

I never saw Gwar live, although we occasionally had a chance when they played at the Norva.  I hope they continue, but the future of Gwar is still up in the air.  They play in costume, but knowing that Dave Brockie isn't there would somehow lessen the experience. 

Don't have time for the full movie?  At the 21 minute mark is "Have you seen me?", their "tribute" to missing children on milk cartons.  If you can make it through that, you'll enjoy the rest of their canon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mission of Burma - "Signals, Calls, and Marches" (LP Review)

For my 200th post on F-Measure, I'm covering something simultaneously new, old, and timeless.  One of the pleasant finds from my recent reading of "Our Band Could Be Your Life" was Boston's Mission of Burma.  I have a vague memory of Terry talking about them while we were in college, and I knew a band by that name existed, but I don't remember actually listening to them at the time.  Part of the problem is they essentially broke up in 1983 after two landmark releases, a result of guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus.  They reformed in 2002, but had largely missed out on the scene they so heavily influenced.  In doing so, they nicely illustrate the difference between "popular" and "influential".  Example: Pearl Jam's 1993's LP "Vs." is named in honor to Mission of Burma's 1982 LP "Vs.". 

As influential as "Vs." was, my personal favorite is their 1981 debut EP "Signals, Calls, and Marches".  Keep in mind that I discovered it some 30 years after its debut, but it still sounds fresh and relevant today.  It occupies the transitional space between early 80s "punk" and "college alternative" in a way that contemporaries like Sonic Youth, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and other candidates simply don't.  Part of it is their strong song writing (with hooks!), without compromising their heaviness and anger, and intelligent lyrics.  Another dimension is member Martin Swope, credited as "tape manipulator/sound engineer", who used techniques you'd associate more with early 70s Pink Floyd to add a rich but subtle extra dimension to an otherwise sparse, angular punk sound.

So while this is over 30 years old, I just "discovered" it within the last year.   Give it a listen: it will sound both new and familiar.

Standout songs: "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", "Fame and Fortune", "This Is Not a Photograph", "All World Cowboy Romance", "Academy Fight Song"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 9/10 

Bonus link: the entire, original six song EP

Bonus links to covers: Moby - "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", R.E.M. - "Academy Fight Song".  While: 1) I have much respect for both Moby and R.E.M., and 2) I love covers... -- let's just say these versions underscore how good the originals are.

Note: my copy of the CD is the 1997 Ryko re-release which adds their 1980 7" single "Academy Fight Song" to the end of the original EP, so that's what I review here. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Neil Young and Devo - "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" (forgotten song)

 Bob Casale, or "Bob 2", of Devo died this week.  Devo unfairly gets labeled a one hit wonder because of the success of 1980's "Whip It", but they actually had a surprising number of minor hits on MTV and even radio, including: their cover of "Satisfaction", "Freedom of Choice", "Through Being Cool", "Love Without Anger", "Girl U Want", and "Peek-A-Boo".  The fact that they were popular at all is nothing short of amazing, since the band itself is a mix of a long-running joke (see also: "Church of the SubGenius"), discordant anti-music, and biting social commentary

But arguably their weirdest video is one that you probably haven't seen...  "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" is a Neil Young song from his classic 1979 LP "Rust Never Sleeps", and one you still here on classic rock radio.  What you probably don't know is that the first version was recorded in 1978, with Devo, for Neil Young's movie "Human Highway", that wasn't released until 1982.  Mark Mothersbaugh, in his Booji Boy persona, sings the lead vocals.  Bob 2 is one of the guitarists (I'm not sure which one) behind Neil in the picture above.

To the best of my knowledge, this version is not available outside of the movie itself.  There's so much that can be said about Devo, but I'll mark the passing of Bob 2 by acknowledging their role in reinvigorating Neil Young in the late 70s.

Devo & Neil Young: "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)"

Edit:  Apologies for missing the passing of drummer Alan Myers in 2013.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Stevie Wonder - "Higher Ground" (forgotten song)

The Super Bowl was last weekend, and the half time show was Bruno Mars with The Red Hot Chili Peppers guesting.  Bruno Mars did a fine job, but...  he's not really my thing.  I doubt Bruno is losing any sleep over this since, being old enough to rent a car,  I'm not his target demographic.  I also suppose that's why the Chili Peppers were brought in for a guest spot.

Sadly, they only did one song, "Give It Away", and while that is certainly their most popular song, I was hoping that Stevie Wonder would be a surprise guest...

When I recently said that "Singles -- 45s and Under" was standard issue in college, well the Chili Pepper's 1989 LP "Mother's Milk" might have been #2 on the list.  The first single from that LP, and the song that really made them popular, was a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground", which first appeared on his 1973 LP "Innervisions". 

And even if Stevie couldn't make the Super Bowl (note that he's been at the recent Grammys and the Beatle's Tribute concert), including Stevie Wonder via a cover would have better united Bruno Mars and the Chili Peppers.  In summary, not a bad half time show (although ending on a ballad was anti-climatic) but omitting "Higher Ground" felt like a missed opportunity. 

Stevie Wonder - "Higher Ground", live 1974
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Higher Ground"

P.S.  Flea has admitted that, like the Broncos, they didn't really play.

The Beatles - "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (spotlight)

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan show, which basically introduced the band to the US, with approximately 1/3 of the US population watching, a cultural hegemony probably not even possible in today's fractured media market.  Tomorrow, CBS will air a tribute concert in honor of The Ed Sullivan appearance. 

I've mostly ignored The Beatles on this blog, mostly because what could I possibly say that hasn't been said before?  They assimilated the various influences that preceded them, greatly expanded them, and their results have so defined popular music that their music sounds effectively timeless. 

So I thought I had an original thought about The Beatles, but a quick google search suggests otherwise.  Regardless, I'll state it here and you'll have to take my word that I came up with this independently...

I've written about shoegazing many times on this blog, including bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, whose 1991 LP "Loveless" I consider one of the best LPs of all time.   My claim is that the entire genre of shoegazing is in pursuit of the last 3 minutes of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", from The Beatles 1969 LP "Abbey Road".  As far as I know, the sound for this song (or more accurately, the last 3 minutes) is totally unique within The Beatles' canon.  That's cultural impact: the last 3 minutes of one, of over 200 songs you've recorded, spawns an entire musical genre.  Listen to "Some Velvet Morning" or "Come In Alone" and tell me I'm wrong. 

"I Want You (She's So Heavy)", (shortcut to the last 3 minutes)

Edit: After reading this, Danette reminded me (although I had not forgotten) that she doesn't like "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".  Needless to say, she doesn't like shoegazing either. 

The Everly Brothers - "Cathy's Clown" (spotlight)

I'm just over a month late, but I wanted to acknowledge the passing of Phil Everly, one-half of The Everly Brothers.  If you're tracing the history of rock and roll, the line between Elvis Presley (the rockabilly sound) and The Beatles (and their early vocal harmonies) passes through The Everly Brothers.  Since their distinctive vocals yielded 26 Top 40 singles in their career, you can't really claim that they were overlooked, but they are certainly overshadowed now by Elvis and The Beatles. 

During their career they made famous songs written by others (e.g., "Wake Up Little Susie") as well as writing songs that others would successfully cover (e.g., "When Will I Be Loved"), but my favorite is probably their 1960 hit "Cathy's Clown", which: they wrote themselves, was never popularized by others, and had a direct influence on The Beatles

"Cathy's Clown":  TV July 9th, 1960, UK TV 1961 (backed by The Crickets)
In both videos Phil is on the left; also Don sings the lead and Phil sings on the harmonies / chorus.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Peter Seeger - "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)" (spotlight)

Peter Seeger died yesterday, with the New York Times running a nice piece about his legacy and impact (which I won't try to rehash here).  I can't say that I'm directly a big fan of his music;  I don't dislike him or his music* but I also don't own any of his 100+ LPs.   However, I do realize he greatly influenced artists that I am a big fan of, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others.

But here's where I have to admit that I either didn't know or forgot that Seeger originally wrote/arranged "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)", made famous by The Byrds in 1965 and still heard on classic rock radio today.  Sure, I knew about Ecclesiastes, but I guess I just assumed it was arranged by Roger McQuinn.  There are innumerable covers of this song, but the words "turn turn turn" make me hear McQuinn's jangly 12 string...

Peter Seeger - "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
The Byrds - "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

* OK, that's a small lie.  I really don't like "If I Had A Hammer"...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Squeeze - "Up The Junction" (forgotten song)

"Up The Junction", from the 1979 LP "Cool For Cats", is probably my favorite Squeeze song, but up until yesterday I had never actually googled the phrase.  I was surprised to learn that "Up The Junction" is a 1963 collection of short stories describing dead-end, working class life in Battersea, where the railway station Clapham Junction is located.  It was also adapted as a play in 1965, as well as a film in 1968.  These would have been well-known cultural references in 1979 in the UK.  Presumably the rather bleak story ("The devil came and took me / from bar to street to bookie") told in the song is taken from the book, but I don't know for sure.

I don't recall Squeeze being famous in the US until a few years later, with songs like "Tempted" and "Black Coffee in Bed", but the compilation LP "Singles -- 45s and Under" was standard issue in every dorm room during my college years.  But somehow I waited until 2014 to learn the full context of this song...

Squeeze - "Up The Junction": official video, Top of the Pops, live version (20xx?), re-recorded 2010 version

Bonus link: 1965 BBC play

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Camera Obscura - "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" (LP Review)

Several years ago I rated Camera Obscura's "Let's Get Out of This Country" a perfect 10, and the perfection of that LP overshadowed the two previous LPs (I didn't discover the band until 2009).  Now that I've had some time to reflect on it, I have to say their 2001 debut LP "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" is awfully good in its own right.  Not as good as LGOOTC but still pretty good, and as I've said before: the iTunes play counts don't lie.

This LP doesn't offer the same variety of musical styles that LGOOTC presented, but they completely lock down the genre of "pop music for adults"*.  I think there is a rule that any discussion of Camera Obscura has to mention fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian.  While I recognize that Belle & Sebastian were first in this genre, but for my money Camera Obscura is a lot more enjoyable. 

One difference between this LP and LGOOTC is that although singer/songwriter/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell was still the center of the band, John Henderson (vocals/percurssion) was featured more prominently, in both duets ("Swimming Pool", "Anti-Western", "Double Feature") as well as lead vocals ("Houseboat").  Henderson left the band in 2004 and the supporting male vocal role was taken up by Kenny McKeeve, but in a diminished capacity relative to what we see in their first LP.  I love Tracyanne, but  Tracyanne & John both singing is pretty hard to beat.

In a perfect world, Camera Obscura would be a hugely successful band and "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" would be in the CD collection of every NPR listener under 50.  Not convinced?  Look at the cover art again, and then listen to the song "Double Feature":
Close comes this winter
Summer is no longer
And things, they seem much bleaker
We'll see a Catherine Deneuve double feature

TC: And our lives
JH: (Double feature, you will survive)
TC: will fade
JH: (Last forever so rest your eyes)
TC: as in darkness
JH: (Play with words when we cannot sing)
TC: we will bathe
JH: (This double feature means everything)
The question you should be asking yourself is "Why isn't Catherine Deneuve in dozens of pop songs?"

Standout songs: saying "all" would be cheating, so I'll go with: "Eighties Fan" (the only "official" video from the LP), "Happy New Year", "Houseboat", "Anti-Western", "The Sun on His Back", "Double Feature"  (listen to this YouTube playlist for all the songs).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10

* One important exception: am I the only one that thinks the closing instrumental "Arrangements of Shapes and Space" sounds like the Texas-based, "post-rock" band Explosions in the Sky?