Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grant Hart - "2541" (the song remains the same)

About two months ago Grant Hart diedGrant was a founding member of the seminal punk band Husker Du, a band I've nearly completely covered in F-Measure.   It wasn't until recently that I settled on how to acknowledge his passing: his solo debut EP, post-Husker Du, released in 1988.  The title track, "2541", a poignant song about Husker Du's first shared house/rehearsal space, is a parable about the rise and fall of the band itself ("Now everything is over / Now everything is done / Everything's in boxes / At twenty-five forty-one"). 

After Husker Du broke up, I unconsciously ended up on team Bob.  I have several LPs from solo Bob Mould and Sugar, but never got any solo work from Grant or Nova Mob.  I need to fix that.

Bob and Grant had a fiery, sometimes-on but mostly-off working relationship both during Husker Du and after.  The tension made for some great material in Husker Du, and while they made good material after Husker Du... well... few bands could top their 1985, which saw the release of both "New Day Rising" and "Flip Your Wig". 

I remember hearing this summer about their release of "Savage Young Du", their reissue/retrospective of Husker Du's early days, and thinking that Bob and Grant were back on speaking terms.  Bob posted a note on Grant's passing that stated it was not unexpected, so I'm grateful they patched things up at the end.

Grant Hart - "2541" (acoustic version from the self-titled EP, this is my preferred version)
Grant Hart - "2541" (from the 1989 LP "Intolerance")
Marshall Crenshaw - "2541" (from "Velvel")*

Bonus link: "The Brilliance of Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart in 10 Songs" from Pitchfork.

* If you saw this and thought "oh cool, I didn't know Marshall Crenshaw covered a Grant Hart song!" then you're definitely a child of the 80s.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fats Domino - "Ain't That A Shame" (the song remains the same)

Fats Domino (aka Antoine Dominique Domino Jr.), one of the architects of the original "rock-n-roll sound", died this week.  Fats has many well-known songs, but without a doubt my favorite is "Ain't That A Shame", from his 1955 debut LP "Rock and Rollin' with Fats Domino".

And while the Fats version is great and has inspired many covers (some of which I provide below), it's the Cheap Trick version (from 1979's landmark "Cheap Trick at Budokan") that is my absolute favorite version.  Cheap Trick's sound was always centered in a celebration of the origins of rock, so it makes perfect sense that they would turn in such a great cover.

Fats Domino - "Ain't That A Shame" (from a movie?)
John Lennon - "Ain't That A Shame"
Pat Boone - "Ain't That A Shame"
Hank Williams Jr. "Ain't That A Shame"
Cheap Trick -  "Ain't That A Shame" (live in Budokan, 1978), (live, 1980)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" (forgotten song)

After a confusing period of statements and retractions, late last night it was confirmed that Tom Petty, songwriter par excellence, had died.  A staple on AOR and then classic rock stations, Petty's extensive discography provides many songs that I could feature; just this weekend while driving to Blacksburg and back Danette and I heard many Tom Petty songs on the radio.  Unfortunately, they were mostly my least favorite of his songs, which seem to get the most airplay (many of which appear on 1989's "Full Moon Fever").  They're not necessarily bad songs, it's just that when compared to the many great songs he has, well... I just don't see the point of playing a song like "I Won't Back Down".

While searching for once popular but now obscure songs of his, I thought about "Change of Heart" or "Even the Losers", but finally decided on "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)", the second single from 1981's "Hard Promises".  Structurally similar to "Breakdown", it's a great song that received airplay back in the day but is unfortunately eclipsed today.  The final deciding point is the video which, while simple, is rather high quality compared to most videos ca. 1981. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -  "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me" (the song remains the same)

So guess what we did this year?  Not being the conventional type, after 19 years together we decided to get married.   We rented a beach house in Sandbridge and had a small (< 30) collection of friends and family for a sunset ceremony on April 19th, the 19th anniversary of first date.  Everything happened in a blur with just a few months between deciding to do it and the actual event, but it came together nicely and was an amazing time. 

To commemorate this event, Danette's 2017 birthday song is Alvvays's "Archie, Marry Me", their "hit" single (from their 2014 self-titled debut) about an unconventional marriage.  Warning: this song is an alt-pop earworm -- the strong hooks, Molly Rankin's small but precious voice, Alec O'Hanley's TJ&MC Psychocandy-era jangle-fuzz guitar, the hazy, fake-nostalgia of the video -- it all adds up to an unforgettable experience, just like Danette...

The lyrics are not a literal description of our scenario (and in fact, there is no real Archie), but they abstractly capture the essence of our relationship:
You've expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony
You've student loans to pay and will not risk the alimony
We spend our days locked in a room content inside a bubble
And in the night time we go out and scour the streets for trouble

During the summer take me sailing out on the Atlantic
I won't set my sights on other seas, there is no need to panic
So honey take me by the hand and we can sign some papers
Forget the invitations, floral arrangements and bread makers

Too late to go out, too young to stay in
They're talking about us living in sin
We actually had printed invitations, and I'm pretty sure there were some flowers somewhere, but no bread makers were involved.

Even though you almost surely haven't heard this on the radio, the number of covers in three years clearly shows that others have fallen in love with this song as well.  I provide two good examples below:

Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me" (live on KEXP) (live on 89.3)
Ben Gibbard - "Archie, Marry Me"
Choir!, Choir!, Choir! - "Archie, Marry Me"

Previous birthday songs:

2016: Molly Hatchet - "Flirtin' With Disaster"
2015: Avett Brothers - "Kick Drum Heart"
2014: Ani DiFranco - "32 Flavors"
2013: The Green Pajamas - "Kim the Waitress"
2012: The Cure - "High"
2011: Blink 182 - "Josie"
2010:  Dead Milkmen - "Punk Rock Girl"

Monday, September 11, 2017

Poe - "Angry Johnny" (forgotten song)

Driving back to VA from NC two weeks ago I heard a song on the radio that I had completely forgotten about: Poe's "Angry Johnny".  A single from her 1995 LP "Hello", I remember it receiving a lot of airplay at the time.  Wikipedia says she had moderate success with other singles, but I don't remember them.  Wikipedia also says that character of "Johnny" is from the book "House of Leaves", which wasn't published until 2000.  I wondered how this was possible, but further exploration revealed that the book's author, Mark Z. Danielewski is the brother of Poe (aka Anne Danielewski). 

I haven't listened to the entire LP, but this single is an enjoyable mid-90s time capsule.

Poe - "Angry Johnny".

Friday, August 25, 2017

Judas Priest - "British Steel" (LP Review)

I was speaking with Drew last week and he was reflecting on how many songs from the 1980s dealt with the threat of nuclear war.  One of the examples he mentioned was Judas Priest's "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" ("One last day burning hell fire / You're blown away / If the man with the power / Can't keep it under control"), from their 1984 LP "Defenders of the Faith".  He offered other examples, of course, but the mention of Judas Priest unleashed from me a torrent of commentary, probably far more than he cared for, in which I pontificated that "Defenders" was really the beginning of the end for Priest, and their best LP is 1980's "British Steel", a landmark in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).  I probably went on for about 10 minutes about "British Steel" (and honorable mentions "Sad Wings of Destiny", "Sin After Sin", and "Screaming for Vengeance") while he laid the telephone down and did something else. 

In HS, the cost of purchasing LPs was distributed among a network of friends, and Robert Gordick bought most of the Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (with the rest of us tape trading to complete our collection).  I do have British Steel on vinyl (and eventually I filled out my collection with their early catalog), one of the first LPs I bought myself (first 10 maybe?).  I won't pretend this doesn't have a significant nostalgia component for me, but I listened to it again after my discussion with Drew and was surprised at how well it held up.  LPs like "Killing Machine" (1978) and "Point of Entry" (1981) had good songs, but they weren't necessarily good albums.  "British Steel" is where they hit the sweet spot of commercial accessibility (the singles "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight") without compromising their heavy sound (which began to erode on "Defenders"), with just a hint of their 1970s progressive rock origins (e.g., "The Rage").

The lyrics have certainly helped the LP age well.  I'm not going to tell you they're great metal lyrics (cf. "Morbid Tales"), but they are missing the puerile, misogynistic lyrics common to many metal bands of the era and that in itself is a big step*.   For example, the lyrics to "Metal Gods" are basically the synopsis to "The Terminator" some four years before it was released ("Hiding underground / Knowing we'd be found / Fearing for our lives / Reaped by robot's scythes").

There are no bad tracks, and at a trim 36 minutes the LP doesn't bog down and meander.  "Screaming for Vengeance" was their real breakthrough, and that's still a fine LP, but "British Steel" is truly their best.  Whether it was a permanent fixture on your turntable in the early 80s like it was for Robert and me, or if you're new to it like Drew, you owe it to yourself to give this LP a (re-)listen.   

Standout songs: "Rapid Fire",  "Metal Gods", "Breaking the Law", "United", "Living After Midnight", "The Rage", (entire LP). 

Skip 'em songs: none

Final score: 10/10.  Don't just take my word for it, read this retrospective and look at its #3 position on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Metal LPs of All Time".

* Of course, I didn't realize at the time that Rob Halford wasn't really interested in singing about women.  I remember Danette laughing heartily at me when I told her about the "Blue Oyster" scenes in "Police Academy" and me thinking "I don't get it, they're just dressed like Judas Priest".  Of course it seems obvious in retrospect, but my sheltered HS self didn't know about that

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Tangerine Dream - "Zeit" (LP review)

Herbert suggested that I highlight some eclipse-inspired music to mark the "Great American Eclipse" of 2017, but other than tired Bonnie Tyler references is anything relevant?  Perhaps Holst's "The Planets", but solar eclipses aren't really about planets.  Instead, I'm going with Tangerine Dream's third LP, "Zeit", from 1972.  Obviously the cover artwork is appropriate, but "Zeit" is also a seminal work in the genre of "space music", so you could make a pretty good argument that this what an eclipse "sounds like" (even though "Zeit" means "time", and the message of the LP is about how time is an illusion, etc.).

Herbert and I were also recently chatting about how formats (vinyl, CD, MP3, etc.) influence the structure and presentation of music, and this LP is a perfect example.  It's a double LP, with a total of four songs (one per side of vinyl), and while there are examples of songs being split across sides of a vinyl record, it's certainly not ideal and you have to consider that the approximate limits of 20 minutes per side was in the back of their minds while composing .  If this were recorded in age of CDs, would there be fewer than four tracks?  Or if post-CDs, just a single MP3?

I should also acknowledge my college roommate Frey who initially turned me on to Tangerine Dream, ca. 1990.  I didn't like them at first, but I was a big fan of Kitaro at the time and Frey pointed Kitaro's sound was influenced by TD's Klause Schulze in the mid 70s.  Exploring Frey's extensive TD discography, they quickly grew on me and I acquired many of their CDs after graduation.  It's certainly not a complete discography -- that's nearly impossible -- but it's a good sampling of their 1980s and earlier work.  "Zeit" actually stands alone in their discography, sounding a bit unlike other LPs in their canon.  It's dark, slow, ambient, percussion-less, slightly menacing, and quasi-orchestral: a perfect soundtrack for an eclipse.

In researching this post I also learned that Edgar Froese died in 2015, somehow I missed this when it occurred.  Edgar was a founder of Tangerine Dream and the only constant member from 1967--2015.  Tangerine Dream continues without Edgar, although it is worth noting that his son Jerome (who played with TD from 1990--2006) does not approve of TD's continuance without Edgar.   

While there are technically four tracks on the LP, they really can't be separated and they should be consumed as a whole, so I'll skip the regular LP review format.  This is an important, but demanding LP -- the kind that you only listen to once every year or two.  But you don't have to wait until 2024...

Final score: 9/10

Full LP: Tangerine Dream - "Zeit"

Bonus link: You know Tangerine Dream from the soundtrack to "Risky Business". 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Patti Smith - "Because the Night" (the song remains the same)

The final entry in my recent trilogy of autobiographies is Patti Smith's 2010 book "Just Kids" (the other two were Chrissie Hynde's "Reckless" and Kim Gordon's "Girl in a Band").   In "Just Kids", Smith lovingly details her tumultuous relationship with the late Robert Mapplethrope as they find themselves and their voices in the late 60s / early 70s Manhattan bohemian world of Max's Kansas City, The Factory, Hotel Chelsea, and CBGB.

It's an informative and entertaining book, and Smith is an engaging story teller.  Of course I knew a bit about Patti Smith -- everyone with even a passing interest in punk knows of her.  But she was less contemporary for me than Chrissie Hynde or Kim Gordon, so I learned a great deal about her early life, career, and contributions.  For example, I was unaware of her lyrical contributions to Blue Öyster Cult, via her relationship to BOC's keyboardist Allen Lanier, and  I also did not know of her brief relationship with the recently departed Sam Sheppard (see Patti's eulogy in the New Yorker), which culminated in the semi-autobiographical play "Cowboy Mouth" (which would later inspire a band of the same name).  And while it's only briefly mentioned in this book, I also did not know that she later married Fred Smith of MC5

But despite the many positive aspects of "Just Kids", it fails in one critical area: Patti can't rehabilitate Mapplethorpe.  Occasionally I see him as the Byronic hero that she sees, but mostly he comes off as selfish and cruel. Julia Felsenthal, in her article "Patti Smith, Where's Your Critical Distance?", quotes Tom Carson's New York Times book review:
Peculiarly or not, the one limitation of "Just Kids" is that Mapplethorpe himself, despite Smith’s valiant efforts, doesn’t come off as appealingly as she hopes he will. When he isn’t candidly on the make - "Hustler-hustler-hustler. I guess that’s what I’m about," he tells her - his pretension and self-romanticizing can be tiresome.
On the other hand, perhaps the discomfort Carson, Felsenthal, and I feel is because late 60s / early 70s Patti isn't yet the iconic, feminist badass that we demand of her.  Maybe it's simply disappointing to learn they were "just kids".

I do get the impression that without Robert's extensive encouragement and support, Patti would have never pursued a musical career.  An unkind reading might be that he directed her then unfocused artistic energy into an area that would not compete with him (she found success well before he did); or perhaps he just legitimately assessed the locus of her true talent.

I could choose to highlight some of her early work, like "Horses" or "Piss Factory", but instead I'll highlight her biggest hit, 1978's "Because the Night", from her "Easter" LP.  It was partially written by Bruce Springsteen, recorded but unfinished during the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" sessions, and based on Bruce and Patti sharing the same studio and studio engineer, "Because the Night" was given to Patti for her to record.   

This song is interesting me because it's only partially a cover -- in addition to releasing it first, Patti reworked the lyrics significantly from Bruce's version, to the point where her version is considered canonical, with Bruce even occasionally performing in concert Patti's version.   In the image below, Patti's lyrics are on the left and Bruce's original lyrics (as released on his "Live/1975-85" LP) on the right. 

This is one of the few times you can say "boy, someone really improved on Bruce's version". 

Patti Smith - "Because the Night", live 1978, live 2002, Patti explains the story behind the song
Bruce Springsteen - "Because the Night" (live 1985?), live 1978.
U2, Bruce, Patti: "Because the Night"

Bonus cover: 10,000 Maniacs - "Because the Night"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Woody Guthrie - "All You Fascists" (forgotten song)

The events in Charlottesville, VA are still unfolding but our Governor's response was inspiring and appropriate.  Our President's response was... not.

All of those fascists are bound to lose.

Woody Guthrie - "All You Fascists" (1944?)

(image credit)

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"

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions - "Suzanne" (LP Review)

Time for another (belated) installment for Women's History Month.  I'm a huge fan of Mazzy Star, and while they had never officially broken up, their long hiatus between LPs (1996--2013) rivaled only My Bloody Valentine (1991-2013) in the alt-rock world.  So it only makes sense that in the interim Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) and Colm Ó Cíosóig (My Bloody Valentine) came together and created Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions.  And while technically it's a band, make no mistake this band is really about Hope Sandoval.  "Suzanne" is a four song EP released in 2002, it's also the third and final single from the 2001 LP "Bavarian Fruit Bread".  Although it came out after the 2001 LP, this EP was my first introduction to Hope's post-Mazzy Star work, so I'm writing about it first here.

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions sound a lot like Mazzy Star: if you like one, given Hope's distinctive voice, you'll like them both.  Even though both bands mine the dream-pop vein, David Roback (the other half of Mazzy Star), drawing from the Paisley Underground sound,  often writes material that borrows heavily from The Doors (e.g., "Mary of Silence", "She Hangs Brightly") or is very bluesy (e.g., "She's My Baby", "I'm Sailin'").  I won't say I dislike those songs... but I appreciate the more straight-forward dream-pop sound of HS&TWI.  I like David, and he's definitely one-half of Mazzy Star and its sound, but I like Hope more and she's 90% of the sound of HS&TWI.  Of course now you don't really need to choose, since Colm is now also the drummer for Mazzy Star, as well as Suki Ewers playing keyboards for both bands as well.

I should review their proper LPs, but until then enjoy this EP as your introduction to HS&TWI.

Standout songs: "Suzanne", "I Thought You'd Fall for Me", "Friends of a Smile"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10

Swearin' - "Surfing Strange" (LP Review)

I've already blogged extensively about Waxahatchee, AKA Katie Crutchfield.  Here I will cover her twin sister, Allison Crutchfield, in another installment for Women's History Month.  As documented extensively elsewhere, Allison and Katie lead the punk band P.S. Eliot from 2007-2011, eventually splitting and forming Swearin' and Waxahatchee, respectively.  Although technically separate bands, soon Allison and other members of Swearin' were backing Katie, both in the studio and on tour.  As of 2015, Swearin' is defunct.

When I first learned of Swearin', I was super excited and ordered their 2013 LP "Surfing Strange".  The video for the single from the LP, "Dust in the Gold Sack", was great and I was hoping for an LP as strong as "American Weekend" or "Cerulean Salt".  Unfortunately, while it's not a bad LP, it's not nearly as great as Katie's first two LPs.  The problem?  Too much Kyle Gilbride & Keith Spencer, and not enough Allison.  I totally respect their DIY "if you write it, you sing it" approach, but Kyle & Keith singing (and writing) aren't why I bought this LP. 

Again, this is not a bad LP, and there aren't really any bad songs.  But ultimately it's just "Dust in the Gold Sack" and a few others, making this is a good, but not necessary, LP.    

Standout songs: "Dust in the Gold Sack" (live 2013), "Mermaid" (live 2013), "Parts of Speech", "Unwanted Place"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 6/10

P.S. (Eliot): Fortunately, Allison has since gone solo

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Angel Olsen - "My Woman" (LP Review)

In my second installment for Women's History Month, I take a look at one of the better results for 2016 -- a year that was pretty bad for music in general.  In the Now Playing Facebook Group, I took note of a parade of posts extolling Angel Olsen's third LP, "My Woman".  Eventually I had to investigate and I was not disappointed: this really is a candidate for LP of the year.

I worked my way backward through her catalog: 2014's "Burn Your Fire for No Witness" and 2012's "Halfway Home", and while those are good LPs they don't foreshadow the level of accomplishment and mastery she displays on "My Woman".  Pitchfork gives an eloquent review, complete with references to Dolly, Loretta, Patti, and Cat Power.  Sure, no pressure there.  They should throw in a good bit of Mazzy Star as well. The New Yorker has a similarly effusive review, evoking Julee Cruise (via David Lynch) and Fleetwood Mac.

But Angel does move confidently and effortlessly from genre to genre, from the abstract synth of "Intern", to the garage-rock of "Shut Up Kiss Me", to the epic, slow burn of "Sister", and many others.  There are no bad songs on this LP, and you owe it to yourself to see what all the buzz is about*.

Standout songs: "Intern", "Never Be Mine", "Shut Up Kiss Me" (live on the Late Show, 2016-08-29; the backup singer takes this to 11),  "Give It Up", "Not Gonna Kill You",  "Sister", "Those Were the Days", "Woman" (live, 2016-10-30?)

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10

Bonus link: "Intern / Woman" (live 2017-02-23)

* For the record: while Danette doesn't dislike the LP, she doesn't "get it".

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mount Moriah - "Mount Moriah" (LP Review)

In recognition of Women's History Month I'll be reviewing as many female artists (or at least bands with prominent female members) as I can get to. 

I've been meaning to review Chapel Hill's Mount Moriah for a while now.  Butch first turned me on to them a couple of years ago and they've been working their way in my play list for some time.  The most concise way to describe them is young Dolly Parton meets Crazy Horse / Stray Gators.  I realize everyone makes that comparison, but listen to "Plane" and "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" and tell me I'm wrong. 

In a review of their most recent LP, Evan Rytlewski said "Mount Moriah no longer sound like an indie band playing country music".  That's a fair description of their 2011 debut LP, and to be honest that's what I like about it.  Heather McEntire's powerful, haunting voice dominates the band, just edging out Jenks Miller's country/metal guitar sound (see my previous review of Jenks' drone metal band, Horseback).  The LP "Mount Moriah" is definitely alt-country with an emphasis on "alt", and also is evidence for the "everyone-in-the-south-likes-at-least-a-little-country" phenomenon Margo Timmins described in the 80s (see my review of "The Trinity Session" for the full quote).  You also have to acknowledge their debt to the Indigo Girls, in attitude if not entirely in sound (although I've been to at least one Indigo Girls show where their sound had more in common with Horseback than you might expect -- Joy tells me that's Amy's influence).

Pitchfork gave this LP a good review when it came out, although the CoS review is less favorable.  I think Pitchfork got it right: there are no bad songs on this LP and the best songs on the LP are extraordinary.

Standout songs: "Only Way Out" (live version), "Plane" (live version), "Lament" (live version), "Reckoning" (live version)

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10

Saturday, February 18, 2017

James Brown - "Funky Drummer" (LP Review)

After completing my previous blog post about an obscure source of hip hop samples, I just learned of the death of Clyde Stubblefield, the original "funky drummer" and the source of what is probably the most popular -- almost to the point of cliche -- hip hop sample. 

"Funky Drummer" is a non-LP single released in 1970 by James Brown.  At 7+ minutes, the song itself was split over the A- and B-sides but it really should be heard as one song.  Then skip to about 5:34 in the track: it might not be the first breakbeat, but it's probably the most sampled.  Even when the breakbeats are from other songs, they pretty much all owe a debt to the Wilhelm scream of hip hop: "Funky Drummer" and Clyde Stubblefield. 

In the immortal words of James Brown, "give the drummer some!"

James Brown - "Funky Drummer" (break at ~5:34)

Final score: 10/10

DJ Shadow - "Midnight in a Perfect World" (LP Review)

David Axelrod, another artist who nicely illustrates the difference between influential and popular, died earlier this month.  You probably haven't heard of him, but he is a popular source of samples for hip hop heavyweights such as DJ Shadow, Lauryn Hill, and Dr. Dre.  I have David Axelrod's eponymous 2001 LP, but instead of that I'm focusing on my first introduction to his music: DJ Shadow's "Midnight in a Perfect World". 

"Midnight in a Perfect World" is the lead single and arguably the best song on his seminal 1996 LP "Endtroducing...." In fact, "Midnight in a Perfect World" was almost the name of this blog, which should convey the depth of my feelings about this haunting yet substantive song.  DJ Shadow samples many artists in the song, but the prominent piano sample is from "The Human Abstract", of Axelrod's 1969 William Blake-themed LP "Songs of Experience".

As is typical for Mo' Wax releases, there are several versions of this single.  My version is the 1998 US 5 track CD single with:
  1. "Midnight in a Perfect World" (LP Version)
  2. "The Number Song" (LP Version)
  3. "Red Bus Needs to Leave" (non-LP track)
  4. "Midnight in a Perfect World" (Gab Mix)
  5. "The Number Song" (Cut Chemist Party Mix)
They're all great tracks, and it's a shame that the Gab Mix (technically a DJ Shadow remix featuring Gift of Gab) for "Midnight in a Perfect World" is relegated to an obscure B-side.  I won't say it's better than the original, but rather it illustrates the best elements of a remix in that it incorporates an alternate but necessary perspective on the original.  That's probably also true for the Cut Chemist mix of "The Number Song" (which is an even more radical transformation), but that track has appeared on so many releases it hardly still qualifies as a B-side.

I'm breaking from my standard LP review format by linking the DJ Shadow songs above, and the David Axelrod song below.  To fully understand "Midnight in a Perfect World", you really need to listen to "The Human Abstract".

David Axelrod - "The Human Abstract" ("Songs of Experience" Full LP)

Final score: 10/10

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Allman Brothers Band - "Dreams" (the song remains the same)

The Allman Brothers Band are the link between the southern rock sound and Grateful Dead style jam bands, and one of the similarities between TABB and the Grateful Dead is they both had two drummers.  For TABB the drummers were Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks, who I was disappointed to learn died recently.

Songs like "Whipping Post" or "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" would be a more obvious tribute, but I'm choosing the slightly less popular "Dreams" from their eponymous 1969 debut LP.  I've already established the cultural importance of Molly Hatchet for Danette and me, so it won't come as a surprise that I first learned of this song via Molly Hatchet's cover, which they retitled "Dreams I'll Never See", from their 1978 debut LP.   They do a good cover, and though I first heard their cleaner and streamlined version, over time I've come to appreciate the fuzzy/groovy original more. 

The Allman Brothers Band - "Dreams"
Molly Hatchet - "Dreams I'll Never See"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Woody Guthrie - "This Land Is Your Land" (spotlight)

Super Bowl LI (notice how we're back to Roman numerals?) looked like it would be a blow out, but then featured 25 unanswered points for an OT win, the first in Super Bowl history.  Lady Gaga did a great halftime show, and I'm not even a big fan of hers.  The right was busy congratulating themselves for Lady Gaga "not being political".  Perhaps the right-wing snowflakes were too hurt by, you know, beer commercials and such to notice, but Lady Gaga's performance was filled with left-wing dog whistles.

First, she's Lady Gaga, and she's singing LGBT anthems like "Born This Way", in front of Mike Pence et al.  That's only apolitical if you don't understand the words.  Second, in the opening patriotic, pre-recorded piece it was not an accident that she ended with "...with liberty and justice for all".  Third, she started with a snippet from "God Bless America", but then followed it with Woody Guthrie's response song, "This Land is Your Land".  That also wasn't an accident, and it invokes the history of the song, recorded in various versions, most often with the overtly political verses removed.  Here are the full lyrics of the song as written in 1940:
This land is your land this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
So yes, while Lady Gaga's show wasn't anti-anything, it was an appeal to our better angels.

"This Land is Your Land": Woody Guthrie (1944?), Bruce Springsteen (1985), Bruce Springsteen & Peter Seeger (2009)

Bonus link: full halftime show.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Asia - "Heat of the Moment" (forgotten song)

John Wetton recently died.  Once again, you're probably thinking "who?"  The answer to that question is dependent on your musical orientation.  He was in various incarnations of, among others, Roxy Music, King Crimson, and Uriah Heep but is arguably best known as the bassist/vocalist of Asia, the 1980s "super group".  Their eponymous first LP was hugely successful, expertly finding the middle ground between prog rock and pop, but the following LPs failed to reproduce that success.  "Heat of the Moment" was Asia's first single and the video, with the first use that I can recall of monitor arrays, was in high rotation on MTV.  I remember Bill Glidden had the LP, but either he or I must have also had the 7" because I remember the non-LP B-side "Ride Easy" as well.  I'm not sure I would count myself as a huge Asia fan, but I still turn up "Heat of the Moment" whenever it comes on...

Asia: "Heat of the Moment"

B-side bonus link: "Ride Easy"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black Sabbath - "Heaven and Hell" (LP Review)

Geoff Nicholls died this week.  You're probably thinking "who?" and that's ok, he was a journeyman in the NWOBHM movement, best known as the keyboardist for Black Sabbath from 1980--2004.  Most of the time he was credited as an "additional performer" but he was occasionally credited as a full-member of the band (e.g., on "Seventh Star"), his vacillating membership status serving as a metaphor for the awkward role of keyboards and heavy metal in general.  His wikipedia page states he typically played back- or side-stage during concerts -- nothing says "I'm not a full member of the band" like playing backstage (or in the bar's kitchen, but that's a story for another time). 

Black Sabbath had used keyboards on previous LPs, but fortunately they had never really been central to their sound.  1980's "Heaven and Hell" was the first LP in which Nicholls appears, but of course this LP is better known for being the LP with Ronnie James Dio replacing longtime lead singer Ozzy.  At the time there was a lot of concern about Ozzy-less Sabbath, but I think most people eventually realized that Dio had re-energized Black Sabbath -- honestly, the last two Sabbath LPs with Ozzy weren't very good.  In high school I was a huge Dio fan, so I had no qualms about him leading Sabbath, and I just considered early 80s Sabbath and early 70s Sabbath as basically two different bands.

Although I rarely listen to it now, this LP still occupies a special place for me and it is hard to overstate how important this LP was to me back in the day.  It still sounds good, but I also realize that I can not even begin to separate it from the nostalgia of the mid-80s.  I'll also admit as much as I generally dislike keyboards in metal, Nicholls does a fine job on songs like "Die Young" and "Lonely is the Word", where the keyboards are present but not central... like they're being played from back stage.

Standout songs: "Neon Knights", "Children of the Sea", "Heaven and Hell", "Wishing Well", "Die Young", "Lonely Is the Word"

Skip 'em songs: "Lady Evil"

Final score: 9/10

Sunday, January 15, 2017

House of Freaks - "Cactusland" (forgotten song)

Today's Virginian Pilot has a retrospective article on the murders of the Harvey family in 2006 in Richmond because their killer is scheduled for execution this week.  I recall when this happened, although I don't remember this being part of a larger crime spree, including other murders. 

Bryan Harvey (guitar, vocals) was one of the two members (Johnny
Hott was the percussionist) of Richmond's House of Freaks, who were notable for being the first (one of the first?) bands that achieved a really "full" sound with only two musicians and no overdubs.  We now have The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Matt and Kim, Wye Oak, and surely others with similar approaches, but I'm pretty sure House of Freaks lead the way.

I believe it was late 1991 when I first learned of this band.  I had graduated but Terry was in his final year at JMU and living in the attic of the house on Old South High, which he had arranged in his own indomitable style -- there was surely not a finer attic bachelor pad in all of Harrisonburg.  On one of my visits we were either about to go out or had just gotten back (the details are hazy at this point), and Terry put on a tape and said something like "check this out -- it's just two guys."  I remember being blown away by the sound of their 1987 LP "Monkey on a Chain Gang", especially the song "Cactusland".  For whatever reason, that song crystallized that moment in time.

House of Freaks would break up in the early 90s (not long after that visit to JMU), coming close to "making it" but just missing.  Both Harvey and Hott would continue recording and collaborating in various other local bands and projects.  In fact it was Hott who first discovered the crime scene when he arrived with his daughter for a New Year's Day family party at Harvey's house.

Whatever happens this week, there will surely be more discussion of graphic details of that day in 2006.  I'll try to tune it out and remember the first time I heard "Cactusland" at Terry's place.

House of Freaks - "Cactusland"

But there ain't no gold in cactusland....