Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I bought the paper yesterday, and I saw the obituary...


The Hoppin' Jacks lost. And this one hurt.


Because we played really well - great passes, made (most of) the shots we needed to and actually played pretty good defense.

But there was this one punk on their team... one of my teammates said "he's really not even that good of an all-around player"... but my God, could he hit the deep ball. He was shooting three pointers out of double teams and falling backwards - and hitting every GD one! We could not defend the bastard... it was insane.

But what really sucked is we jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and I know I wasn't the only Hoppin' Jack entertaining wild dreams of a shutout, and looked like we had these guys outcrafted in every aspect of the game. Then one of the guys on their team INSTRUCTED said assassin to start shooting, and all he had to do was follow that simple instruction. There was no answer on our end. It was ridiculous.

There are only two games left in the season, and I have to say - I haven't put up as many joyous Style Council tracks as I'd have liked.

But... the good thing is that even the sadder ones are still good songs. Like today's, for instance, which I dedicate to each and every member of the Hoppin' Jacks. If nothing else, we try.

The Style Council - A Man of Great Promise
From TSC's most universally beloved album, Our Favourite Shop, the subject of this particular tune escapes me now, but I know it was one of Weller's acquaintances at some point or another. Is it just me, or does everything about this song scream "KINKS!"? From the opening bells to the melody to the lyrics, it seemed like Weller really doffed his cap to Ray Davies here. Not so much production wise - the bassline and guitar bits scream 1985, but this is another TSC track that Weller's taken to performing in his live sets in the last few years and when he does it now, it just sounds like a late 1960s Kinks outtake. See for yourself...

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And through the snow, through the window, I watch her wave to me.

It actually does little to slow riders down in Madison.

So in case you live outside of Madison and haven't turned to the Weather Channel or any other major news purveyor in the past 96 hours or so, Madison's taken on 15.3 inches of snow since Friday night - the largest accumulation, according to the city, since December 1990.

And - more impressively - according to the Daily Page, the first time there's been consecutive snowfall of 4 inches for three consecutive days since 1869 (so, see, a Cubs World Series is not an impossible dream).

For the most part (and most importantly since I didn't have to drive this weekend during the worst of it), I think the city crews really did a fantastic job, as all the major streets are taken care of. Of course, the fact that we're out of our cold snap I'm sure helped that too, keeping the snow on the streets melting in good time with the salt additions.

The problem with the warm weather though, is that you get a bit of rain and sleet mixed in with the 15.3 inches, making it a certifiable bitch to shovel, snowblow and plow (apparently). They didn't really plow my complex's parking lot that well before the morning commute yesterday morning, and you heard a lot of revving engines trying to muscle their respective cars out of their makeshift cocoons - mostly to no avail. The revving engine sound was followed by a door slam, an expletive and the sound of shovel scraping pavement before starting the cycle again. It usually took 3 goes before you saw cars peeling out.

Now the city's concerned about 15.3 inches of snow melting - with good reason - cos that's going to be a lot of water on Madison's hands once the sun comes out. I suppose it'll keep the lakes high for the first few spring months, eh?

But in the meantime, here's one for everyone still stuck in the snow.

Belle & Sebastian - Winter Wooskie
Absolutely gorgeous B-side to the "Legal Man" EP from 2000. Stevie Jackson steps in to relieve Stuart Murdoch of singing duties, and this quasi-Bacharachian piece sounds much more like it was done in 1965 than at the dawn of the 21st century. Takes on the traditional B&S sentiment of the shy boy admiring from afar, but where it could easily turn creepy (shooting movies through windows, eh, Jackson?), it only amounts to a sweet little lament. If you are a true blue B&S fan and demand all the EPs proper, then you probably already have the Legal Man EP, but if you're more of a cost-concerned completist, the song can be found on the Push Barman to Open Old Wounds collection.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Along came Jim Dandy.

I learned something very strange this weekend.

I've never been too big of an Elvis fan. I don't know if it's the constant barrage of impersonators, the never-ending citations of him as the most important figure in rock and roll history, or the fact that when I was growing up, my younger sister loved "Full House" and the whole Uncle Jesse/Elvis thing wore me out on the king almost entirely.

Now I can concede how important he is in Rock and Roll History - he is the man, after all, who was at the forefront of the movement and brought it to mass consciousness. The thing I take exception with is the fact that Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry were doing it better (and at least co-writing, if not writing their hits). And when it came to doing other people's tunes, well... let me put it this way. When Capitol issued the Ricky Nelson's Greatest Hits compilation in late 2005, I rushed out and got it. I still don't have whatever that Elvis' Number Ones package from 2002 was called (Number Ones? Elv1s?), and I don't ever intend on dropping the money for it.

Elvis loved over-the-top extravagances (take a trip to Graceland and tour the Lisa Marie airplane if you don't believe me), and his career quickly spiraled into that over-the-top realm with all the movies and a declining focus on making good music. Even when you watch the 1968 "Comeback Special"... it's not THAT great. It's got its moments, but I've always felt the thing stunk a little too much of "Look at me! I'm still relevant! I know the Beatles are already on to the White Album now, and I just finished the 'Stay Away, Joe' movie, but... it's me! Elvis!"

Granted, there are some Elvis songs I like, and unsurprisingly - they're from the late 1950s and early 1960s, but there are two songs I've always really loved by Elvis, and they're not "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't Be Cruel," or "Teddy Bear" (which is just "Don't Be Cruel" with new lyrics, right?) or "Hound Dog." They're "(Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame," and "Little Sister."

And after doing a bit of research this weekend, I found out that both songs were actually released as the A-side and B-side of a 1961 single. How odd is that? My two favorite Elvis songs - out of all of them - were released on one 45 rpm record in 1961.

So it got me thinking - why not do a monthly series called "The Fantastic 45s" and use this one to kick it off? Rules are simple - B-side has to be as good as the A-side, but MORE IMPORTANTLY - they have to be standalone singles (when they were originally released, of course). I don't think anyone will doubt what a one two punch the "Come Together" b/w "Something" 45 was, but they're both on Abbey Road. Now if you want to talk "I Want to Hold Your Hand" b/w "I'll Get You," that fits. But is that one better than "She Loves You" b/w "Thank You Girl"? Ah... Now, I've got enough in mind for a few months, but I'm open to suggestions, dear readers.

Anyway, roll on with the series...

The Fantastic 45s
Elvis Presley
"(Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame" b/w "Little Sister"
RCA Victor, 1961

Elvis Presley - (Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame
Hands down, my all time favorite Elvis tune, simply because of its simplicity and momentum. On the surface, it's an odd choice for the A-side, as its B-side is much harder driving, and this is acoustic based with a basic piano line and shuffling brush-stick beat. But even in its sparsity, it's easily one of his fullest, and most rounded sounding tunes (his early stuff sounds thin - it's good, don't get me wrong - but there's no meat to "That's All Right" or "All Shook Up"), and it's next to impossible not to even remotely get into this song. No real backstory in the lyrics - apparently Marie's just kind of an impulsive bitch and dropped Elvis for this other guy, so you kind of feel for Elvis, but then you remember all those dramatizations and stories of his life and remember that Elvis probably had something to do with her going for a more rational guy (and healthier eater). Regardless, still a great tune - so much so, that Johnny Marr hardly changed the arrangement when composing "Rusholme Ruffians" for the Smiths' 1985 Meat is Murder album.

Elvis Presley - Little Sister
Just a great, full-bodied slice of early rock and roll, that thrives (like its A-side) on simplicity. There's nothing at all flashy about the guitar lines or the lyrics, but its the accessibility of the whole thing that just hooks you and makes you want to dance. Lyrically, it makes me wonder a bit. It kind of seems like he's going after said little sister just to make big sister a tad jealous. Ladies, you're going to have to chime in on this one, but if some dude was dating your older sister and then came to the realization (after she'd left him for another guy) that you were a fine little number yourself, would you be all for it (and don't forget - he talks here about how he used to pull your pigtails and pinch your turned up nose), or would you be like, "Hey, screw you, big E"? Hell, maybe Marie's the older sister? Then, it'd be like... a "concept" 45. And I'd have to give Elvis way more credit than I'd ever want to for being a trailblazer.

The tracks can now be found on ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits (that's what it's called!) and ELVIS: 2nd to None, respectively.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

A woman of beauty, a woman of pain.

So, I mentioned yesterday how I made my first visit to the great Atomic Records for the first time in nearly two years Monday.

While I was still at Marquette, trips to the store were at least once a month, but pretty much weekly (especially during the summer of '04, when I had a part-time job, lived up there, and would go every Tuesday morning to get new releases and then drive back to my apartment along the lakeshore blasting the new purchases... good memories. And Franz Ferdinand and Graham Coxon never sounded sweeter).

One of my favorite things to do there (time consuming as it may be) was to peruse the used CD shelf, where you could always find a couple treasures at a reasonable price. I wasn't playing with a lot of time on Monday night, but I still made a quick scan of the shelf and uncovered 10,000 Maniacs' 1992 single, "Candy Everybody Wants." The sleeve was a little worse for wear, but the disc was in good condition, and as it had three non-album B-sides (all of which were covers, too), at a price of $2.95, well, how could I afford not to?


Because of my age, I didn't really become aware of the Maniacs until 1993 with the MTV Unplugged performance, and then as that was kind of their last hurrah (with Natalie), I ended up following Natalie's solo career right from the start. A lot of people wrote off Tigerlily, but I still think there are some kick ass tunes on there, and actually I thought Ophelia was a step down. My favorite album of hers, however, is 2001's Motherland, an absolutely stunning collection of songs and, for my money, her voice never sounded more authoritative.

I backtracked and got into the Maniacs a bit, but getting introduced to the older Natalie first makes the Maniacs stuff a little weird for me. Her voice just isn't there yet, you know? If you don't believe me, listen to the original version of "Like the Weather." It didn't really start taking its current shape until Our Time in Eden, and then, really, the Unplugged performance. And however cliche it may be, the Unplugged album is the Maniacs album I listen to most - the versions of "Trouble Me," "Like the Weather" and "Eat for Two" on there are simply the best.

But I digress. I dig the original version of "Candy Everybody Wants," and how can you say no to Natalie covering Morrissey? Here are the B-sides...

10,000 Maniacs - Everyday is Like Sunday
For whatever reason, the only good version of this song (to my opinionated ears) is Moz's original. Everyone does this one it seems - didn't the Pretenders take a whack at it too? And when Morrissey does it now, it's kind of hokey (what's up with Boz playing banjo on it?). That said, even the original version isn't one of my favorite Morrissey songs, but for whatever reason, he just sounds believable when he sings "Come armageddon, come." Natalie doesn't. She gets the timing of it wrong to start, but also, you have to remember we're listening to young, super idealistic Natalie here. You really think she'd wish a nuclear bomb on any seaside towns in '92? That was right around the time of singing "These Are Days" at Clinton's inaugural... optimism abounded.

10,000 Maniacs - Sally Ann
Yes, the old folk tune that Natalie revisited just a few years back on The House Carpenter's Daughter. Actually, the two versions run pretty similar lines, and I think I prefer this one. Natalie's younger voice suits it better. Nowadays she's got that uber-Earth-mother smokiness to her pipes, and it's all well and good, but it makes the HCD version sound almost bitter in its spookiness. It's a sad song, to be sure, but this one just seems a bit more heartbreaking, cos it sounds like naivety has been shattered.

10,000 Maniacs - Don't Go Back to Rockville
Natalie and Michael Stipe seemed to be best buds around this time (and consequently, weren't Michael and Morrissey good friends at the end of the '80s?), and so an REM cover seems perfectly logical, but why this one? Granted, I was never much of an REM fan to begin with, but they started hitting their stride in the late '80s and early '90s, and you wanna go back to their early days for material? Eh... I actually rate this version better than the original, but as I don't really like the song to begin with anyway, well... I don't know. If you're gonna cover "Everyday is Like Sunday" why not just continue on the track and cover "Everybody Hurts" or "It's the End of the World"... too obvious, probably. And God knows we were all about skirting the obvious in those days!

Can't let this post get away without including the video for the A-side - my favorite 10,000 Maniacs video in spite of its almost beleaguered major-label cynicism. Natalie just looks gorgeous in every outfit she dons here - even the androgynous one.

Oh and if you wanted to hear what Michael Stipe sounded like taking lead vocal on the tune, here you go.

Have a good weekend, peoples!


Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's automatic when I talk with old friends.

Right-o, so four days in Milwaukee... here's the running diary with MP3s and pictures (Oh my!). This is a long one...

Saturday, 1:15 p.m.

Depart Madison for Milwaukee. I'm going to be staying with my old buddy Brad, who was my roommate during my first year at Marquette. We see each other now and again, but probably still too little considering we're now only about an hour and a half apart. Two days prior to this, he called me up and read me a riot act about coming out early Saturday so we could perhaps do a brewery tour (you'd be surprised how often this option is pitched when you live in Wisconsin) before the Allen Toussaint concert at 8. However, he was incommunicado Friday night and at the point of departure, so I might not actually see him at my ETA of 2:45 - 3. I haven't seen my friend Lexi in awhile, so she gets the call and the demand to entertain me upon my arrival in Milwaukee unless/until Brad calls me to say I can go to his place and unload my luggage.

2:45 p.m.
Arrive in Milwaukee with Brad still out of touch, so I head over to Lexi's place. We decide to go to a coffee place to catch up over a cup o' Joe, even though I don't drink Joe, only hot chocolate. This in mind, she says we need to head to the gas station first to fill her car up. The gas station is a mere few blocks away, but this is one of the more harrowing few-block journies I'll ever take in my life, as she likes to hit the brakes at the last possible instant, is overly cautious about four-way stop signs, and is still a tad unsure on how to work gas pumps. Provides a bit of comic relief and reminds me that yes, my heart is still functioning well. Before going to still undetermined coffeehouse, she decides we should go back to her place so I can get a tour of her new digs. While there, we decide since she's well stocked on teas and hot chocolates anyway, we can save the $3-$4 and just heat up a pot of water right there. We talk for about an hour and a half and the main thing I take away from the conversation - the first face to face one we've had in about a year now - is that the real Private Ryan (whom Matt Damon played), was a Mormon. Alright. Brad calls and shortly thereafter, I'm off.

4:30 p.m.
Arrive at Brad's, who's looking worse for the wear. I know he was out last night, late and had too much of whatever spirit he imbibed. He tells me he was out celebrating his birthday (whoops... knew I was forgetting something), and had too much bourbon. Looks completely disshevled. As soon as I set my bags down, my dad calls to tell me he and my uncle are going to be driving through Milwaukee in about a half hour and want to stop and have a beer with me and Brad. I pitch this to my mightily hungover colleague, and he, unsurprisingly, agrees. Brad jumps in for a quick cold shower (does not resuscitate as hoped), and we're off to John Hawk's Pub.

5 p.m.
A round of beers at John Hawk's with my dad and uncle who are on their way up north for a weekend of snowmobiling. My dad and Brad always got along, so it's nice for them to hang out a bit again, although I've never seen Brad put a beer down so slowly in my life. My dad and uncle take off after the first round, but buy us another. We figure we might as well just stay here and eat before walking over to the Pabst for the show. Once the appetizer and meal is finished, Brad is transformed to his old self (just needed a bit of sustenance, I guess), and there's a spring in his step as we head down to the Pabst.

7:30 p.m.
Arrive at the Pabst, and - how cool is this - Crawdaddy's (really nice Cajun restaurant in Milwaukee) is catering a free party in honor of Toussaint and Mardi Gras, so we get to eat jambalaya totally free of charge. I also meet Cecilia, the Pabst's press room liason, who's totally sweet and soon informs me that I'll be able to meet Allen after the show. Kick ass. Outside the theater, City Hall is burning. It's saved, but it makes everyone wonder what all the fire trucks are doing there (turns out it was no big deal). We finish our meal and walk into the theater, where opening act Pieta Brown has already started her performance. She's not bad, but the excitement of seeing Toussaint makes her last four songs seem a minute too long each and sound exactly the same.

9 p.m.
"The High Priest of New Orleans Music," Allen Toussaint, takes the stage for one of the most amazing concerts I've ever seen in my life. He's fronting a tight little band that features four other New Orleans musicians, and they romp through a number of tracks that Toussaint did solo and, of course, the big ones he wrote for other artists ("Working in the Coal Mine," "Yes We Can Can," "Mother in Law," "Shoo-Ra," "Fortune Teller"). He punctuates the songs by telling stories of their creation and his own childhood memories, before closing with an absolutely beautiful story about being a boy and being with his family in the summer on a southern night in the country (which of course, leads into a stunning rendition of "Southern Nights"). Absolutely amazing. He comes back on for a short encore, and then Cecilia finds Brad and I to lead us through the theater's belly to meet the man himself.

Lee Dorsey - Working in the Coal Mine
From Lee's 1966 album of the same name, which Toussaint produced (and of course, penned most of the songs on, including this one). The performance Saturday of this song was great, although Allen needed to pause the song briefly to get the audience a little more hearty about its "WHOOP!"s, "Now, now, I got to have my 'whoop's here, folks," he said. We obliged.

Brad and I get entrance to Toussaint's dressing room where we just shoot the breeze with him for about ten minutes. He's incredibly humble and gracious and excited about the weather in town because despite the cold, he loves to see snow. He tells us about his train ride into Milwaukee and how he was furiously documenting notes and thoughts that will most likely become the inspiration for new songs. He tells us two new albums are on the way, one live and one studio, and that he's written about 25 new songs. Yessss. A big thanks to Cecilia for helping orchestrate the meeting, and we're off into the night.


11 p.m.
I haven't been to my new favorite bar in Milwaukee, Vox, in awhile, so we head there, but mistakenly walk into the bar next door, Yield, which is basically an extension of Vox and have a beer. Johnny Marr + the Healers on the jukebox. It's turning into a pretty great night. We finish the beer there and then walk into Vox proper for another one. Kula Shaker on the jukebox there. Sweet. After that, we head home.

Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
Wake up, and as we did in college, forego much activity by watching movies. We take in Beverly Hills Cop and Joe Vs. the Volcano (with breakfast inbetween) before showering and deciding to move on. Brad finds out the MSOE is hosting a big used music sale, which sounds like it's going to be tons of used vinyl and CDs and definitely worth are perusal, so we head out there. Oh we also find out during this time period that Britney Spears checked into rehab and left in about 24 hours and then shaved her head. People, if you ignore her, then she'll just go away, okay?

2:30 p.m.
Arrive at the music sale to find... a lot of disappointment. Sure, a lot of vinyl, but it's all tattered and the selection is certainly lacking. Atomic Records has a long table set up for used CDs, but I only know about 1/16 of the artists in there (and for as many bands as I know, that says a lot), so the selection kind of stinks. So do the people there (literally). Brad and I soon begin to feel like garbage pickers and make our way to the exit. I get a cool WMSE calendar, however, and Brad picks up three cheap CDs, the soundtracks to Amistad and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and a tribute album to West Side Story that features Lisa Left Eye Lopes. Think about that for a minute.

4 p.m.
Back at Brad's to start working on dinner. He decides he wants a pork bourbon brine meal, and starts to work on the brine and detaching the two hunks of pork he bought a couple days ago (which turns out to be a more difficult process than could be believed). We're supposed to let the brine set for 2-4 hours, so Brad decides we should go walk on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan.

5 p.m.

I'm standing on the frozen shore of Lake Michigan with no gloves (durr), and no real warmth protection for my legs either. Brad is the first to venture on the ice, and as soon as he sets foot on it, a gust of wind comes and we hear an ominous cracking sound below Brad's feet. Our mouths drop and we stare at each other in abject horror for about 20 seconds before both doubling over in laughter. Obviously neither of us went under, but we did crack alot of the ice covering there. It is freezing, but it is beautiful, and as silly of an idea as it sounded at first, I'm glad we did it. I also realize there that I'm either light enough or nimble enough to walk across a 50-foot snowdrift. Brad is not.

"Dude, I'm not jumping in after you if you go in. I'll call 911, but I'm not jumping in after you."

6 p.m.
Onto Pick 'n' Save where we pick up sides and spices for tonight's meal. We walk past the bakery and they just made a fresh batch of sugar cookies. I'm starving, so I buy a box, and Brad yells at me about ruining my apetite for dinner. I offer him one, but he says he doesn't like sugar cookies. Shortly thereafter, he eats four of them.

7 p.m.

Dinner is served. Turned out well. I can't finish the sides though. Too much pork, and yes, too many sugar cookies beforehand. In the few hours thereafter, we watch a bit of TV, and then turn in. Work in the morning, you know.

Monday 8:30 a.m.
Arrive at the Milwaukee offices of my job to undergo two days of writing coaching, in which I realize that I'm actually a pretty insecure writer and have a ways to go yet before I'm really any good. Le sigh.

12:30 p.m.
Walk over to Potbelly for lunch. It's warm out... about 36 degrees. After the sub-freezing temperatures we've been having for the past three weeks, it feels like spring. The sound of snow melting off buildings and dripping down below is everywhere, and I smile as I realize I can walk three blocks without tearing up OR cursing the pain the cold is inducing. I get back to the office and remark to my editor how nice it is outside. She concurs, calling it "beautiful." I love the fact that 36-degree weather is worthy of being dubbed "beautiful."

5 p.m.
After the writing coach is done putting me through the ringer, I go out for a couple of beers with him and some other people on staff (this seems only appropriate).

7 p.m.
I realize this is my last night here for awhile, so I call a slew of friends hoping one of them will want to get to get together and have a beer. Most of them are at the Marquette game, and the rest are not answering. I decide to go to Atomic Records as I haven't been there in almost two years now. It's still nice, but it's changed a bit. A lot more vinyl, which is cool... and the selection is better than it was at the music sale Sunday.

8 p.m.
Back to Brad's for dinner, and everyone whos voicemail I got calls me back and I practically eat up a month's worth of minutes in the next two hours. Everybody, of course, wants to meet up for a drink, but they're all dispersing to different parts of town. Since Adam was the first one to agree to meeting up for a drink, Adam is the lucky one that will get to meet up with me that night. Everyone else is super pissed off as they realize their respective losses. Important lesson - if it's me, answer the phone. However, chatting with everybody on the phone is nice - especially some old Marquette friends, and as I'm at Brad's as the calls are coming in, Brad gets to talk to some of the people too, which is a nice jog down memory lane.

The Beach Boys - Do it Again
This song is far too short, but I love it, and it's the one I opt to when "getting the old gang" back together (better than "The Boys Are Back in Town" methinks). It's the song that got the Smile monkey off Brian Wilson's back (he often cites the song as his favorite Beach Boys track) and one of the last ones he would co-write with Mike Love. Released as a single in 1968, would kick off the 20/20 album a year later.

10 p.m.
A couple beers with Adam at Von Trier. I've known Adam for about 7 years now - we both worked at the bookstore back in IL together, and then he ended up going to MIAD while I was at Marquette, so we've always been able to keep in touch. The bar is within walking distance from both of the places that we were staying, so I made him walk over there, and I was about to walk over myself, until I realized I might as well just drive. He tells me at the bar about how he was mugged on the street last year and is now deathly afraid of walking around town at night, so you can imagine how nice I feel for making him walk. I make sure to drive him home.

Tuesday 12 p.m.
After a few more hours of coaching, I head back to Madison to finish a story for the paper and then be one of only four players to show up for the Hoppin' Jacks that night (but you knew that...)

All in all, good trip... in spite of not being an amazing writer.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

There are crystal hearts just waiting to be smashed.

Hello again.

Well the four days in Milwaukee were well spent and gave me a few good ideas for some future posts, but let's face it, you haven't heard from me since Friday, it's Wednesday and I know you're all dying to know just one thing - How did the Hoppin' Jacks fare last night?

We got creamed.

Only four players showed up, so it was 4 on 5 all night, with no chance of subbing and as none of the four of us that did show up (or, for that matter, anyone on the team), is the picture-perfect example of a prime physical specimen, the second half was really, really tiring.

Although to our credit, at half time we were only down by two, but there was just nothing in the tank for the second half. It quickly got to be one of those situations where you look at the clock and instead of going, "6 more minutes, come on, we can do something here," it was, "Okay, only 6 more minutes of this... only 6 more minutes..."

We led once during the entire game, and that was thanks to me, as I put in a running bank shot from about 10 feet out for the game's first score, putting us ahead 2-0. Then they tied. And led for the rest of it.

We knew when the four of us took the court that we were probably going to lose, but I like the fact that we didn't forfeit, and as I drank a lot of beer over the long stay in Milwaukee and missed last week's game, I needed a bit of exercise.

It was a loss, but it was for a greater good. And what Style Council track could sum last night up? I was hoping you would ask.

The Style Council - It Didn't Matter
The lead track on 1987's The Cost of Loving, the album that effectively marked the turning point (and beginning of the downward spiral) for Weller, Talbot and co. Like a few tracks on the album, this really isn't that bad of a SONG, it's just that the Style Council cashed in classicism for the production fads of the time, and the album was awash in synthesizers and '80s beat boxes. Why you need drum loops, let alone horrible, horrible, 1980s synth drum loops when you have Steve White in your ranks is completely beyond me, but there you go. There are germs of great ideas throughout The Cost of Loving, it's just that not a one of them really ever flowered out to its full potential. Frankly, I'd love to hear Weller go back and revisit some of the tracks now either on his acoustic or with Cradock, Minchella and White, because when he does TSC songs in his traditional fashion now, you see how timeless they really are even though the originals' production skills date them horribly.

Here's the video for the track in which we get to see Dee C. Lee's dance moves, Weller looking almost as bored as he sounds, and most frustratingly, Steve White playing along to the loop and giving visual proof that they didn't have to settle for the loop in the first place. Le sigh.

Anyway, the Milwaukee-weekend recap comes in tomorrow, so check back. I just gotta clear a few more of the cobwebs here (boy they come in fast).

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Friday, February 16, 2007

But you always knew you held my heart.

Right, well, aren't you lucky?

Business in Milwaukee for the first part of next week is most likely going to keep me from blogging Monday and Tuesday, so I'm going to go a little further today and give you a few songs to hold you over. Maybe it'll become a running theme... once a month or something... "The Friday Five."

So today, "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." is proud to present:

The Friday Five: Hey, They Did That One Song in the '90s That I Dug.

I abstain from calling these tunes or artists "One Hit Wonders" because they might've had other good songs, and as a big-time Proclaimers fan, I really resent the people who think their career started and stopped with "500 Miles."

Then again, these are five tracks that pretty much defined their respective artists in the 1990s, and while oversaturation may have doomed longevity, when you look back a little more or less than a decade later, you realize the songs were popular for a reason - they were pretty good.

Away we go...

Blind Melon - No Rain
I had a friend in middle school that really loved this song, although he didn't actually buy the CD until 3 years after it was super popular (and 5 years after its parent album was actually released). We were on our 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. and everyday for lunch, Mr. Collins would take us to that big mall in Virgina where we could eat at the food court. Kind of paltry, but eh... The 3rd day there, my friend asked me (because I was the go-to guy for music inquiries even then) "Hey, what's that song... 'All I can say is that my life is pretty plain?'" I told him and he dodged into Sam Goody and emerged with the CD. Hardly the best souvenir to round out a trip to the nation's capital, but what are you gonna do? Everything about the song and video screams "NEO-HIPPIE," but that's not necessarily a bad thing, cos it's got a good groove. Plus I can play the little guitar hook, which is cool. I always thought it was a nice enough song, but recently got all mad about it again after USA used it FANTASTICALLY to promote the new season of Monk, which along with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, gets my vote for best show on television right now. Check this out, it's just awesome:

Dionne Farris - I Know
This song, and the album Wild Seed--Wild Flower was really supposed to launch her into the stratosphere, but after this song ended its respective runs on VH1 and MTV's weekly Top 20 countdowns, she faded away. Now, comment if you know, but was she ever really a fully fledged member of Arrested Development, or just kind of a satellite member? The funny thing is, this is the only song I really like by Dionne, but I STILL like quite a few on the Arrested Development album, so Dionne gets the "that one song" treatment. Regardless, it's still a great tune, and one that I'll throw out there and a lot of people will go "Oh... YEAH! I LOVED THIS SONG!"

Harvey Danger - Flagpole Sitta
Yeah, yeah, okay... f*ck you... it's fun, and I still like it. I think the attraction to this song for me is more sentimental reasons as opposed to the overall quality of the tune. Throughout high school, I was in a club called Youth in Government (how cool was I?), and every year we'd go down to Springfield, IL and pretend to be Representatives, Senators or State Attorneys for the weekend - the glory of it being that we actually got to utilize the Senate, Assembly and Supreme Court chambers for the weekend, which was pretty cool. Every Saturday night there was a big social for all the students from all over the state in the hotel lobby/courtyard area which had a pool and big dance area, and... just remembering the girls from those weekends (particularly my Freshman year, cos that was the first, and the... WOW... you'd be suprised how hot some high school Youth in Government nerds really were) makes me wish I had stayed in touch with some of them. Abbie and April and those two girls who - I don't even know where they came from - but came out of nowhere and started grinding with me to Wyclef's "We Trying To Stay Alive." Anyway, the DJ spun this song and there was a lot of ecstatic jumping around. And I was happy. And every time I hear this song, I'm on that dance floor under the mad colored lights smiling and jumping around. I heard Harvey Danger recently released a new album. Did anyone care? I mean did anyone else actually like any of the other songs on Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? anyway?

Lauryn Hill - Doo Wop (That Thing)
Maybe it's insulting to her to put her in the "that one song" category, and you might even ask what I'm doing with the album as I'm white and all, but she really didn't blow me away with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill like she did everyone else in 1998. I also thought the Fugees' stuff was hit and miss, but I do like a lot of Wyclef's solo output, so I'm not totally against them. And my mom really likes Sister Act 2. Anyway... this song was pretty fantastic, mixing the past and present nicely - the video illustrated the parallel between the girl singers in Harlem in the mid 1960s and the mid 1990s, but you didn't need the video to see the parallels - you can hear it in the song. The plonking piano and soulful harmonies meshed with the modern backbeat and vinyl scratches. It's a great tune, and one of the only times she's really blown me away (although her vocal on Kanye West's "All Falls Down" was nice). Problem with the album version (here) is that like a lot of hip hop albums, you get that between song banter stuff that really kind of takes up precious space. I mean the last 1:20 here is little girls talking about self respect and that. I get it... it's cute and inspirational and all. But I'd still take 1:20 more of the plonking piano, horn sample and vinyl scratches. You know?

White Town - Your Woman
This one came and went too fast. I remember being introduced to it early one morning on MTV through the song's slick video, which I never saw again until YouTube came around (and now I realize it's still cool, but not half as mindblowing as it was that weekday morning 10 years ago... maybe I was eating stale Lucky Charms or something), and then would hear the song pop up again every now and again. I don't really know the song's or the dude's deal. I think White Town is just one guy, Jyoti Mishra, and I think the song is supposed to be like reading a letter from the girl who's just left him... unimportant, really. The song still pumps me up with it's nice little merging of retro with club, and that tacky piano line is great. Although I defer to the Harvey Danger writeup when I ask, did anyone else actually like any of the other songs on Women in Technology?


Thursday, February 15, 2007

They kill the love.

I'm sick of birds using us and our vehicles as their personal toilets.

When I went for lunch today, I got in my car and noticed some bird decided to take out breakfast all over my windshield and hood. Must've been an in-flight drop and it must've been a big bird too judging by the number it did on my automobile.

I don't do well with that stuff in general -- I can't just shrug it off and let it sit there until the next rain comes along, cos that kind of thing just irritates me. I think it comes from my Dad, who also really hates sporting avian defecation on his vehicles, but I think it says a lot about someone if they're will to drive around in a vehicle covered in #2.

But the timing on this bird's part was really ill-advised, as I also have another hang up about car washes. Every time I wash my car, some form of precipitation befalls the land one or two days later, and the money I put down for a nice clean up is all for naught. This is categorically worse in winter, of course, when the combined effects of excessive snow and excessive salt on the roads makes your car look like you'll need sterilization if you really want to sit inside it.

Madison's expected to get snow both tomorrow and Saturday, so there's no way I'm plopping down $12 for a nice wash-up at Octopus, and all the snow's gonna do is freeze that crap on there until the great thaw comes along, and that's probably still a solid month and then some away.

Which begs the question - with the wind chill it feels like -2 degrees here today. What the F*CK are birds doing flying around in this kind of weather anyway? Aren't they all supposed to be in Arkansas, crapping on those people's cars? Look, I can understand being a bit hostile about having to fly around in this weather, exposed to the elements and all, but you don't have to take it out on my car. I'm not the one who told you not to fly south this winter.

Suffice to say, if I had a gun (we'll go BB, since I'm not THAT violent) on me and had seen that, I'd have blown it away. Now I'm all for animal rights and that, but it's a personal statement when somebody relieves him or herself all over your property. If I had a gun and saw some dude taking a dump on my car, I'd pop him too.

Anyway, there's absolutely nothing about this song that relates to a literal interpretation of the title (which leads me to another point - there aren't enough good "f*ck you, birds" songs out there. I have a large library, but couldn't find one. All the bird-related songs - like this one - are all hopeful and symbolic and crap), but the title alone made me feel it was a proper song to post alongside my bird rant.

Paul Weller - Shoot the Dove
So you got Style Council yesterday and solo Weller today, I might be stirring Weller-overload but deal with it, there are worse things that could befall you (like, say, a bird taking a big old dump on your car). This is a great b-side from the "Brushed" single (Weller's worst A-side by my estimation), which came out in 1997, and despite having the least impressive A-side, had the best run of B-sides among the Heavy Soul singles, and actually, some of the best of Weller's career in total. The lyrics revolve around a busted relationship and humans' constant need to destroy the good things that come their way - it's not really anything groundbreaking, but the feel of the song is fantastic, and every time Weller sits down to pound one out of the piano, the results are usually great ("Frightened," "You Do Something to Me," "Here's the Good News," "Can You Heal Us Holy Man?" etc.). "Brushed" has long since gone out of print, but you can now get this track on the fantastic box set, Fly on the Wall: B-sides and Rarities 1991-2000.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Truth, as in fiction, is sometimes strained.

Another relatively quick post today, as I'm due in Milwaukee on business shortly...

No Valentine's Day post, partly because of the fact that every other music blog is running V-day mixes today (don't believe me? go check the Hype Machine), and more importantly because it's Wednesday, which means the Tuesday night re-cap!

Well, the Hoppin' Jacks lost last night 47-40, and I can take no blame in the team's shortcomings as I myself missed the game to cover the Governor's 2007 State Budget Address. It's all numbers really, they dealt with 7 points, I dealt with $57.7 billion. Relative, you know...

From the report I got, the Hoppin' Jacks were ice cold from the field, but judging by that score, I feel pretty confident about our team's improving abilities because earlier in the season of course, "ice cold from the field" meant we were losing by 30-odd points, not 7. Of course, this game was the first of the second half of the season, in a new (downgraded league) so it sounds like the talent level of the opposition is more to our level, but I feel no shame in losing by 7. It certainly is better than losing by 37. Of course, that's from a purely observational standpoint. God knows if I had been there, it might have killed me (especially with my newfound ability to go lights-out on deep 3 balls). But I wasn't there...

And wouldn't you know it, there's a Style Council track for that too!

The Style Council - Why I Went Missing
Another one from my favorite TSC effort, 1988's much maligned Confessions of a Pop Group. I think critics would've been much warmer to the album had the majority of it been like this - stellar little relaxed groove, a solo that merged an organ with a Spanish guitar, and some of Weller's best heartbroken, self-critical lyrics. It's also one of the handful of tracks that Steve White plays drums on (White left the sessions midway through out of frustration with the group's direction at the time), and the drums seem really upfront in the mix, and - as should be with White manning them - very tightly wound. It's not the most amazing drum track ever, but there's something about it I really love.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

You'll never wait so long.

Relatively quick one today.

This was brought to my attention yesterday and gave me a good giggle.

Okay, on the surface it seems relatively idiotic as I'm pretty sure every police department has a non-emergency number and she didn't have to be using up that precious 911 tape for a makeshift personal. But I gotta hand it to Lorna - she was thinking on her feet. Granted, she sounded like my 3-year-old cousin trying to finagle a cookie before dinner when she said "Ummm, because I have an emergency," but she came around fast. Am I silly for feeling a bit sympathetic to her confessional? "Honey, I'm just gonna be honest with you, okay? I just thought he was cute. I'm 45 years old and I'd like to meet him again, but I don't know how to do it without calling 911." From a certain standpoint, it could easily be viewed as one of the most tragic 911 calls ever made (and hey, whaddaya know, there's tape to prove it.)

Okay, she faces a year in jail (I gotta believe that even with the worst representation, she won't have to serve the full term), and it was an embarrassing way to make your feelings known to an arresting officer, but I have to believe that even if the officer found her not the least bit attractive, he had to feel a little flattered. Unless he had the disposition of Summer's boyfriend in Napoleon Dynamite. God, that guy was a dick.

Anyway, I thought of this song straightaway...

Pixies - Here Comes Your Man
Is it totally cliche to rate this as my favorite Pixies track? I don't care. Anyone who thinks it's the easy choice has never played it on guitar - particularly when you hit the B minor and go "There is a wait so long," and then when that A carries you over the "You'll never wait so looooong!!!" bit. I tell you, it's the kind of song that makes you happy you know just enough guitar to play it. Off 1989's classic album Doolittle, which also has "Wave of Mutilation," which Rhett Miller prefers covering himself. Pff.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Forget all the songs and just dance to the music instead.

Would you believe it - 30 years ago today, the Kinks released Sleepwalker.

Now, while never being one of my absolute favorite Kinks albums (I do like a number of their tracks from the 1970s and 1980s, but the albums never stood up as cohesive pieces the way they did in the 1960s), the album did mark a significant turning point in the Kinks career that saved them from becoming a laughable cabaret act.

It's probably unfair to call 1968's The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society their first "concept" album inasmuch as it's a collection of songs revolving around a general muse (a love for the ways of old), but what's to say that 1967's Something Else by the Kinks or 1966's Face to Face didn't run around general muses themselves (life in the middle-to-working class and the co-existence of disenchantment for workers and aristocats, respectively)?

But after The Village Green Preservation Society, Ray Davies locked himself into the idea of the concept album with reckless abandon and while albums like Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Pt. 1 and Muswell Hillbillies held to a "general" muse, it was an all-out proper storytelling affair on Preservation Acts 1 & 2, Everybody's in Showbiz, Schoolboys in Disgrace and A Soap Opera. While each of the albums contained some undisputed classics among them, it quickly became apparent that Ray Davies was holding on way too tight.

Part of this I blame on Pete Townshend. While I do love the Who, it's hard to deny some obvious Kinks-copying throughout much of their career (even down to the group's first proper single, "I Can't Explain"), and it must've been hard for Davies to see Tommy go onto the acclaim it did in the wake of his own Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) basically doing nothing, though being a superior-by-miles album. If you read any Kinks memoirs, you'll notice a slight bit of venom with any mention of the Who, and I think Ray really, really, REALLY wanted people to realize he could do the concept thing better than Pete.

But in holding on too tight, the music suffered. RCA dropped them and in the mid-70s, it looked like the Kinks' ship had violently run itself aground. Fortunately, Clive Davis saw some life left in the boys, and signed them up to Arista on the stipulation that Davies toss the concept crap aside and go back to writing songs and songs alone.

Ray Davies emerges from the concept jungle.

Sleepwalker was the band's Arista debut, and does come on like a breath of fresh air after a few long years in the concept jungle. There's nothing as quick and punchy as the band's early singles like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," but the intent here (especially on songs like "Life on the Road," "Juke Box Music" and the title track) seems to be to make songs audiences can jump around a bit to at shows. "Stormy Sky" and "Brother" get a bit schmaltzy, and like every other song on the album, go on about a minute longer than they need to, but there are still memorable little hooks locked inside each, and more importantly, every song has at least one line that proves Davies hadn't lost his sharp lyrical skills.

These two are my favorite tracks off the album, and consequently, were the two picked by Arista for the A-side and B-side of the album's lead single in the States.

The Kinks - Juke Box Music
It goes a bit "stadium" after the halfway mark, but from the opening conga beat through Dave's quasi-guitar-heroics in the song's finale, it's really a fun trip. Starts off as a critique on fans who look way too deeply into song meanings, but Davies seems to turn a self-critical eye on himself and his concept-run toward the end - "It's all because of that music that we're slowly drifting apart / but it's only there to dance to, so you shouldn't take it to heart." Then again, maybe that's just me being a fan who looks way too deeply into song meanings.

The Kinks - Life Goes On
Everything about this song teases the line that separates coolness from schmaltz, but somehow, stays cool through and through. Starts off with the story of a friend's suicide before a bit of pontificating, a decidedly humorous story of the singer's own failed suicide bid and a bit more pontificating. It's not the "appreciate life" sentiment that gets me or even the humorous verse - it's the way the music soars during the "And one day when you are gone" bit and the sparsest thing about the whole tune - the pair of handclaps just before the guitar solo. It's the only time handclaps appear in the whole song, and it's just for two quick beats, but... it's brilliant, isn't it?

Post Script - If you haven't already, you really need to check out the best Kinks website out there.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Got to have a hundred.

Well, here we are. Five months in and "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." has reached it's 100th post.

It's the first milestone for the blog, which is kind of cool - I remember telling my friend John I was thinking of starting it and he decided to warn me, "You're going to have to come up with stuff to write about everyday." Haven't really had a snafu in that respect yet, but then again, this thing is still finding it's voice and when you really start to scour all the music blogs out there, you'll see that this one still has a ways to go before becoming any kind of elite deal. On the other hand, where else could you have found an Allen Toussaint exclusive, a running basketball-by-Style-Council diary and enough Traveling Wilbury knowledge to make your head spin in just 5 months?

So it's come this far, and no signs of slowing down. Readership continues to grow, which rocks and thanks to all those who chime in with comments now and again. Always nice to know this exercise isn't completely in vain.

...although, honestly, how great am I?!

I've been waiting for the right instance to post this track, and I really doubt any other news event/milestone/personal rant could provide the forum for it that the 100th post one does.

Wilson Pickett - Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)
A killer cut from Pickett's fantastic 1966 LP, The Exciting Wilson Pickett that really cements how amazing his voice was. He sings the track with his trademark honeydripped passion, but it's those high pitched wails that always send a chill up my spine. I've tried those wails myself. The cops showed up after my neighbors thought I was being brutally murdered. It's nice to know they care, at least. Anyway, yeah, they're a lot harder to do than you might think, so more power to the great Wilson Pickett for pulling them off so beautifully.

And here's a fantastic live performance of the track. Wails and a rapt German audience. Still wish I was alive for this one.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Do you wanna be my girl? Do you wanna be my friend?

Always interesting to see how different people react to the news that a bee is right by their ear.

So I'm pretty excited - I'm seeing Rhett Miller tonight.

I first got into Rhett (oddly enough) in his solo format. I saw him open for Neil Finn in Chicago in four years ago now (Jesus Christ... really?) to the month.

I'd never heard of the Old 97's or even a lick off the album he was promoting at the time, 2002's fabulous The Instigator, and though he only played a pretty short set (but did come back on to sing backing vocals with Neil on "Anytime"... beautiful), I was sold. And that's big because it's very, very hard to get me into opening acts.

The Instigator is still one of my all time favorite albums, and last year's follow up The Believer was pretty great too. Not as good as The Instigator, but as you will have learned here in December (bonus points for keeping up), it did feature his best song ever, "Brand New Way."

Getting into the Old 97's was a lot of fun too, and I've been keeping close tabs on them ever since (word is growing to a steady boil now over an imminent Murry solo album - huzzah!), and I'm never one to miss a 97's show if they're anywhere within the Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison vicinity.

But seeing Rhett solo is always a treat for me. Maybe it's because it's the way I was introduced to him, but I've never seen one man command an audience armed just with an acoustic guitar the way he does. He's really a fabulous showman and the versatility that the solo acoustic format allows (set list changes, off the cuff covers, audience participation) really suits him well. Of course it helps that his following is pretty much as (if not miles moreso) rabid as I am, and when you're in a crowd that's hanging on every word and just as excited for what comes next as you are, it's pretty much a guaranteed good time.

It appears by this article that Rhett's working on some new stuff and that reaction to The Believer wasn't nearly as wild as he might've hoped, but... having hung out with the guy and seen him on multiple occasions, I doubt it'll be one of those "F*ck the music business and f*ck you guys too" type of affairs. If you're in the area tonight, I encourage you to come out.

Rhett Miller, High Noon Saloon, 9 PM (Carrie Rodriguez opening).

There's a bit of added excitement for me about tonight's show, so hopefully good details will come later, but I'll let the songs I've chosen clue you in on what I might be talking about...

Old 97's - Buick City Complex
The first time I heard this was in Rhett's solo acoustic format, but it's a song that sounds really, really great with a full band complement. The 97's absolutely nailed it on 2001's Satellite Rides album (which was, incidentally, mixed by frequent Crowded House/Neil Finn studio-go-to-guy Tchad Blake), and it is pretty much a lock for my favorite 97's track (most days... it does still depend on which day you ask me, but 7 times out of 10, I'll say this). I just love the swell of the chorus. The beginning almost sounds like Rhett's making up the words as he goes along, but when the band lets rip on that chorus, every man who's ever had a teenage hormone rush in his life knows exactly what its driving at. And judging by the way girls react at these concerts, I'm guessing they get it too.

Old 97's - Indefinitely
It took a long time for me to come around to this song, and I think a lot of fans were thrown for a loop by the acoustic pop predominance on 1999's Fight Songs after the beer and whiskey barrel crashing of 1997's Too Far to Care. It offers insight into where Rhett wanted to head personally with his music (he was listening to a lot of Belle & Sebastian at the time and Jon Brion also has a more-than-tangible presence on the album), but seemed to kind of upset the band's own collective structure (which is odd, considering how all over the map they are). Apparently Ken Bethea's not too big a fan of "Nineteen" and you never really hear "Let the Idiot Speak" anymore, do you? They will still play this one live though, and when I saw the boys in Milwaukee in 2004 do this, it finally dawned on me what a good track it was - particularly the "Well the second hand's the first thing when you see when you wake up (I don't mean no!)" middle section toward the end.

The first time I saw Rhett live he talked about Madison and called it a pretty cool town, "except for all The Onion editors walking around and... being weird." Tonight will be the first time I see him here, and since most of The Onion's business has moved elsewhere, it should all be good. Except for this GD weather. Honestly...

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

And for our part, guess we must be blessed.

Pardon me if I sound like Charlie Brown, but...

"WE WON!!!"

The Hoppin' Jacks notched their first victory of the season last night with a 44-41 win over Grant Thornton - everybody played their part and got some points in the victory, which made it a thoroughly satisfying affair. The final score makes the game seem a lot closer than it was - the opposing team made a strong run in the final few minutes of regulation, and while we did panic a little (we had maintained an 8-to-12-point lead for most of the game), we were able to hold it together and stop the final surge.

I overcame a horribly poor first half that resulted in a few turnovers due to no more than butterfingers really. I'll be honest - with as cold as its been in Madison, I wasn't too up on venturing out into the cold for the night, and didn't come psyched and ready. Fortunately the rest of the team did it and despite my poor performance first half, they were able to keep us well afloat. The intermission did me well though and in the second half I was money in getting rebounds, pressuring shooters and even draining a deep, wide open three ball that hit nothing but net and elicited a huge chorus of "YEAH!!!" from the rest of my team. It felt good. Damn good.

Totally like me last night.

Last night marked the end of the first half of the season, so while it's absolutely fantastic to walk away with a victory, it also means we might be dumped down a level to play a group of teams more suited to our own capabilities. Though with as good as we looked last night, driving to the hoop, finishing great passes with sweet layups and the like, I'd be more than willing to take on 2 or 3 of the teams we bit the dust to earlier in the season.

Point is, it's nice to be able to put up a joyous Style Council track and I think the choice should be obvious...

The Style Council - Headstart for Happiness
This is the version off the Style Council's first release, 1983's Introducing the Style Council. They revisited it on the Cafe Bleu album with a jazzed up feel, but I still think this is the better version. A lot more pure - just acoustic guitar, a handclapping beat and an exciteable organ (the key to my heart, of course). These kinds of songs only seemed to fall out like rain during the early part of the Style Council's career, before Weller decided the band's lyrical emphasis should dwell predominantly on politics and sociology (with a good, though heartbreaking, love song here and there thrown in for good measure). In his solo career he's returned to these kinds of tunes (see: "Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea," "Going Places," "Here's the Good News"), and it suits him well. He's quite fun when he's in a good mood.

Here's a clip of Weller beautifully revisiting it a few years ago on German TV...

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wanna know the rest? Hey, buy the rights.

For some reason this makes me feel really old.

It's been 10 years now (yes, a decade) since OMC released "How Bizarre" in the United States and proceded to saturate every light-to-alternative radio station and MTV and VH1 in the following spring and summer months.

For some reason, it seems like yesterday to me. That was the summer between 8th grade and freshman year of high school, when - for whatever reason - I was really tuned into MTV, VH1 and all the popular radio stations in Chicago at the time. I cite the popularity of Oasis in the States at the time as a driving factor of that, but the truth is that even though a lot of crap was released in 1997 and became wildly popular ("Mmmbop," the Spice Girls' first run of singles, Savage Garden - and admit it, you kinda dug "I Want You"), the fervor that surrounded all those songs - crappy as they were - was kind of exciting. In the years thereafter, I stopped seeing such collective excitement about popular music, and I still cite 1997 as the last truly great year for popular music -- because for every crap single that went to the top of the charts, you also had landmark albums like Be Here Now, Urban Hymns and OK Computer. How bizarre.

It was also - and this is worth mentioning - the last full year before the internet and all its downloading capabilities came into full swing. 1997 was still the year of AOL, and, if your family was at all like mine, that meant a half-hour online a day, that slow dial up connection (which I'm pretty sure I can still mimic sound for sound), and the unbridled excitement that came with the announcement "You've got mail!" What that means is that it was the last full year the public was buying albums and singles in full force. Investing in a piece of music still meant something, because for every Beatles, White Zombie or Jewel disc you bought to cultivate your own refined taste, you still would drop some money on the popular stuff to be a part of mass culture. After all... Spice went SEVEN TIMES PLATINUM in the United States in 1997. Do you really think THAT many people thought "Wannabe" and "Say You'll Be There" was the greatest 1-2 punch to open a record that year?

Now I'm not going to go off down that route of "Oh, the MP3 has ruined music" -- I think it's created a beautiful thing (see: this blog) and has revolutionized the industry -- you think the Arctic Monkeys could've been instant smashes in 1997? If you say yes, you're fooling yourself. But it's also made music so very selective. MTV and VH1 don't even show videos anymore, "popular" radio is becoming increasingly difficult to define as gazillions more "refined" and "unique" stations get added to satellite radio and as much as I love the Hype Machine and - it's made for indie music fans. I can't say this with any certainty of course, but I highly doubt the millions of kids that will be between middle and high school this summer will scour it looking for the new Of Montreal tunes. And if they are, then... well, kids are way cooler these days.

The weird thing is that when I think about 1997 - the 8th grade trip to Washington D.C., the start of high school, Be Here Now, the Spice Girls, Princess Diana's death... it seems like 10 years. But "How Bizarre" still seems too recent.

Its problem was exactly what I mentioned at the start of this blog - its mass appeal. It could be played on BOTH MTV and VH1. It could be played on both 101.1 and 101.9 (Apologies if you're not from Chicago and don't get that). And it was played on all those and everything in between. So by the time August rolled around and my freshman year of high school started, no one even remotely liked that song anymore. Even though the people professing their hatred for it were the same people who were dancing to it at the pool parties in July and calling it "the, like, most fun song EVER!!!" (How bizarre.)

It burned out too fast, and so when Napster and everything else came along shortly thereafter, it was still too soon and no one even bothered to look it up and download it. One has to wonder what might've happened if station programmers had started the heavy rotations just a couple months later. It was a big victim of timing... in the States at least.

The song was actually first released in OMC's native New Zealand in 1995, and went on to become a hit in Australia and Europe in 1996. So while it's brief hit of popularity in the States was actually its last rattle, it ended a near 2-year run of popularity for the song that ultimately resulted in it becoming the most popular record to ever come out of New Zealand. That is, the country that produced the Finn Brothers. How bizarre.

That said, Pauly Fuemana was probably happy to see the song fall from grace after two years of singing it and simultaneously trying to push his and OMC's original tougher, street sound. There's just no way you can sound like a tough guy with the name Pauly (believe me, I know), and with a lyric that goes "Elephants and acrobats, lion, snakes, monkey - Pele speaks "righteous!," sister Zina says 'funky!'" I mean... that's "Barney's Day at the Circus" caliber, really.

But... for some reason a few months ago, I remembered the song and got all into it again - even doing a blazing rendition (depending on who you ask) at the Karaoke Kid. Since it never got the chance to even be a rabid download on Napster, it sure as hell never got to get the chance to be on anyone's iPod. And you know what? It doesn't sound half bad on mine. I had it on shuffle the other day and it came on right after Lily Allen's "Smile." It all made such sense, really.

How bizarre... how bizarre...

OMC - How Bizarre
Buy the album of the same name. The title track is the only song worth any salt on it, but you can get it for the price of a single now anyway...

And since it was an all-out sound and visual assault in '97, I can't talk about the song without including the video, can I?

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Monday, February 05, 2007

When all those sad tears are falling, baby, from your eyes.

Game? What game? There was a football game last night? Don't know what you're talking about...

Yes, I watched, and yes... well, there you have it. Am I down? Nah. As the fictitious Chicago Cubs owner in 1993's classic piece of celluloid Rookie of the Year said, "Well... we get used to this sort of thing in Chicago." And we carry the knowledge to Madison, of course.

It does present a good transition to today's topic, though, Steam's 1968 single "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye." I wish I could be directing it at the Colts, but as disappointment is the topic of today's post, it's actually more a propos.

In depth knowledge of this song has just come to me within the past few weeks, and I gotta say, it's damn near killed almost all the sentimentality I've ever had for it. And that's a lot - I've been singing the song for as long as I can remember.

Because I called my grandparents "Nana" and "Papa" my father and grandfather thought it would do me well to learn that chorus at the age of three, and for the early part of my childhood, that's how I would always bid adieu to my grandmother. "Nana Nana. Nana Nana! Hey hey hey! Goodbye!" And don't judge. We all do silly things as kids.

Now it might be strange considering that I, a die-hard Cubs fan would have such an affinity to a song that's predominantly related to the White Sox, but I was completely oblivious to the fact, and I doubt it's any surprise that when I learned of the White Sox ties to the tune (they won't even PLAY it at Wrigley Field), it started this whole string of bad news for the song.

I rediscovered the song in 2000 when Disney put out Remember the Titans. I didn't really think too much of the movie, but my mother loved it and went out and got the soundtrack, which - as all good sports movies do - featured the song. I was able to listen to it again and realized that not only were there actual verses to it, but that in fact, it wasn't just some taunting sports song in the vain of "We Will Rock You" - it was actually a plea from a shy boy to a girl he admires who's getting dicked around by the guy she's currently with. Once I heard that line "He'll never love you the way that I love you, 'cos if he did, no no, he wouldn't make you cry" I just thought, "Brilliant!" But soon thereafter, I moved out of the house and went to college, neither taking Mom's CD, nor copying it onto my hard drive and thus, forgetting about it again for a long time thereafter.

Well maybe it's the fact that TNT has been rerunning Remember the Titans a hell of a lot lately, or maybe it's the fact that I've been finding myself in situations where I'm thinking "I could be a lot better boyfriend for her than THAT guy," but I got into the song again a couple weeks ago, and (as I do) looked way too much into its backstory/production/details, and I gotta say... I feel duped.

First off, the White Sox thing. That sucks. But I also understand it's a pithy thing to get in a huff about, so never mind that. Let's start with what got me back into the song - my own situation with women as of late, and my desire to hear the verses again. As cool as the verses are, they're done by 1:37 mark. And this is a 4-minute song. So that means 2/3 of the song is just that ridiculous chorus. Waste. Big time waste.

Secondly, how cool are the verses? Sure, every shy guy can relate to the sentiments, but have you deciphered all the lyrics? Particularly what the singer sings AFTER he says "He might be thrilling, babe, but my love..." and then the background singers shout "MY LOVE! MY LOVE!" and you don't hear what the singer says, but he comes out of it saying "So go on and kiss him goodbye." What's the argument?! What is the airtight point that he makes to make the lady want to kiss the dolt goodbye? What is the basis of singing this whole song? Do you really wanna know?

"He might be thrilling, babe, but my love is so doggone willing. So go on and kiss him goodbye."

His love is so doggone willing. Well... how can you say no to that, right? If I was a chick and said "Okay give me one good reason why I should dump him for you," and the dude said, "'Cos my love is so doggone willing," there'd be no dumping whatsoever. However, if he had said "My love is so goddamned willing," I'd be like, "Sold." Now granted, this was the late '60s... radio censorship was a fickle mistress, but the point is a make or break effort to get this girl. You can't stop short with "doggone." You gotta go for the emphasis.

Now, I'm sure the songwriter wasn't putting that much into it - indeed the song's own interesting history indicates that nobody in the studio that day could even give two sh*ts about the track, but still... throwaway or not, you shouldn't ever have to resort to "doggone." Highly disappointing. I wish I hadn't looked the lyrics up.

But what made it worse was my obsessive compulsive need to have sleeve art with every track in my iTunes library. So then began the search for the single's sleeve. Now I found a lot of pictures of the 45" record (as seen on the Wikipedia page), but then I found the actual sleeve art and... I'm still in shock.

For whatever reason, it's always sounded like a soul record to me. Maybe it's the production, the beat, whatever... I always thought the guys singing it were black. Does color make a difference? No, of course not - a good song is a good song, and it doesn't matter if you're green, red, purple, black, ochre, magenta or white, but when you spend the better part of your life believing this is some little southern soul group that had a one-off hit and then find out that it was actually done by THESE GUYS...

...suffice to say, it messes with your head a little. Was that really the best sleeve design? Really? Doesn't it look like some bad male porn video cover?
My suspicions/disappointments were pushed further by YouTube when I realized that the dude with red towel there is the ringleader, and yeah, that is a bad combover he's got going after all:

What a crappy miming job too. Particularly the drummer (who I'm not convinced ISN'T Tiny Tim) from 1:01 to 1:04 who doesn't even mime the fill but just stares ahead blankly and continues miming the basic backbeat. Although looking at Gary DeCarlo (lead singer) in this video, "doggone" starts to make a bit of sense, doesn't it? But even so... he's obviously got nothing else going for him. You still should've went with "Goddamn," Gary. Sure, her current boyfriend might make her cry, but I'm not entirely convinced you wouldn't yourself. Look at yourself.
Suffice to say, it's been hard to listen to the song lately. It's been permanently marred for me. But that first 1:37 still sounds promising, doggone it... It may be dead (dying) for me, but perhaps it can live on for you...

Le sigh.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

In the night when lights are low.

I do love that good old 1950s rock and roll.

I have no shame whatsoever in professing my love for Ricky Nelson's classic tracks from that era (except "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It"... never did understand that one), and even Elvis' stuff from the era is good (I'm not a big fan of his, though). Bobby Darin's That's All album from 1959 is rock and roll with a bit of big band trim and let's not forget the advent of Ray Charles on Atlantic and what he brought to American culture in the late 1950s and to music forever thereafter.

My favorite 1950s rock and roller though, is unquestionably Buddy Holly. He gets points Elvis could never match because he at least had a hand in writing his own material and the improbable amount of classics in his run of singles from 1957-1959 still boggles my mind. The leaps he made in his music in the three year span also was stunning - think of the worlds of separation between "Oh Boy!" and "Raining in My Heart." He forged the way for double-tracked vocals with "Words of Love" and managed to make Paul Anka sound like a kick ass songwriter with "It Doesn't Matter Anymore." If his life hadn't been cut short, what he might've done could've arguably made the Beatles' own progress the following decade look sluggish.

Tomorrow will mark the 48th anniversary of the Day the Music Died, when Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in Clear Lake, Iowa after chartering a small plane to fly to their next gig, having tired of staying on a cramped bus with a faulty heater. If it was anywhere near as cold as it has been in Madison lately, I perfectly understand their logic.

I always commemorate the day by listening to a lot of Buddy stuff (I never listen to "American Pie," and I would advise you don't either), and here's one of his lesser-known tracks that more than deserves to be in your Buddy mix.

Buddy Holly - Well... All Right
This was the b-side to Buddy's 1958 single "Heartbeat," and trumped its A-side in every aspect in my humble opinion. In fact, this is my second all-time favorite Holly track, falling only behind "Maybe Baby." I love the switchup to an acoustic-based song, but the thing that always gets me is the driving rhythm - carried out on the ride cymbal, and the ride cymbal alone. "Too young for real love" is a theme that's managed to stay in rock and roll in the 50 years since its inception (maybe reaching its summit with 'Wouldn't it Be Nice' in 1966...?), and Holly's delivery all at once captures the innocence and urgency of young love. Can now be found a number of Holly comps including The Definitive Collection.

This is probably in really poor taste to post, but this is one of my all time favorite Kids in the Hall sketches, and despite being in poor taste, always manages to make me laugh out loud. Now, I'm as big a Buddy fan as anyone, and I know this is NOTHING even remotely close to what went down that night in Clear Lake, but... taken with a light heart and a grain of salt, it'll make you laugh. Especially because it's so wild to see Kevin McDonald do something this outrageous.

Plus, I still think "American Pie" and Lou Diamond Phillips' portrayal of Richie Valens are way, way more offensive.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Well you won't have to worry - I'll be there for you.

Genius. But you knew that...

The good news finally came Tuesday night.

"Why don't you call this number tomorrow afternoon and I'll patch you through to Mr. Toussaint in New York," said his assistant, who I'd been rescheduling with on an almost every-other-day basis for the last two weeks.

Sure enough, Wednesday I was patched through to Toussaint in New York, who speaks in a slow, deliberate manner with a "just enough" tinge of a N'awlins accent. He's been there for the most part since Katrina hit in 2005 and destroyed his home, but his heart and efforts to help the Crescent City have remained down there - not only with a number of fund-raising benefit shows, but also through contributions to musical projects like Our New Orleans and last year's collaboration with Elvis Costello, the critically-acclaimed The River in Reverse.

"Working with Elvis was highlight of my life," Toussaint said, sending me reeling. After all... this is a guy who's shared the studio with everyone from Professor Longhair to Lee Dorsey, Paul McCartney to Dr. John, Patti LaBelle to Etta James and almost everyone inbetween. So... really?! DECLAN?!

"He's a scholar," Toussaint said. "And he's still a student. He's always developing his skills and finesse. He's wide awake, knowledgable and is always, always in tune. If he focused on one thing - lyrics, guitar playing... he'd be an absolute master. But he wants to learn all of it."

But of course, he doesn't downplay his work with others, either. Working with Paul McCartney on 1975's Venus and Mars was "Monumental. He truly is all of what you'd perceive him to be in terms of talent. There's a lot of talent, love and care in that man. No frills. He knows how to get to what he wants and he knows when he arrives." Patti LaBelle, meanwhile, "shocked all of us when she came in to do 'Lady Marmalade' with the electricity she brought," and although only working alongside Professor Longhair briefly, "I always feel some 'Fess whenever I'm playin'."

I mentioned it before, of course, but when you think of New Orleans music, it's next to impossible not to think of Toussaint - if not for his own work, then at least for something he's had a hand in. The guy's shaped some of the most memorable measures of music over the last 40-odd years, but he's been working toward that goal for as long as he can remember.

"How long have I wanted to be involved in music?" he laughs, repeating my question as if I'm really dumb enough to have ever believed there might have been something else he wanted to do with his life. "From the very age of consciousness I've wanted to play. When I was very young, I could mimic things off the radio on the piano, and I just never wanted to do anything else.

"Anyone who liked to sing liked having me around, because I could play anything. I remember being a teenager and having people at this studio ask me to come in and be their musician. It took me all of about... oh... two seconds to say 'YES!'"

Toussaint cut his teeth in the 1960s as a songwriter and producer (alongside a brief stint in the military from 1963 - 1965), and in the 1970s, finally started to get some of his own stuff into the mainstream with fantastic albums like From a Whisper to a Scream, Life Love and Faith and Southern Nights (the latter of which was the subject of a fantastic writeup this past weekend by the good folks over at swoon).

While each of the albums are chock full of classic tracks, Toussaint again blew me away by suggesting that if it were up to him, those albums may have never existed.

"Every solo album I've ever done, I've only done because someone's asked me," he said. "It's weird to be at the front. It's out of my comfort zone. I like leading the band, writing the different parts and seeing how the music goes along."

So you never would've just thought to do an album by yourself?

"No," he said, and I could literally feel him shaking his head. "Oh no."

One of Toussaint's most storied solo albums is 1978's Motion, which found him not only out of New Orleans and recording in Los Angeles, but also under the supervision of another producer, Jerry Wexler. Given his earlier comments, I thought this would be ever further out of his comfort zone.

"It was wonderful," he said. Of course. "Jerry brought together the best of everything he could conjure up in terms of musicians and sounds. It was kind of unusual to be in that role, but he wasn't like a dictator, I thought it went great."

The record was an attempt by Warner Brothers to make some money on Toussaint's name in a starring role instead of as a producer, songwriter or arranger, and ultimately, it flopped, but does contain some great tracks if you ever get a chance to hear it.

The last album to bear his name in a solo starring spot was 1996's Connected, which also features some fantastic tracks, but didn't make much of a dent on the mainstream market. Fortunately, though, The River in Reverse did, and it's afforded his an amount of popularity that means people outside New Orleans are finally getting the chance to see Toussaint live.

"It's not really a tour, but I've played a few dates over the course of the season, so I guess you could kind of look at it that way," he said. "I haven't played outside of New Orleans much, so it's actually quite a dramatic thing for me."

Toussaint plays the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on Feb. 17. Be there.

Here are some picks for your ears from the man himself...

His favorite song by another artist...
Gilbert O'Sullivan - Alone Again (Naturally)
Believe it or not, the face of New Orleans music and everything jazz, funk, blues and pop absolutely loves the 1972 lament from Irish singer/songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan. "The organization of that song is just incredible. It's so well done. It's heartbreaking, but it's so beautiful," Toussaint said. Can be found on any number of Greatest Hits comps.

One of the favorite records he's worked on...
Dr. John - Right Place, Wrong Time
Toussaint produced the In the Right Place album, and played a number of instruments on it, including on this key cut from it. "That was such a fun album to do," he said. "All of us came from the same place and we were all playing together. I loved playing that - it felt so much at home. That's what the album should've been called, really... 'So Much at Home.'"

And here's a pick from yours truly.

Allen Toussaint - Do the Do
It teeters on the edge of silliness/tweeness, and almost begs Mountain Dew for a commercial rewrite, but if the sincerity of Toussaint's vocal and the song's arrangment don't get you, then his piano chops definitely will. Like his old compatriot once said, "Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs... and what's wrong with that?" From 1996's Connected.