Thursday, May 31, 2007

I can live forever if I so desire.

Any frequent visitor to these parts will know my affinity for Mr. David Ruffin.

In need of a soul spot on this blog, I turned to the trusty Temptations today, but chose to go with their first major hit following Ruff's departure, the bold and brassy "I Can't Get Next to You."

Featuring Dennis Edwards (ex-Contours) stepping in for the departed Ruffin, this song is interesting because it actually offers all five Temps (albeit just one line for the lone remaining Temp, Otis Williams) a solo turn. It's a bit more arresting and heavier hitting than their mid-1960s popular numbers, but unequivocally kicks ass on all fronts - especially Dennis and Paul shouting the refrain at the 2:19 mark, and the Funk Brothers' backing track.

From 1969's Puzzle People.

The Temptations - I Can't Get Next To You

As an added bonus (and since I've been on a real YouTube kick as of late), some cool dude has done some interesting mixes on old Temps and Motown numbers to isolate vocals and instrumentation and give you a hint of just how great each performance is on its own. Here's the great video for "I Can't Get Next to You." As always - dig those funky moves.

Sorry for the shorter post today, a bit busy, but be sure to come back for a big one tomorrow -- THE OFFICIAL ASBTTIS SUMMER MIXTAPE!!!!


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

You should know how all the pros play the game.

One of the bands I catch a lot of slack for confessing admiration for is Steely Dan.

It's kind of strange really, considering how truly amazing the band is and how great of songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are, but I think what happens is that they fall into that "Bands My Dad Loves" category for everyone, along with the likes of Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Supertramp (all of whom my father adore and I strongly dislike - yet, the same people that get on me for my Steely Dan affections usually profess to liking at least one of those other three).

Maybe it's the pretention and "way, way f*cking smarter than thou" feel that Steely Dan's music oozes that turns people off. I dunno. I resented them growing up because my father would force their music upon my mother, sister and I during family road trips, but once I got a deeper appreciation of music and a little age behind me, it was hard to continue hating them.

I believe I've written on this topic before, but what got me on it again was some good soul posting clips from the "Classic Albums" DVD of Aja on YouTube. I like Aja. But I like Katy Lied and Countdown to Ecstacy better. Although viewing these videos gave me a far, far deeper appreciation of Aja. They also made me want one for each Steely Dan album.

Aja is amazing. I mean, if you think about it, it's a mere seven songs long, but even with that seeming parity, it's one of the most full albums ever. Unbelievably, it took a year to record, because Fagen and Becker would rerecord the album with entirely different bands and lineups waiting until they got the perfect performance for each damn track. Had to be exhausting, but damned if it doesn't sound fantastic.

And to all you, my Steely Dan naysaying friends, I say this -- if Ian f*cking Dury can come on and say - AND I QUOTE - "Aja's got a sound that lifts your heart up, and it's the most consistently upful, heartwarming... Even though it is a classic L.A. kind of sound, you wouldn't think it was recorded anywhere else in the world. It's got California through it's blood, even though they're boys from New York. It's a record that sends my spirits up, and really, when I listen to music, that's what I want. I don't really want to hear people moaning, and I don't want to hear music that moans" -- then I'm more than justified in digging Steely Dan. Goddamn right.

Here are some of my favorite tracks from the album and great stories behind them from the guys themselves.

Steely Dan - Black Cow

Steely Dan - Home At Last (Bernard "Pretty" Purdie's explanation of the "Purdie Shuffle" is FANTASTIC)

Steely Dan - Josie

Be sure to also check out the vids for stories on "Aja," "Deacon Blues" and "Peg" too. Don't know where "I Got the News" got off to...


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

There'll never be enough to learn.

Today, Noel Gallagher turns 40.

Forty! By God, how time flies when you're having fun.

I'd never list Oasis as my all time favorite band, but they're solidly in the Top 5. Their impact on my teenage years can't be understated - before them, the only band I ever gave two craps about was the Beatles, and then in 1994 along came these Brits who were being compared to the Beatles (we'd all heard that one before), but actually were unashamedly fessing up to ripping off and living up to the standards that John, Paul, George and Ringo had set. Even at the tender age of 12, I could tell this was kind of brassy. And I liked it.

Now, it may seem like a lot of people stopped caring after 1997, when "Wonderwall," "Don't Look Back in Anger" and "Champagne Supernova" were finally removed from MTV rotation, Be Here Now landed like a juggernaut only to find that it couldn't hold people's attention for more than two weeks, and Bonehead and Guigs left, (incredibly -- or increduously) seeming to take a lot of the band's popularity with them.

While Oasis haven't been has popular in the Gem and Andy era, I will say they're better musically, and that while Noel's penchant for writing a great song has slowed incredibly from his mid-'90s prolificacy, he can still turn out some great tunes. And he's still as sharp as ever and reliable for a great quote. And he's still a great interview. Noel Gallagher is just as awesome to me now as he was 13 years ago.

And to celebrate his 40th, here are 40 reasons why you gotta love the man they affectionately call (or, at least, once called) "The Chief."


40. More than capable of taking the helm of Oasis himself if Liam decides he's not up for performing...:

39. ...even in non-acoustic instances:

38. ...and even when Liam can't remember the words to the song he's singing:

37. "If you're not in it to become bigger than the Beatles, then it's just a hobby."

36. On Bono: "Play 'One' and shut the f*ck up about Africa."

35. Fantastic taste in music:

34. Sent a plaque to Ocean Colour Scene inscribed to "The Second Best Band in Britain."

33. On Crowded House and "Don't Dream it's Over": "I love that song, that song is incredible. A great, great song and they're really nice guys those fellas."

32. "Rock'n'roll is about music. Music. Music. Music. It's not about you, it's not about me, it's not about Oasis. It's about the songs." (one of the more impassioned arguments from the fantastic Wibbling Rivalry).

31. "We got so many harmonies on the records that we thought somebody better sing back up [live]. So seeing as Bonehead's got a voice like Arthur Mullard, Guigs never speaks, and drummers can't sing fullstop, it was down to me really."

30. "Someone was playing a joke when they made me, you know, 'Let's make this guy a writer and a guitar player, but let's make him write with his left hand but play with his right, and let's have him born in the middle of May and give him a Christmas name like Noel, and let's make him a dodgy, schizophrenic, two-faced Gemini.' Cheers!"

29. Has rid himself of the superfluous beard.

28. On Thom Yorke: ""Thom Yorke sat at a piano singing, 'This is f*cked up,' for half an hour. We all know that, Mr. Yorke. Who wants to sing the news? No matter how much you sit their twiddling, going, 'We're all doomed,' at the end of the day people will always want to hear you play 'Creep.' Get over it."

27. Gave Ian Brown one of the best tunes on his last album, and joined in Brown's coolest video in ages:

26. ""I'll always be 16 and want to be in a band. You might get old but you don't grow old, if you know what I mean."

25. Face it, "Don't Look Back in Anger" conjures memories of an idyllic summer for you, too.

24. From a 1997 Entertainment Weekly feature:
Noel orders a beer, the rest opt for lemonades and Cokes. Above us, the TV is on. CNN News. "Have you seen some of the stories they have on here?" Noel enquires. "Check this one I saw this morning. There's this guy who's 75 and he's got cancer. So his doctor tells him he's got about two years to live. So he thinks, 'F*ck it, I've always hated my wife, the stupid bag.' So he kills her. 'What the f*ck, I've got nothing to lose.' Then he's put in jail but, the problem is, he doesn't die. He's 99 now and guess what he's doing?" Noel surveys our expectant faces. "Suing the doctor," he cackles. "He's taking him to court," he continues, pissing himself. "And he's saying, 'If it wasn't for what you told me I would never have killed my wife and now you owe me ten million pounds.' I'm sitting there thinking, 'I know I live in a mad country but it's not half as crazy as it is here.'"

23. "It's a bit weird going to the supermarket -- sometimes you kind of freak people out when you've got four bags of shopping. But you've got to have a real life because if you don't, you end up like Elton John or George Michael. Can you imagine George Michael buying toothpaste and a toothbrush and a newspaper or some lemons?"

22. Gets Paul Weller to ressurrect great Jam B-sides:

21. ...and sounds amazing when harmonizing with Mr. Weller:

20. "[American kids] shouldn't be able to buy records until they're 16. You'll buy any old nonsense — f*cking Britney and Eminem..."

19. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing "Sweet Dreams" and thinks, 'F*ck me, she might have a point there, you know?' And Keane doing "Somewhere Only We Know" and some Japanese businessman going, 'Aw, look at him… we should really f*cking drop that debt, you know.' It's not going to happen, is it?"

18. Oasis - Shout it Out Loud
Pensive and moody-but-optimistic B-side from the "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" single. Bears absolutely no resemblance to the Kiss song of the same name. And thank God for that.

17. "I'll tell you what - if you go around telling everyone you're the best band in the world, 50 percent of them are going to believe you."

16. Happy to just sit and strum along as Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller play Ronnie Lane's "The Poacher":

15. "Phil Collins knows he can't say anything about me because I'm the f*cking bollocks and that's the thing that does his head in. And the fact that he's bald."

14. In February 1995, Noel travels to Manor Studios in Oxford where Paul Weller is recording his Stanley Road album. When Weller asks if he knows the Dr. John song, "I Walk On Gilded Splinters," Noel says he knows it well, and after determining the key, sets about providing acoustic guitar accompaniment. After the session Weller calls his bluff. "You've never heard that f*cking song in your life, have you?" "Nope, never" replies a sheepish Gallagher.

13. But he is quite adept at handling a Neil Young tune:

12. "Funny thing is, we did this interview in America a few weeks ago and this American fella thought that [the backwards bit at the beginning of "D'You Know What I Mean?"] goes, 'The walrus was Bonehead'! I said, 'You are definitely smoking too much pot if you even think that I might think that Bonehead is even a walrus, never mind the f*cking walrus!'

11. Oasis - Idler's Dream
Anyone who says Noel hasn't got it anymore hasn't been listening to the B-sides for the later albums. Even the lesser singles are still worth picking up for at least one blinding B-side, and this gorgeous piano ballad, from "The Hindu Times" single is almost the Oasis equivalent of the Smiths' "Asleep."

10. "I would hope we mean more to people than putting money in a church basket and saying ten Hail Marys on a Sunday. Has God played Knebworth recently?"

09. Matt Pinfield: "The Stone Roses' debut, of course, is just amazing..."
Noel: (interrupting) "The La's is better."

08. Writes one of his finest songs, "Sad Song," and only includes it on the vinyl edition of Definitely Maybe -- doesn't even have it turn up as a B-side until three years later, and on a Japanese-only single. Yet, still performs it to promote the album and encourage people to buy the vinyl version:

07. "I'd much rather be the Keith Richards character. Who wants to be Mick Jagger? I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy."

06. Absolutely impossible not to laugh at this:

05. "Six years ago I thought Eminem was an idiot who could only write songs about his wife and kids. He's still an idiot now if you ask me."

04. Digs the Small Faces (whom I could list as my all time favorite band):

03. "You could say I'm getting along with Liam, but that doesn't mean we'll sit down to have tea. No, we aren't kicking each other in the face, that's all."

02. "And no...I'm not as interested in other people's music as you might think."

01. The number one reason you gotta love Noel Gallagher? Say what you will about "Wonderwall" or "Champagne Supernova." Disagree with his thoughts on contemporaries. Call him an egomaniacal rip-off artist with just second rate talent on guitar and limited scope and songwriting capacity. Slag him off all you like. But at the end of the day, Noel Gallagher wrote "Slide Away." And when I saw Oasis for the first time on January 17, 1998 at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago on the Be Here Now tour, Noel played it during his acoustic spot. I was but 15 years of age, and of all the fabulous concerts I've experienced in my life (Paul McCartney, Lyle Lovett, Ray Davies, Allen Toussaint and Brian Wilson included), it was one of the most defining moments in my life. Thankfully someone captured it on film, and if you listen closely, I'm sure you can hear me gasping in the background:

"I don't know. I don't care. All I know is you can take me there..."


Friday, May 25, 2007

Also, takes much longer to get up north the slow way.

Well in just a few short hours, I'll be hitting 39/90 north and working my way toward the family cottage at Bass Lake for the first time this year.

Memorial Day is always a pretty fun weekend - a few guys from my mom's side of the family get together, perform a lot of manual labor in putting the pier in the water, tuning up the boat for the season, performing various groundskeeping duties and thumb our noses at the DNR and neighbors by keeping a weekend-long fire going to burn off all the leaves that have been on the ground since last fall. We drink a few beers, watch the final half hour of the Indy 500 (the one part of the weekend that I never get that excited about), and when all is said and done on Monday, the cottage is ready for the onslaught of summer visitors.

Over the past few years I've only been able to make it up for opening and closing weekends, so this summer I think I might try to sneak away a couple more times. It's the shame of growing older... I remember being a kid too well and spending weeks up there with my only care being how many times I'd get to water ski a day. Now I have to worry about finding the time to make the trip, budgeting it with summer gas costs (and aren't they looking fun this year?) and since I'm the only one of my generation of cousins on my mom's side (13 of them, mind you) that can operate the boat, I'm usually the one pulling water skiers instead of being pulled myself. But that's alright... I don't want to sound like an old crotchety pessimist here.

Plus I get a few hours' good driving time to listen to tunes, which I dig - especially the stretch of driving from Wausau to Antigo where I just take old back country farm roads that no one ever travels and I've got some 40 miles all to myself, which is pretty cool.

One of the CDs that always gets spun on a Bass Lake trip is (unsurprisingly) Ian Dury's classic New Boots and Panties!!, from which I've posted outtakes and tribute versions of songs on this space, but never an actual song.

Well, that changes today.

The reason I play the disc on my way north is just one line at the very end of the song "Clevor Trever," which was used as the title of today's post. Something about the way Dury says it with his thick Upminster accentuation -- "Awlso" (dramatic pause) "Taykes motch longa 'a get up norf" (dramatic pause) "the slow waiy" -- just always makes me laugh and get really psyched up for the road trip.

But the song's just fantastic in total from the funny reversal of spelling "ver" and "vor" in the title to the near-syllable-overload on the verses (Dury was almost a prototypical rapper at times -- probably why every time someone plays the Streets for me and tells me that I "gotta hear this," I usually say I'd rather just go listen to Dury), and the psuedo-funk backing track. Just another classic track from a thoroughly fantastc album.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I only had this album on vinyl for the first few years I had it, and you must understand that Side One of that album is just absolutely perfect. "Wake Up and Make Love With Me," "Sweet Gene Vincent," "I'm Partial to Your Abracadabra," "My Old Man" and "Billericay Dickie." For the first two months I had the album, I only ever listened to Side One because one - all the tunes were so impossibly fantastic, and two - I really worried that Side Two wouldn't be able to compare.

"Clevor Trever" kicks off Side Two. I'm really glad I eventually got around to flipping the damned thing over.

Ian Dury - Clevor Trever

And remember -- Even if I had, I'm a bit of a Jack the Lad.

Have a fantastic weekend, all.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Get out of the city and into the sunshine. Get out of the office and into the springtime.

Certainly one of the best things about a good/spring summer day is that perfect song that just accentuates the good moods the weather brings and articulates your feelings perfectly - if not even in lyric, but in the way a bright guitar solo meanders its way through a rhapsody or a sunny piano line makes the whole world seem like a better place for two minutes.

There's a number of tunes like this, proven so by the incalculable "summer mix tapes" that almost every music blog cobbles together throughout May and June. I'm contemplating one of my own in the vein of the Christmas mix I compiled in December... we'll see if it happens next month. I might just do a two week run of "good summer songs" and give each song a respective blog post. Decisions, decisions...

Anyway, I decided today to do a little jump on that and give big time credit to one of my absolute favorite sunny-spring-day-with-a-perfect-breeze-in-the-air hymns -- Belle and Sebastian's "Legal Man."

Certainly what rams the point home is the band's incessant imploring at the end for you to get out of the city and into the sunshine, out of the office and into the springtime, which I hope many of you will be doing this weekend anyway, but something about the song's "this could have been a 1960s spy movie theme song" kitsch really appeals to the sunny side of life.

It's a perfect song to blast at 70 mph on the highway on a sunny summer day, as the frenetic bongo-accentuated beat keeps perfect time with the tires on the pavement, and Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson's legalese love speak ("Withstanding provisions of clauses one, two, three and four // Extend contractual period - me and you forevermore!") brings the same knowing smile to the listener's face that B&S seem to provide on an all too regular basis.

The title track of a kick ass EP of the same name from 2000, it can also be found on Push Barman to Open Old Wounds.

Belle & Sebastian - Legal Man

For further grooviness, here's the song's fab lounge video with Isobel Campbell looking fab in a gold glitter dress.

And for further grooviness still, here's the band's mimed performance on Top of the Pops, in which they really let go and have too much fun. Best bit? Gotta be Stevie Jackson's faux-Elvis impersonation when miming the line "I'll render services that you may reasonably require." Enjoy.

...and get out of the office and into the springtime, already.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You saw who we are.

Well, one of the most anticipated music videos of the year made its internet debut in the wee small hours last night.

Paul McCartney's "Dance Tonight" was directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and features Natalie Portman and Mackenzie Crook (or, Gareth from the BBC version of The Office).

Have a look...

It's not bad, but it's not quite as great as you might have hoped either, is it?

The good news is that I did get an advance of the new Macca album, Memory Almost Full, and I am prepared to say it is his best since Flaming Pie. McCartney is trying new things, but instead of his recent "I'm-going-to-try-this-because-I'm-Paul-McCartney-and-I-can-goddammit" trend, this time it actually works. There's an almost hip-hop element to "Mister Bellamy," with Macca singing minimalist (but fantastic) phrases over splatters of piano notes and a backbeat, while "Only Mama Knows" is the most fiery he's sounded since... blimey, Wings, and while there are a couple stinkers - the bad ones' presence is greatly reduced from the numbers seen on both Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Driving Rain.

I'm a bit wary of posting a few tracks in advance, just because I've been afraid of the Starbucks conglomorate since 2001 when I read this article. But leaks have hit the net and if you do a little digging, I'm sure you'll find it... it's also out June 5, so if you can hold your breath for less than two weeks now, it (like Starbucks itself) is probably going to be everywhere.

In lieu of that, I'll post the one track on Chaos and Creation in the Backyard that I really did love.

Paul McCartney - Jenny Wren
Described by its author as a cousin of "Blackbird" - both in acoustic fingerpicking style and loose avian subject matter, apparently - McCartney hasn't sounded this sweet in ages, and this minimalist number provided one of the only moments on Chaos that didn't stink of outright pretentiousness. Subsequent live performances showed tiny cracks in the old workhorse as he never seemed quite able to reach the high notes, but what's more important - the fact that he might be a little winded after an hour of upbeat numbers, or the fact that at his age, he's still able to turn around a song like this every now and again?

**Note - apparently this site is becoming increasingly popular (big hello and thanks to all the visitors), as my monthly bandwidth limit at FileDen is almost maxed out for the first time in the seven months I've used the host (hooray!). Yesterday, I started uploading files to FileXoom in the meantime, which allows more bandwidth, but in return, greatly slows downloading speed. Sorry if it's frustrating anyone - you won't have to bear with it all the time. I'll return to FileDen when the limit is reset.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Download something useful or useless.

Today is Mr. Steven Patrick Morrissey's 48th birthday, and to celebrate, we're going back to the album he'd probably most like to forget.

Mercury, 1997

01. Maladjusted
02. Alma Matters
03. Ambitious Outsiders
04. Trouble Loves Me
05. Papa Jack
06. Ammunition
07. Wide To Receive
08. Roy's Keen
09. He Cried
10. Sorrow Will Come in the End
11. Satan Rejected My Soul

It's not that Maladjusted is a bad album (he has done worse), it's just that it was horribly ill-timed and put out on a label that was dealing with its own slow and painful death. It also cast him to the wilderness, from which he did not return (aside from a couple minimalist tours) for almost seven years.

Watching Morrissey try to stay relevant within the height of Britpop was kind of painful - he'd already been cast aside by his motherland in 1992 when he performed his politically charged "The National Front Disco" draped in a Union Jack and in front of images of skinheads, but when he returned in 1994 with what many fans still cite as his finest solo outing, Vauxhall & I, he seemed older, wiser - and by the opening strains of the gorgeous "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get," ready to play by the numbers all these upstart British bands at the time were playing by.

Unfortunately he followed that album with an unimpressive single, "Boxers," and unimpressive and downright difficult album, Southpaw Grammer, and when he turned around and offered the catchy, bittersweet single "Sunny" in 1996, no one cared anymore. Oasis were dominating Knebworth, K was blowing many a mind, Ocean Colour Scene had set sail upon Moseley Shoals and the eve of OK Computer and Urban Hymns was upon the land.

Trying to find headway in 1997 was going to be no small order - Oasis were expected to change the world with Be Here Now, and while they didn't, Radiohead and the Verve took up the charge with their respective albums, and then at the end of summer, Princess Diana died, taking with her all the bravado and carelessness of the preceding three years. Elton John's rewritten "Candle in the Wind" vaulted to the top of the charts and stayed there for ages.

Now, Morrissey couldn't have predicted such a tumultuous happening (although one site rather annoyingly established a set of 'eerie' coincidences regarding Di and Moz in '97), but releasing albums in the immediate wake of a national or worldwide tragedy is usually a vain exercise... right Mariah?

It didn't help either that his short stint at RCA was followed by signing with Mercury Records, a label that could scrounge together enough cash to release the album and a few singles, but damned if there would be any promotion to speak of -- it's own financial woes sank the company just a short time thereafter. Outside Morrissey's omnipresent hardcore fanbase, few were even aware that the great bequiffed one was still releasing albums.

It also didn't help Morrissey's case that the Smiths had become huge figures again in 1997, as the band was for the first and only time reunited since its split in 1987 to answer to their drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke, who took the Morrissey/Johnny Marr partnership to task for unfairly cutting them out of royalty deals. Most reasonable people would see this as the breaks - Rourke and Joyce had no hand in writing the Smiths' back catalogue, but now wanted a percentage on par with the two that had. The British High Court in all their infinite wisdom found in favor of Rourke and Joyce, souring Moz for the rest of his life and leading to the creation of "Sorrow Will Come in the End," a spoken-word tirade at Moz's former sticksman that qualified as Maladjusted's worst and most self-serving moment, and the magnet that any reviewer who spared some ink on the album dismissed it upon.

What they missed was the fact that the tracks leading up to it were some of the most beautiful and intriguing of Morrissey's career yet. The opening title track is as beguiling as it is menacing, with random squeals of feedback, crashing drums, and Morrissey rattling on like he's just had a hit of speed. "Alma Matters" was the obvious choice for lead single - and as Morrissey singles often go - not the strongest moment on the album, but catchy and charming in its own way. "Trouble Loves Me" is considered to be the lone stellar moment on the album (it is certainly the most beautiful - lyrically AND musically), but "Wide to Receive" and "Papa Jack" also have their own charms ("I don't get along with myself and I'm not too keen on anyone else," anyone?). "Ammunition" is catchy -- though almost hokey, and certainly Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde of "Sorrow Will Come in the End," but Mercury bewilderingly decided to follow up "Alma Matters" with none of these aforementioned nuggets, but two of the album's more disappointing spots - "Roy's Keen" and the good-only-in-title "Satan Rejected My Soul."

It's only a half bad album, but by Morrissey's solo standards, that puts it dead average. In fact, I reckon it's a little above average. If you can average four good, solid songs on a Morrissey solo record, it's worth the investment. This one has six. The only ones that fare better than that are the singles collections or Bona Drag. His last record doesn't even have one, which is well worth noting.

Of course, the critical lashing, commercial stalling and subsequent label folding left Morrissey up a certain creek without a paddle. He relocated to Los Angeles, found out that people in Mexico revered him as a demigod and finally found a label ready to make a gamble on him in 2004. But be honest... you didn't buy You Are the Quarry for the songs. You bought it because the thought of having Morrissey back after all that time was insufferably intriguing. And when you listened to it, you know what? You probably realized Maladjusted wasn't all that bad after all...

Happy 48th, Moz.


Monday, May 21, 2007

This life is so confusing.

Well, despite an almost universal critical panning, Travis' latest, The Boy With No Name is steadfastly in the UK Top Ten.

It's kind of hard for me to fathom why it's being kicked around so hard, especially as the terrible reviews for their last album, 12 Memories, were calling for a return to this kind of music... Critics... they only want what they're not getting.

Change. Don't change. Whatever, dudes.

But truth be told, the only album that was pretty much universally adored from Travis was The Invisible Band, which I actually rate as their weakest effort. Critics get really gunshy if they blast an album and it goes super huge, so they reap huge amounts of praise as to not have to eat humble pie twice. You'll remember the terrible dredging Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? received in 1995, and of course, it went on to become the first non-living entity to ever threaten global takeover. When Be Here Now was released, it was hailed as "amazing" on all fronts (I even remember a four-star Rolling Stone review). Then it stalled, and now Q is running a cover story on it as one of the most ridiculous washouts in history.

Same thing happened with The Man Who. When it first came out, it was quickly written off as sleepy music -- and it was a definite change from the feisty aggression of Good Feeling. It stagnated a bit, then "Driftwood" was released as a single and everything changed. Suddenly Travis were the harbingers of a new era that would beget Coldplay, who would beget Keane, who would beget James Blunt, et. al. The truth is Radiohead actually trumpeted its arrival in 1995 on The Bends -- they just didn't stick with the style. So Travis did.

So when The Invisible Band came out in 2001, critics were quick to provide glowing reviews, since it was not only hot off the heels of The Man Who, but in the exact same musical style. This was an egregious error on their part, because the fact of the matter is that aside from the singles, "Pipe Dream" and "Follow the Light," it's actually a horrid album that blows its load with the first four tracks and then dies, only to emit a few unconvincing gasps of life near the end.

Then egos got to the band, they all became pretty disinterested with each other, and made a dark, absent album called 12 Memories that was actually a pretty radical departure for a band that made the dour-but-singalongable "Why Does it Always Rain On Me?" its signature. It actually also contained a handful of REALLY good songs, but left a lasting impression because of a crap song that was unfortunately titled "Peace the F**k Out" and meandering bits of nothingness like "Paperclips." Given an editing job, it could've been better, but they weren't making any really good moves at the time, period. The video for "Re-Offender" was done in a joking manner, but showed them all pissed off and surly, beating the hell out of each other, Fran decided he wanted to look like a French artist - complete with beret - and the music lacked too (it may have been intended, but honestly, have you ever heard more disinterest than in the "hey hey hey"s in "Quicksand"?).

So all the reviews were like "What the hell is this? We want more 'Driftwood's and 'Turn's!" and now they're back with an album full of them and the critics go "This is boring, why can't these guys ever change?" Well, change into what? You want them to start doing the psuedo-quasi-Kraftwerk thing Coldplay tried (and failed, albeit to rabid commercial success)?

Had The Boy With No Name followed up The Man Who, I will grant you this: Coldplay would've never had a chance for a third album.

But, such is life.

Travis - Somewhere Else
Just to prove there was good stuff on 12 Memories, I submit this - the album's most stunning moment, and bewilderingly never released as a single. I'm doing a quick mental scan of each album right now, and I think I can stay with a large amount of certainty that this is my all time favorite Travis song.

And to their credit, Travis have always made pretty cool videos. This is probably my favorite.


Friday, May 18, 2007

And we hope that you will love we too.

Worth noting that 40 years ago today (according to my WMSE calendar that is - I've also seen that it was recorded June 12, so if I'm wrong. blame WMSE), the Rolling Stones, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney in tow, recorded "We Love You" in London.

Written in response to drug arrests that hounded Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones earlier that year, the song served as something of a thank you note to fans and colleagues that supported the band through the troubled times, and also proved to be a bit of a barbed reply to the powers-that-be: "We don't care if you hound we and love is all around we // Love can't get our minds off."

Some storms have been made about the comparison to the Beatles' "All You Need is Love," being that John and Paul sing on this track, and Mick and Keith ended up on the Beatles' track -- even John Lennon later blasted this song as "f*cking bullsh*t" and derivitive of "All You Need is Love," but the only thing that gives credence to that notion are the two singles' release dates - with the Beatles "All You Need is Love" having been pretty much recorded in one go on June 25 and then rush released on July 7, and "We Love You" being released on August 18.

Either way though, whether it was in fact the May date or the June date (or both) that the Stones laid "We Love You" down, it still beats the Beatles to the punch as most of the literature I've read says Lennon finished the lyrics to "All You Need is Love" in the 11th hour before going global on the "Our World" special June 25, so if in fact "We Love You" is popularly viewed as a cheap knock off of the Beatles, it's just down to release timing.

And frankly, I don't think "We Love You" is any competition anyway. It has a few cool moments - Wyman's sliding bass over the opening piano notes, Lennon's instantly recognizable high-pitched backing vocal to kick off the song and few neat fills by Mr. Watts, but in total this just sounds like a half-baked idea. It sounds like the stuff that reprises or two-minute jam outros are made out of, and to try and turn it into a four-minute single was just a bit silly.

Historic, of course, 'cos it's one of the only real meeting of the minds between England's foremost two songwriting teams at the time, although I wish they'd done something better together.

Can be found on The Singles Collection.

The Rolling Stones - We Love You


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wait along, wait along...

I'm looking forward to this weekend, as I should be able to meet up with two of my three former roommates that I lived with my senior year at Marquette, although the brief reunions will take place separately.

I wish I could say it's down to lingering bitterness or something that would prompt a cool story, but the fact of the matter is that, like everything else, it's a matter of timing and the one hour and fifteen minutes that separate Madison from Milwaukee, while nothing to me, seems to equate to a drive from New York to California for others.

The nice thing about it, though, is that it will be my first time seeing Tom since the day we both took the last of our belongings out of 2122 W. Michigan St. It wasn't terribly sad - by that point, the four of us were all in need of a little space, but you could tell all along that Tom was particularly ready to bolt. In addition to living together, we also worked together (as facility service engineers... a.k.a. custodians - and don't knock it, it was actually a dead easy job and high paying, since no one else wanted to do it) and had a few classes together too.

One of those classes was a film class on the history of the Hollywood Blacklist, which I took to add another notch to my film minor requirement (a minor I only took so that I could argue with you about why every movie you think is great and I hate actually does suck), and he took because it sounded cool.

It was a cool class, and one of the movies we watched was Fred Zinnerman's 1952 classic "High Noon," starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly and a very young Lloyd Bridges. I'd already seen it in a previous film class I'd taken (and I think it's a requirement for AMC to show it at least once a month too).

The thing that sticks out for me about the film - moreso than Gary Cooper's labored acting (which, depending on who you believe was due to back pain, ulcer or constipation), was Tex Ritter's theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me" which is repeated time and again throughout the film and coupled with how many times I'd actually seen the picture during my tenure at Marquette, I knew all the words to without having owned the album or boasting the MP3 on my hard drive.

The song - which is noteworthy for having won the first Oscar for Best Song that wasn't in a musical - became a popular one to bellow 'round our apartment during 2004 and 2005, and particularly good when Tom and I were working a late night custodial shift in an empty auditorium or room that provided good echo. I always found Ritter's reading of the "Oh to be torn 'twixt love and duty // 'Sposin' I lose my fayr hayred beauty" line the most enjoyable, while Tom preferred the lines directly referencing that rat bastard Frank Miller, i.e. the "He made a vow while in state's prison // said it would be my life or his'n // I'm not afraid to die, but oh..."

So obviously in honor of our impending Milwaukee reunion, there's only one song with which to celebrate - yes I finally got the MP3, and now you can have it and learn the song, so that the next time we meet, we can duet as well. Just remember, the key is singing deep from the gut like ol' Tex. That's what makes it so fun. Don't believe me? Crank this one and start singin' along.

From 1958's Songs From the Western Screen. (Go on, get it on vinyl)

Tex Ritter - High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)

Note - Much to Tom's chagrin (I'm sure), the final verse in this version isn't as hard hitting as the alternate, "Do not forsake me oh my darlin' // You made that promise when we wed // Do not forsake me oh my darlin' // Although you're grievin' // I can't be leavin' // Until I shoot Frank Miller dead." Tom really liked that one much better... Here's Tex singing that version, with visible emphasis on "DEAD."


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's a fair exchange for the last adventure I have left.

Couldn't help but notice that I've given a lot of time to Paul Weller's solo career and time with the Style Council on this space, but not so much his days with the Jam.

Well, that changes with May's installment of the Fantastic 45s!

Weller was arguably never more cold, cunning and calculating than during the five years the Jam dominated the charts in England. While each of the group's six albums made significant strides from where the last one left off (barring, maybe, the slightly dodgy This is the Modern World), there was also a single almost every three months to keep the group fresh in people's minds.

While he didn't make the concerted efforts he would in the Style Council to drastically change the band's musical palette from album to album or single to single, the progress marked from the "In the City" 45 to the "Beat Surrender" one was nothing short of phenomenal when you figure "Strange Town," "The Eton Rifles," "Going Underground," "Start!," "That's Entertainment," "Town Called Malice" and "Just Who is the Five O'Clock Hero" were all sandwiched inbetween.

Also during this time, Weller self-regulated his drug and drink intake to an almost teetotal level as to not cloud his writing abilities, he punched out Sid Vicious, and took the helm for the Mod revival - trying to keep the music fresh instead of reverting to the popular mindset of just listening to old Who and Tamla Motown 45s -- sure, the Jam covered both Who and Small Faces songs, but their covers of Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up," Edwin Starr's "War" and the Chi-Lites "Stoned Out of My Mind" were also done under in hope of tuning in England's youth to more modern R&B offerings.

As neither to let the group go stale nor become a self-effacing parody of itself, Weller announced he was pulling the plug on the group in the fall of 1982, when the Jam were at the height of their popularity. While the call stunned both his bandmates and followers, his reincarnation in the Style Council a year later may have proved more shocking still. The band's final offering was "Beat Surrender" (they had recorded a ripping version of "A Solid Bond in Your Heart" but the response Weller got to that from friends and label execs was so strong that he decided to hold it over for his new project and bow out on the less impressive alternative), but its penultimate offering put the writing on the wall, and by Weller's own design, no less.

The Fantastic 45s

The Jam
"The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)" b/w "Pity Poor Alfie/Fever"
Polydor, 1982

The Jam - The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)
The title worked on two levels, of course - both forecasting the end of the group (Weller announced the group's end just a month after the single's release) and a nod to the song itself which wasn't typical Jam single material (punchy with razorsharp social commentary), but instead an almost-sacharrine love ballad. Legend holds that Weller wrote it to be intentionally trite, but nonetheless, lyrically it almost resembles 19th century poetry: "Now autumn's breeze blows summer's leaves through my life // Twisted and broken dawn, no days with sunlight." Granted, for a band that was so concerned with keeping things "modern," this seemed like a giant misstep - sounding like something straight out of the '60s, or to be more accurate, a second (althought more upbeat) cousin of the Casuals' 1968 Decca single, "Jesamine." Despite the fact that this is out of step with most Jam material, it's always been one of my favorites - perhaps because I can be easily swayed by retro sounding stuff, but probably more to the point that a good song is a good song, and joke or not, this is a good song.

The Jam - Pity Poor Alfie/Fever
The Jam had a knack for offering "just as good as the A-side" B-sides - Noel Gallagher actually attributed the fact that Oasis' own strong run of B-sides is a direct result of having paid such close attention to the Jam's singles in his youth, and this song is easily one of the very best the group ever offered. "Pity Poor Alfie" had actually been part of the band's live repertoire for years. The addition of horns was no great surprise to Jam followers - horns had already punctuated earlier offerings and been ornamental on the likes of "Absolute Beginners" and throughout The Gift album, and tended to add a good northern soul punch to the songs. The fact that the Style Council's first offering was the bouncy, horn laced "Speak Like a Child" led some to believe that this song cast the die for Weller's new direction, but I don't really hear the comparison. "Speak Like a Child" is all walking through the park on a sunny day, while "Pity Poor Alfie" is a hard night out at the clubs. The segue to Otis Blackwell's "Fever" (made most famous by Peggy Lee) is seamless and actually proves to be one of my favorite versions of the song, even though the production on the horns (recorded, I guess, in a helium chamber) is a tad off putting. Regardless, it's one of my Top 5 Jam songs, and when B-sides are as good or better than the A-side, well...

It's the whole point of this series, innit?

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Monday, May 14, 2007

I should not have let you go.

So this weekend, I was flicking through channels and E! reran a recent episode of "Saturday Night Live" with Coldplay as musical guest.

I haven't watched a complete episode of SNL in years, as I think its writing and talent went to the toilet long ago, and the only thing it's done in YEARS now that has made me laugh out loud was that Peyton Manning AmWay commercial, but even that was a ripoff of an old SportsCenter promo.

Anyway, I'm flicking through the channels and I see Chris Martin doing his one-legged hop and reaching skyward so I pause to see what song it is - sure enough, "Speed of Sound." I never really got that track. I never really got X&Y in general. It was a sterile sounding album with no real soul to it - just enough technical touches to draw a few (ridiculous) comparisons to Kraftwerk and the kind of lyrics to make college girls with no refined taste in music (i.e. 80% of college girls) go "Awww!"

I swallowed bitterly and changed the channel. Then I looked at my CD tower. I went over and pulled out Parachutes, an album that I haven't listened to in years because I'm so bitter toward the group. It's a great album. I know it. But I just won't allow myself to listen to it.

What happened?

In the last days of 2000 and the first couple months of 2001 that album was all I ate, drank and breathed. I saw Coldplay's first Chicago show at the Rivera - a gig that was almost cancelled, because they were all suffering from the flu, and when Chris Martin broke a string during the closing moments of "Yellow," he threw the guitar off, clasped his hands behind his back a la Liam Gallagher, and finished out the tune sans instrument. It was wonderful. I had a shirt from that gig that read "We live in a beautiful world." I believed it. I was proud to wear that shirt.

Throughout 2001, the band's stature just grew and grew, on the lingering power of "Yellow" and the growing popularity of "Trouble." I trooped back to the Chicago 2001 on Nov. 30 to see them play to a sold-out Chicago Theater. It was the night after George Harrison died. At the end of the show, they had the house crew turn all the lights in the theater up, and they led a big singalong to "Here Comes the Sun." They only played a few 'new' songs, but they were all promising. This was a band I was willing to carry a torch for. And there was an immense sense that night that they were about to break through.

They did, of course. They just didn't take us with them.

Dudes... what the hell?

It's a funny thing, that whole "selling out" deal. It's really a fickle thing to complain about ultimately - just read all the bickering between reviews of Modest Mouse's new album on iTunes, but few bands that have gone THAT big have drawn up such immense feelings of disdain, betrayal and bitterness in me. I've spent a large part of the weekend trying to work out why.

I suppose the biggest thing that irks me is that I truly wonder if Coldplay deserves it. Chris Martin is a nice enough guy it seems, but he's not a rock star. He takes every chance he can it seems to talk both himself and his band down -- he'll go on about how great some new songs they're working on are, but how ultimately the album won't be out for awhile because "I think people are a bit sick of us right now." Come on. Or the bit in that Live DVD where the gushing fan catches Chris outside a gig and tries to sum up in five seconds how much the band means to her and how they've changed her life to which, Chris, rushing by and obviously trying to be somewhat cute, stupidly replies, "Sorry." Jesus f*cking Christ, man. Do you know much further "Thanks" would've gone? It's one less syllable, even.

I've never believed the guitarist is worth his salt - and you can't be fooled by records, studios allow for overdubs and expansion of sounds, but every time I've seen Coldplay live, there Buckland stands, his lone two-string solos exposed for all their unimpressive worth. I like the bass player and the drummer, but only the drummer seems like he's halfway interested in earning all the respect the band's being given.

Then there's the whole "Make Trade Fair" deal... look, causes are fine, good intentions and all that, but taking a Sharpie to your hand and scrawling MTF on your piano, all the while wearing shirts and jackets bearing the words or letters is really kind of ramming it down our throats, and that's off putting. Have proceeds from ticket sales go to it, maybe mention something between songs toward the end of your set and have done with it.

Admittedly, I should've seen trouble brewing when "Trouble" - one of the lesser tracks on the first album - got to be as popular as it did, but I held out a lot of faith, because they'd played this amazing song the first time I saw them live called "Animals" that I was really hoping would be the centerpiece of the second album. Instead, it ended up with rewritten lyrics (killing it from the get go), a shabby recording job and on a f*cking B-side. And they play that asinine "Politik" at the Grammys complete with a painfully out of tune "Openupyeereyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyys" primal scream from Mssr. Martin and the unnecessary pomp and circumstance of the New York Symphony Orchestra.

A Rush of Blood to the Head had a few good moments, but I never felt as much ownership of that album as I did Parachutes. Maybe it's because my life had changed a bit in the two years between releases and I didn't identify as much with Martin's budding love notes to Ms. Paltrow, but when you go to a college campus poster sale and see poster after poster of Coldplay, and girls who are hooked on "Newlyweds" buying the subway sized portrait of the band as the centerpiece for their living room because they thought the video to "The Scientist" was "just... oh my gawd... aMAYzing" (granted, it was a cool video), you just know the game's over. Coldplay had entered U2 and DMB territory. We weren't getting them back.

But maybe we didn't want them back. Again, they're all sitting pretty right now, and I'm not righteous enough to say that if Satan showed up right now with a contract for a few MOR love songs to be financially set up and comfortable for the rest of my life I wouldn't sign. But it hurts when your little band makes that jump. Music snobs will bitch and bitch about how people like Paul Weller deserve more recognition in the states, but think about it. If Weller's next album suddenly made him as big as Bruce Springsteen here, his cult following on these shores would be pissed. It's nice to have little secrets like that. Coldplay were a cool little secret for awhile, but once you really got down to the inanity of Martin's lyrics, or the not-all-that-inspiring musicianship, it was easy to decide there were better secrets worth keeping.

So am I mad at Coldplay for filling up stadiums with formulaic songs like "Speed of Sound" and making Richard Ashcroft only good enough to be an opener or am I mad at the American masses for thinking the band is way greater than it really is? Am I mad because the first time I heard "Yellow" I jumped around in unfettered excitement and never have since? Am I a bad person for not knowing the difference between fairly traded and unfairly traded coffee? Must I know the difference if I don't even drink coffee? Was this post even worth my frustration?

I don't know.

Here's the last Coldplay song I cared about... but you probably liked "Clocks" better, didn't you? Le sigh.

Coldplay - Warning Sign


Friday, May 11, 2007

Through many years I wait.

Most true music fans have a common pet peeve.

The REMASTERED REISSUE!!! of an album they already own. Record companies are so privy to sell a record nowadays, they'll celebrate the 10th anniversary of any album it seems -- and yes, I will fight you on this, there is NO WAY that Stereophonics' Word Gets Around deserves a 10th Anniversary Edition. Maybe Performance and Cocktails. That's it.

The problem is that it's frustrating to buy an album you already own, but it's also inherently frustrating to know that you now own the "inferior" version of the album. For the few remaster editions I do have, all I can really tell is that they turned the general volume level of the album up a couple clicks. Then they tacked on a bonus disc of demos and outtakes, which, for completists, drives you even crazier, because one - if you're a true completist, you already have most of the demos on bootlegs anyway, but now they've been "touched up" by the record company, so you might not have as much of that annoying ass tape hiss that rests on your CD-R copy, and two - they have ONE demo or outtake that you've never heard before, and now you're essentially buying a two-disc set for ONE F*CKING SONG.

You can tell I've been frustrated by this before, no?

Granted, MP3 blogs have rectified the situation quite a bit - it's now pretty easy just to swipe that ONE track in question now after perusal of the Hype Machine or, but I still haven't entirely made the switch yet to getting all my music online. I'm getting more of it than I ever thought I would, but I still go into Best Buy and spend a good chunk of time in the music aisles... and I still love little indie shops like the B-side here in Madison.

Anyway, I've been burned before by buying the "remaster" edition for that one previously unheard outtake, because 9 times out of 10, you realize why it was an outtake in the first place. But once in awhile those outtakes come along where you scratch your head as to why the songs weren't included or weren't pursued. Obviously the answer is, "To benefit the 10th, 20th and 30th anniversary reissues of the album."

So for May's edition of the Friday Five, we present five of those such gems.

The Friday Five: Songs That Made Investing in the Deluxe Reissue Edition of the Album Totally Worth It.

Frank Sinatra - The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)
Capitol got into rereleasing all Sinatra's albums in 1998 when someone (was it Capitol?) named Sinatra the "Entertainer of the Century." For whatever reason, they only released "the indispensible" albums, and overlooked the less-popular but just-as-classic albums like No One Cares and Point of No Return. They rectified their mistake in 2002 and put the rest out, and this was tacked on to No One Cares. The fantastic blog Locust St. told the story of this song's exclusion from the original LP just a couple weeks ago: ""The One I Love" was cut from No One Cares for technical reasons. In the early days of stereo LPs, sides had to be short due to the broad groove width needed for "optimum separation of channels." So "The One I Love," though it was the best track on the album, was dumped and forgotten, surfacing at last in 1973, when the Longines Symphonette released a mail-order Sinatra compilation. With the recent CD reissue of No One Cares, the track's finally back where it belonged."

George Harrison - I Live For You
Included in the 2001 "30th Anniversary Edition" of Hari's classic All Things Must Pass, this song is just charming as all hell and hits you like bucket of cold water in its "cleanliness" after listening to the first part of the album's heavy/muddy Phil Spector production. Could be that Spector never got around to getting his hands on this track or that the basic track was laid down and it was decided that it wasn't worth pursuing the wall of sound ornamentation. Either way, it's an absolutely beautiful track and actually made me quite happy I picked up the 30th Anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass, as the 2000 remake of "My Sweet Lord" that was also included was a total let down.

Ian Dury - Something's Going to Happen in the Winter
Fuel 2000 snatched up the distribution rights in the US to remastered versions of Ian Dury's landmark late 1970s and early 1980s albums, all of which included non-LP singles that were released around the time of their respective album and a bonus disc of demos and outtakes. As New Boots and Panties!! had previously been rather difficult to track down in the US on CD prior to this issue (my only version was on LP, and I actually bought that in Madrid, Spain), I was quite happy to see a proper rerelease of the album. This is from the bonus disc, and is obviously left in rough demo form - with only Ian Dury and Chaz Jankel playing the instruments and singing. Their voices don't mesh all that well here - it sounds like Jankel's laying down a falsetto guide vocal, and Ian overdubbed a vocal take just to get timing down, but then it was never pursued. Probably for the best - this might have sounded a tad out of place on Panties!!, but it's still a shame that it never was retried. It's a terribly sweet song. Just listen to lyrics - "So if you want to break your heart, be all I need."

Jeff Buckley - Forget Her
"Forget Her" was the most legendary unreleased track in Buckley's canon. It was supposed to be included on the original version of Grace and Columbia Records even had designs on making it the lead single, but then Buckley recruited Michael Tighe on guitar toward the end of the sessions, they had a jam, "So Real" was born and Jeff said it would replace "Forget Her." The label was pissed, feeling "So Real" wasn't half the song "Forget Her" was, but Jeff stood adamant. Written about a breakup he had recently been through, it's believed Buckley felt the song was just a little too personal to put out, much less as a single to be strewn all over popular radio and MTV. Buckley's mother Mary abstained from releasing the song for years after his death, but when the time came for a Legacy Edition of Grace, well... there was only one track that could justify a bonus disc and it was this. The bonus disc, as it turns out, actually has a host of great stuff, but it's great to hear this in non-bootlegged clean, glorious form. Even though it probably turned Jeff over in his grave.

The Kinks - Lavender Hill
"Lavender Hill" had already made a showing on the "unofficial" bootleg, The Great Lost Kinks Album, but had never seen a proper release on CD, or one authorized by the Kinks themselves. Really strange, considering the quality of the song - it is quintessential Ray Davies at his mid-1960s peak, and it's believed that it might've been tipped to be the follow up single to "Waterloo Sunset." As it turns out, my all time favorite Kinks song, "Autumn Almanac" was finished off instead and won that honor (tells you how incredibly prolific Davies was at the time), and "Lavender Hill" sadly got shelved. It could've easily fit on The Village Green Preservation Society in terms of style and theme, but Davies instead wrote 15 other gems to make up my all time favorite Kinks album. I had the album on LP, CD and import CD (with the 12-track mono edition tacked on), so when Sanctuary released the "Ultimate 3-Disc Version" in 2004, I was peeved to have to buy the album again, but that third album of outtakes is entirely worth it. This is the best moment, but there are several others that are just as good.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Something sacred I lost.

When my family moved to Lombard in the summer of 1991, I remember the "big" thing that Christmas that the family got was a nice CD stereo system.

It was our first CD player, which - yeah, we got a little late in the game, but despite the blinding amount of moving we did in my childhood (seven homes in three states in eight years), my family's not big on big change. Up until that point, my parents had enjoyed a really nice phonograph system (which now resides in my boyhood bedroom and spins Small Faces and Style Council LPs every time I'm home). I remember as a very little boy, my mom and dad having "music nights" where they'd just listen to a number of records in the family room and dance around. They were very much into the music at the time, so some of my earliest memories are shaking my fresh-out-of-diapers fanny to the likes of Lionel Ritchie and the Pointer Sisters. I remember when driving around with my mother, she'd always listen to modern radio, which is probably why I still feel such an affinity to the 1980s offerings of Hall & Oates.

But as my sister came along soon thereafter, and records quickly came to be an antiquated form of listening to music, the music nights stopped and the records and turntable was put out of reach of my infant sister as not to become the next victims of her destructive curiosity. The last thing my father needed, of course, was baby drool and ripped jackets in his 8-LP Japanese Import, "The Beatles Box."

Even when we got the CD system, however, we were still slow to make the transition to compact discs and instead used the system for the first solid year and a half as a cassette player. In 1993, however, my parents showed a flash of resurgance in enjoying the popular music of the day and splurged on one of the year's most popular albums, Billy Joel's River of Dreams.

I always passively enjoyed Joel's music. Whenever it was on, I wouldn't mind it, and if I knew the words, I'd singalong. On the same hand, I never liked it enough to go out and buy an album for myself. In college, of course, you're looked at as some sort of oddball if you don't know all the words to the likes of "Piano Man" and "Captain Jack," and both tunes are - as I said - fine enough, but I'm not going to go buy an anthology to listen to them... especially when one in three bars I show up to on a given Friday night will most likely be blaring both. I thought "We Didn't Start the Fire" was cool as a kid, but I listened to it again recently and was just phenomenally underwhelmed. It hasn't aged well. And why does he devote so much of the song to the 1950s?

Anyway, because my parents were children of the LP generation, they liked to listen to albums as they were inteded to be listened to - from start to finish. When the good song comes on, you turn it up and groove a bit, but you never think to skip ahead to them... It's just something you plain didn't think about.

The problem was, River of Dreams sucked on the whole. My dad liked "All About Soul" and my mom loved the title track, but that was it. Yet, they'd still listen to every other second of the album to get to those songs, and every unimpressive second thereafter. I tried to explain how easy it was with CD players to just skip to the track you like, and while in time they got used to it, it was just out of the question back then. Of course, it's no small coincidence that the majority of my mom's CD collection now is dominated by Greatest Hits sets.

Eventually, I got my own CD player and retreated to my room and immersed myself in a lifelong obsession with music that manifests itself to this very day on this very space.

But the other night I woke up around 3 a.m. with a start. It must've been a nightmare, althought I can't remember what it was. I couldn't get back to sleep, so I walked to my kitchen and opened a bottle of water. Out of absolutely nowhere, I started singing "The River of Dreams" to myself.

Now, I hadn't heard that song all the way through since, probably 1994, and even if I've heard it since, it's been maybe the chorus here or a verse there at a convenience store I was quickly in and out of. I thought "God, that was a good song," but given my recent reappraisals of some Joel tunes, I was kind of wary to dig the song out of mothballs and listen to it again. Would it still be as good if I didn't have to wait through seven crappy songs to get it? Would it still be enjoyable if I didn't hear my Mom in some other room going, "This is such a good song!"? Was it only as enjoyable for me then as "We Didn't Start the Fire" was?

Yes. Yes. No.

Billy Joel - The River of Dreams


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I guess I did not understand.

One of my favorite things to do on Tuesday evenings is take a quick peek at the iTunes store, see what celebrities have put together playlists and then see what celebrities I could probably hold a decent musical conversation with.

Julia Stiles might have been a frontrunner -- someone to exchange mix CDs with, even, but then I read her little notes for the songs she picked and realized by looking at just one of them that Julia Stiles is an idiot.


You can imagine my shock and delight at her inclusion of "Jane Allen" from Billy Bragg & the Blokes 2002 album, England, Half-English. The album -- and that very song in fact -- is really what started my now five year obsession with Ol' Big Nose, and alongside picks that included Morrissey, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Talking Heads, I thought me and Julia could be good friends.

Then I read what it said next to "Jane Allen":

"The drums in this song make me want to dance, and I still can't figure out what the lyrics are about."

Now, I understand that not everyone takes the focused approach to understanding lyrics that I do, and I know there are people out there who take a more thorough approach still than I do. Someone had to point out to me years ago that Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" was an ode to self-stimulation, and here I thought all along that it was just a song about getting excited in a cleaner sense. I still am able to shock some people when I tell them the Kinks' "Lola" is about a transvestite. And even something like "American Pie" can be a confusing tune if you're not all that into rock and roll history.

But it's not like Billy wove some complicated tapestry with "Jane Allen." It's not like he's mumbling either - 99.9% of the time, you can always understand the words that are coming out of Billy's mouth. Maybe it's just me, but for those times when I do have a hard time understanding lyrics, I will usually take at least one look at the lyric sheet (which is included in England, Half-English), and even if you only get the song through online means, the lyrics are still available on the net.

So... let's all have a look at this head-scratcher, shall we?

Jane Allen took me by surprise said she thought I was a married man
I might have known she’d wanna find out exactly how married I am
She took me the wrong way home to get me on my own

Jane Allen had a bunch of stuff from the old days she wanted to deal with
How come the things that we had done had left her with a mess of feelings?
She took me the long way home -- no signal on my phone

Jane Allen took me to a place where she thought I’d be defenceless
I had to let her down gently to bring her to her senses
She took me the wrong way home

I know I should have told you
I guess I did not understand
That you might need convincing too
That I’m a faithful family man

Jane Allen went to her bed smiling but without me
I don’t know how to tell you this without that you should doubt me
You’d take it the wrong way I know, you just wouldn’t let it go
It was over a long time ago - believe me I love you so

Okay. I might be going out on a limb here, Jules... but it seems to me this song is about a chick named Jane Allen who once dated Billy and wants to rekindle their old flame, despite the fact that he's now a happily married man. Granted, that's just one man's opinion, but considering the fact that he takes FOUR FULL VERSES AND A MIDDLE to tell the story, I think it's a pretty solid guess.

But the drums make me wanna move too. I'll give you that. And don't you dig Ian McLagan's backing vocal? What? You don't know who Ian McLagan is? Oh, Jules, Jules, Jules... what EVER are we going to do with you?

Billy Bragg & the Blokes - Jane Allen


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

And still as I looked, I lived. And still as I lived, I wondered.

My good buddy and sometimes co-conspirator on this space, Lou Hallwas, shot me an email last month requesting a post on Paul Weller's self-titled solo debut from '92. It was kind of ironic timing, because I had literally just put the disc into my "car rotation" the night before, but then I got caught up in wrapping up Ronnie Lane month and assembling the solo discography review.

But that format worked out quite nicely, so it's worth repeating. This shall fill out Mssr. Hallwas' request and provide the rest of you lot some PERFECT music for the advent of here-to-stay warm weather.

Paul Weller
Paul Weller
Go! Discs, 1992

01. Uh Huh Oh Yeh
02. I Didn't Mean To Hurt You
03. Bull-Rush
04. Round and Round
05. Remember How We Started
06. Above the Clouds
07. Clues
08. Into Tomorrow
09. Amongst Butterflies
10. The Strange Museum
11. Bitterness Rising
12. Kosmos

Paul Weller now and forevermore is going to be looked upon as a legend, so it's easy to rifle through any aspect of his career (Jam, Style Council, solo) and spot at least three great albums, classify them as "timeless" and start snobbish arguments about which era is best, which album from which era is best, and which Style Council video was gayest.

Paul Weller, perplexingly, is not often classified as one of those "timeless" works. Wild Wood set the house on fire and officially announced that he was back and as viable as ever, but too often that album is looked at as the "proper" starting point of his career, when - first off - it's not, and second off, its predecessor is arguably just as stacked.

Considering its difficult genesis, it's also just as amazing that it turned out as thoroughly good as it did.

The Style Council didn't bow out in the same abrupt-though-graceful manner as the Jam had before. Whereas the Jam had secured their crown as the leading British band of the era, Paul Weller cut it up while they were still on the top and still at their most potent. Sure, their technical last single was "Beat Surrender," but you'd do well that it was preceded only months by "Town Called Malice" - the band's most lasting piece.

If Weller was going to follow that same route with the Style Council, he'd have had to have put the cap on it around the end of 1986. Sure, it would've denied the audience their artistically finest outing, 1988's Confessions of a Pop Group, but commercially, they were a washout after Our Favourite Shop.

The difference is, Weller liked the personalities in the Style Council better than he had Rick and Bruce. Mick was a great partner in crime, and always willing to play up to the ante Weller was setting, his vocal partner Dee C. Lee ended up being his wife, and even though Steve White was only sparingly a member after 1987, it probably says the most of all TSC members that White is still Weller's drummer today.

So with his friends, he wanted to keep living up to the band's "ever changing" personality, which as the decade transpired, led to more and more synthesizers and manufactured beats as opposed to real, acoustic based instruements, and less and less vocal work from Paul, in favor of more and more dancing. It got so bad that the band's last album, Modernism: A New Decade was actually rejected and for the first time since he was 17, Weller was out of a record deal.

Weller announced the end of the band and started a new outfit, The Paul Weller Movement, just to experience playing live again and while the shows weren't the most well attended of his career, they proved important for finding his feet again as a performer and songwriter, and in 1991, the retro-fuelled (considering his immediately previous releases) "Into Tomorrow" was released as a single.

Work on his first solo album followed, and while the predilection remained toward the lighter - sometimes jazzier - leanings of the Style Council (Talbot, Lee and White all appear on the album), a lot more focus was put into his roots and beginnings - tacking on a light jam on the Who's "Magic Bus" at the end of "Bull-Rush," taking a folk rock approach (that would define Wild Wood) on "Bitterness Rising," etc.

Even the lyrics are thoroughly self-examining... "I have to wonder - will I last?" "Lost and dazed so I had no real recollection until the rain cleared the air" "I was looking there for something, but some things have no meaning," etc.

The production dates it a little, but considering the latter day Style Council outings, it sounded like one of the freshest releases of the early 1990s. It of course, laid the groundwork for Wild Wood and as the host of "new" British bands made their way into the limelight citing Weller as their spiritual godfather - Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene leading that particular charge - Weller found a new audience, and arguably the widest of his career.

Included here are three of my favorite cuts, and while "I Didn't Mean to Hurt You" and "Amongst Butterflies" will play nicest at your upcoming summer barbecues, "Round and Round" deserves some good listens too - it's probably the album's most underrated track, and I've never understood why. I loved it from first listen.

Buy this fantabulous album here.


Monday, May 07, 2007

I never heard it better.

Last year I got properly introduced to the music of Jill Sobule.

I'll be honest - I wasn't really up for it. She was opening for Billy Bragg in Chicago and like many snobs would, I vaguely remembered the hook to "I Kissed a Girl" from however many years ago and thought this was her rather paltry means of existence now - a one-hit wonder forced to open gigs in relatively small clubs around the country. Couple that with the fact that I usually tend to get very bothered by opening acts and you can imagine my excitement at having to wait through THIS for Billy Bragg.

Right away, however, I was forced to rethink. She took the stage and she's an incredibly small woman, so the appearance disarms even the coldest musical hearts in the audience (see: me) straightaway - one of those "Oh, I can't be THAT cruel," type deals. But she opened with "Put Him in the Hall of Fame," a new song calling for the, well, "relocation" of our dear Commander-in-Chief - considering it was a Billy Bragg crowd, as you can imagine, the tune went down a storm. And from there on out, everyone was on her side.

It's hard to write a good political song - especially in this day and age when the "F*ck Bush" mentality has pretty much been done to death (of course, maybe I'm saying that because I live in Madison), but Jill really carries off her songs with a great sense of humor, which is the same thing that attracted me to Billy Bragg all those years ago, and the Smiths as well.

I became such a fan that I was front row when she came to Madison last summer for her own headlining spot, and dearly hopes she comes back again soon.

My favorite tune of Jill's, which I heard both times I've seen her live, is "Cinnamon Park" - an ode to idyllic young days filled with 'shrooms, Battle of the Bands (complete with talk boxes and a Peavey bass), and the piano line lifted right out of Chicago's "Saturday in the Park." Unbelievably fantastic tune from her last studio release, Underdog Victorious. Sets a good positive groove with which to get the week rolling, and for that alone, I'm more than happy to share it with you.

Jill Sobule - Cinnamon Park

And here's the video to boot:


Friday, May 04, 2007

¡Ay, cara!

Ah, for the days of the 32 cent stamp...

Well, Cinco de Mayo is upon us, and like many other Americans without a drop of Latino blood in their veins, I'm going to put aside my whiteness and commemorate General Seguin's 1862 charge against French occupation in Puebla, Mexico with Coronas, fajitas, nachos, and no - and I mean NO - tequila at a big old party.

In honor of Mexico's national holiday, here are a couple whiteys singing what appear to be Spanish-themed songs, but ultimately just prove to be laments over unrequited love and (goddamn) half-Japanese girls. Ah well. If I can celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Liz Phair can not sing about it, but still call her song that.

Liz Phair - Cinco de Mayo
From Phair's much touted, though ultimately inferior follow up to Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart. The album does have its charms, though, and thankfully still predates the sheen that would befall whitechocolatespaceegg and become downright blinding on Liz Phair and Somebody's Miracle. Like Exile's best moments this song's driving force is just a strong-though-subdued hit of rhythm guitar and Phair's impassioned to indifferent lyrics.

Weezer - El Scorcho
Which translates to "The Scorcho." I made a valiant effort to understand Weezer last year, immersing myself in their albums, b-sides and demos trying to understand what all these nutters who won't shut up about the genius of Rivers Cuomo are on about. It was ultimately a phenomenal waste of my time, as the band's first album is still stronger on sentimental value than actual songs and Pinkerton STILL isn't as good as all these arguments begging for a reconsideration of the much maligned disc would have you believe. The subsequent three turned a couple summer barbecue singles, but ultimately still don't count. In the end, I would probably buy a singles collection, and this is, in my humblest of opinion, their finest moment. I can rant and rave all I want about Mssr. Cuomo, his increasingly innane lyrics and his revolving door bass player scenario, but at the end of the day, this is still one of the greatest opening lines to a song ever.

Party on, mis amigos.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Now I feel ten feet tall.

It's time for May's edition of "Vs."!!!!!

This month we're pitting the Godfather of Soul against, well... Bobby Hebb doesn't really have a nickname besides "That Sunny Guy," so we'll go with that.

And today they face off with that "Sunny" song... Hebb's 1966 smash which has since gone on to rank #25 in BMI's Top 100 Songs of the 20th Century.

Hebb wrote the song following the deaths of John F. Kennedy and his older brother Harold, which both took place within 24 hours of each other.

"All my intentions were just to think of happier times – basically looking for a brighter day – because times were at a low tide," Hebb once explained. "After I wrote it, I thought 'Sunny' just might be a different approach to what Johnny Bragg was talking about in 'Just Walkin' in the Rain.'"

The song's popularity and album of the same name earned Hebb a spot touring with Beatles on the Fabs' last tour in '66 and started immediately inspiring a rampant run of covers that includes the likes of Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye as just some of the artists that have tried their own hand at the song.

In 1969, James Brown used the song to open his FANTASTIC (and my personal favorite of his) album Gettin' Down to It. The album stripped away the thick layers of horns, guitars, bass and drums that had defined his sound up to that point and instead employed the simple jazz stylings of the Dee Felice Trio and Brown's own takes on some standards made popular by the likes of Frank Sinatra, as well as a mind-blowing lounge jazz version of "Cold Sweat."

Brown turned "Sunny" into a duet with soulster Marva Whitney, and despite its humble beginnings, the song finds its true groove at about the 1:07 mark and is full of Brown's signature gasps and "Good God!"s. It's also kind of charming how he corrects himself as he's singing the lyrics - "Sunny, I'm so true -- one so true."

But I reckon that this is ultimately a case of not being able to better the original. When a song inspires a slew of covers, usually the original is best, i.e. the Beatles' "Yesterday," Sam Cooke's "Bring it On Home to Me" (although Britt Daniel's recent cover has its charms), and Hebb's original is undoubtedly difficult to improve upon, from the upfront bass, the major-to-minor shifts and Hebb's own plaintive-to-impassioned vocal.

It's not to say Brown's version isn't good. Or Sinatra's, Pickett's or Fitzgerald's for that matter, either. It's just... how can you argue with Bobby Hebb's?

Well, I would argue with his 1976 disco remix of the song, but that's another thing entirely...

Bobby Hebb - Sunny

James Brown - Sunny

Penny for your thoughts?

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This could be something that there's no getting over.

So we're about a month away now from Paul McCartney's newest album, Memory Almost Full being released, and I'm going through the same motions I do every time McCartney's released a solo album since 1997's Flaming Pie.

Hardcore jonesing for 1993's Off the Ground.

That album hasn't really stood up well for critics amongst the annals of Macca's solo work, but I still count it as my favorite solo release and yes, it has a lot to do with sentimentality (I was only 10 when it came out, and it was the first *new* Beatles-related release after I'd become a Beatles fan), and it also paved the way for my first concert - June 2, 1993 at Milwaukee County Stadium for Paul McCartney's "In the New World" Tour. Was your first concert as cool as that?

Now I'm not sayng McCartney's output has been consistently bad since then, but it seems to be on a downswing -- Flaming Pie was a pretty solid album (coulda done without "Really Love You"), Run Devil Run was the lone thoroughly fantastic exception, Driving Rain... eh (I really like four songs on there and can care less about the rest) and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard wasn't half as good as everyone said it is.

Frankly, I think it has to do with the people McCartney's surrounding himself with, who - aside from Nigel Godrich - seem pretty sycophantic. And I was at the United Center in 2005 for his show then, which was great, and he's got great players, but they ooze that "I'm playing with Paul McCartney and Paul McCartney can do no wrong" persona. Case in point - is a stadium rock concert really the best venue for "English Tea"? Really?

Macca's band during the Flowers in the Dirt - Off the Ground era, however, now there were some players that could stand on their own feet too. They obviously loved Paul, yeah, but they brought their own pedigrees in, and I think when you see footage of that group playing together live, there's an obvious sense that Paul seems just as happy to be playing with them as they are with him (case in point - McCartney giving Hamish Stuart lead duties on "Ain't No Sunshine" during his 1991 MTV Unplugged appearance, and giving Robbie McIntosh a solo acoustic spot during the 1993 tour).

Stuart, McIntosh, McCartney... yeah, no way this could last. Sheesh.

Stuart, of course, was a member of the Average White Band in the 1970s and 1980s, and possesses one of the greatest white soul voices ever to come out of Scotland. His voice arguably merged better with McCartney's better than anyone else McCartney has shared a mic with since leaving the Beatles (check "This One" for proof), and it says a lot that McCartney was also willing to try writing with him, producing the as-yet-unreleased "Is it Raining in London?" and the 1993 B-side "Keep Coming Back to Love."

That band's lead guitarist, Robbie McIntosh, meanwhile, came over to McCartney from MK II of the Pretenders and was just as privy to leave a McCartney session to go do a little late night blues spot at some British pub as he was to take the stage in open air stadiums around the world to take the lead on "Let it Be." His abilities on acoustic guitar are top notch - he's released an all-acoustic instrumental called Unsung, that features "Thanks Chet," which McCartney fans will remember as "Robbie's Bit" from the 1993 world tour.

Since leaving the McCartney ranks, both Stuart and McIntosh have remained active, releasing solo albums on the Compass Records level, and not only are they good - I'll do you one better. I'd rather listen to them than Driving Rain AND Chaos and Creation.

Hamish Stuart - It Is What It Is
From Stuart's 2000 release, Sooner or Later. Here he showcases that fantastic voice of his and also fronts a band that turns it in a tight little modern R&B classic. This song is addictive as all hell, and a lot of the album follows in this easily accessible smooth-groove pattern. I had a friend that, years ago, called this "uninspired Marvin Gaye pinching," but that was on the back of another argument, and I think he'd think differently about it now. I'm seldom wrong when it comes to good tunes. Anyway, this album is definitely worth seeking out - also includes a song called "Same Old Moon" that McCartney probably wishes he would've kept Hamish around for so it could be on one of his own albums.

The Robbie McIntosh Band - Scarecrow
The lead cut from McIntosh's 2000 offering, Emotional Bends, for which he assembled his own fabulous group of players, including bassmaster Pino Palladino and Mr. Harmonica, Mark Feltham to name but just two. Robbie's voice isn't anywhere near Stuart's, but it's certainly passable and not at all off-putting. The great thing about Robbie is that he knows how to write a catchy tune, and both Emotional Bends and it's follow up Wide Screen, are chock full of them.

Here's hoping Memory Almost Full is nearly as good as these...

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