Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You've been dropped off on the Texas highway.

In the past month, I've read about five new interviews with Britt Daniel -- in all of which, the writers (not Daniel) opt to say that Spoon's new album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is going to be the one to finally bring them through to the masses.

So... you diving in or not?

God knows they deserve it. I've been saying on record for three years now that they're easily the best band in America and their new album is as thoroughly amazing as anything they've done before. Does it raise the bar? I don't think it forges any wildly new musical ground, but when you keep producing quality, it does (I assume) make the next album that much harder to concoct to reach the lofty standards you've continually set for yourself. Ga finds no trouble reaching and sitting comfortably on that plateau.

And while it is cool nowadays to flick past CBS at night and catch them on Letterman, a small part of me selfishly hopes they don't become a Dave Matthews Band or Radiohead. I just hate losing the great little secrets.

Spoon had their chance in the late 1990s when the folks at Elektra Records sussed out the band's ready-to-burst talent and gave them a home for the album A Series of Sneaks. Unfortunately, the very people that had championed them at the label quickly forgot about them and while the album was a good one (Spoon albums are either good or great -- nothing else), musically it was only a precursor to what was about to happen.

When the band released Girls Can Tell on the Merge label in 2001, they staked their claim as one of the best things this country had going and while they've made their home on Merge ever since and spun three more GREAT albums since, the masses have yet to truly catch on. They have a hardcore, devoted fanbase that seeks out their early 7" records and obscure EPs with as much fervor as Indie-heads scouring the shops for Smiths 12" singles did in the 1980s. But something about the Merge label (which has plenty of talent on it and has my eternal love and affection) has kept them to a slow boil. Sure, they show up on Letterman, "I Turn My Camera" is used to push Jaguars, and even Daniel shows up on "Veronica Mars" but they're not (yet) filling the arenas.

I don't know how much longer this secret can possibly be held. But I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Here's the track that should've made them superstars when they had the best chance.

Spoon - Advance Cassette
From the aforementioned A Series of Sneaks, yes, you're hearing this right - it's a love song to a demo tape. And it's f*cking gorgeous. Thankfully, Elektra's loss was our gain.


Monday, July 30, 2007

So let all of your singers a-sing...

I have a big heart for the crooners of old...

My grandmother was always a huge Frank Sinatra fan, as were her siblings, so growing up there always was some Frank in the background somewhere at the big family parties. It's not something I was able to appreciate until later in life, but when those doors opened, in came Dean and Sammy of course, but also a bit of Bing... some Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong... onwards and onwards.

One of my all time favorites has always been Bobby Darin, though.

Darin falls into the 'crooner' league because he always aspired to reach the heights that Sinatra had, but Darin also had a foot steeped in the blossoming rock and roll movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s and could also easily sway into that lake -- case in point is when you see those big informercials for TimeLife collections like "Malt Shop Memories," you're always very likely to see a Darin tune scroll by and hardly ever a Sinatra, Martin or Crosby tune. And yeah, some of that is down to licensing, but a lot more of it is down to Darin's versatility.

While predominantly taking the crooner route and forging a career out of his own takes on popular standards (I could get three years' worth out of the "Vs." series between Darin and Sinatra's versions of songs alone), it says something that the man without question is the voice behind the DEFINITIVE versions of songs like "Beyond the Sea" and "Mack the Knife" and arguably recorded the definitive versions of songs like 'The Good Life" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" as well.

But what differentiated Darin further from his idols was his own songwriting savviness. It can be easy to forget when perusing the Darin back catalogue that the man himself penned two of his biggest hits - something Frank and Dean (much less Elvis Presley) certainly can't say.

Darin had a mind for a good tune, and while songs like "Multiplication" aren't up there in the "100 Greatest Songs Ever" list, some of his others are worth consideration. Here are a few of them.

Darin perfected his take on not only Dean Martin's delivery, but also his late night stagger.

Bobby Darin - Splish Splash
Darin's first bonafide solo hit and Side 1/Cut 1 from his 1958 self-titled debut on ATCO still sounds fresh and fun almost 50 years later, even though Darin kind of took the route Fountains of Wayne do nowadays by namechecking the stalwarts of pop culture at the time. Thankfully, "Lollipop," "Peggy Sue" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" all proved to have the same staying power this song did (or maybe it was a packaged deal all along... conspiracy!). Although I've always thought it was rude for all these people to just barge into Bobby Darin's living room and start partying while the guy's upstairs just trying to have a peaceful bath. Ah well. Bobby probably got a little action and we all got a great song out of it. Can't hold them in contempt for too long, then...

Bobby Darin - Dream Lover
A stalwart of any TimeLife compilation and surely defined by its AWESOME use in Hot Shots! (even though they didn't use Darin's version), Darin put this song out as a standalone single in 1959 and proved he could write just as potent a love song as any of the songwriters whose standards he covered. It's been solid consolation for single guys for nearly a half century now and will most likely continue to do so for centuries and centuries on. God knows it shows up on enough compilations to stay in people's consciousness. In fact, if you manage to find a Darin comp. without this song, you might want to take it to be appraised by the Antiques Roadshow or something. Of course, it sticks around because it still sounds amazing.

Bobby Darin - Not For Me
Not as well known as the previous two (if even known at all), this song (for me at least) easily trumps both of them. Written during his tenure at Capitol Records in the early-to-mid 1960s and featured on his 18 Yellow Roses and Other Hits album, this song is noteworthy for its haunting arrangement by none other than a young and soon-to-be frequent Rolling Stones and Neil Young collaborator Jack Nitzsche. The tense strings and bassline almost define the song enough to demand a co-writing credit, but Darin rises to the occassion himself and delivers one of the most impassioned vocals of his entire career. Going from general nonchalance to borderline hysteria in under two and a half minutes, this is the song from Darin's catalogue that is most unfairly always overlooked. Seriously. Download all three of these songs, but if it was just gonna be one... this is the one right here.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

You can bet I never let the things I get get the best of me.

Ooh a rare Saturday post!

Can only mean one of two things - I'm incredibly bored or I'm back at the family homestead in Lombard.

If you guessed the former, well done. I'm in Lombard this weekend 'cos an old roommate from college (who hails from Woodridge) is having a big old party later today, and as Woodridge is pretty close in proximity to Lombard, I thought I'd be a decent guy and visit the parental units a bit.

One of the interesting things about coming home is perusing the hundreds of CDs I left behind that never made it up to college or up to Madison. Most of them are import EPs that I just won’t have the adequate space for until I get a big old house and can fulfill my dream of building a basement studio, but some of them I left behind because, well… embarrassment or the fact that I just don’t listen to them anymore.

I thought it’d be fun to do a bit of perusing of what’s in these old boxes next to my now rolled up old Jenny McCarthy posters (true ‘90s teenager, man) and share some of these artifacts with you. For whatever reasons, here are five songs I was digging during some point of my teenage years. Don’t worry, I’ll attempt to justify each, too.

The Saturday(?!) Five: The OTHER stuff Paul listened to as a teenager...

Ah yes, the braces smile...

The Bee Gees - Alone (Single Mix)
This is kind of an embarrassing one. I had a friend growing up who had parents that just loved the Bee Gees and owned everything they released from the 1960s on, and when Still Waters was released in 1997, this was added right to their collection. “Alone” actually got a lot of airplay and I started to like it enough to buy the single – which is saying something, because aside from import EPs, I only ever bought like three American singles in my life. I knew it’d be a waste of $15 to get the album, so I just bought the single, which also came with a really sh*tty live version of “Stayin’ Alive.” I assume the single mix means they shaved a minute or so off the song… I don’t know. This is more than enough, really. I still blame Jason and his friggin’ parents.

Dave Matthews Band - Jimi Thing
I was kind of ahead of the curve in terms of people my age and the Dave Matthews Band. They’re the great college band, but by the time college came around, I was way the hell over them. Funnily enough, everyone who was into them in college seems to be over them now, too. Even Dave. When Under the Table and Dreaming was released in 1994 on the strength of “What Would You Say?” and “Ants Marching,” I got the album. It was a bit too jammy and loose for little 12-year-old Paul, and while I’d also subsequently buy Crash, both albums are now buried at the bottom of an old box in my former music room in Lombard. This is the only track I’ll ever listen to if I decide to unearth the buggers.

New Radicals - Mother We Just Can't Get Enough
I was obsessed with “You Get What You Give” when I first heard it because it sounded like a song you knew all your life. It actually really drove me crazy, because I figured it was just a cover of an old 1960s song, but I couldn’t figure out what, or who’d done the original. Then they played it to death and I got sick of it. My co-worker at Books-A-Million burned me a copy of Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, cos there was no way in hell I’d ever buy it. So this is kind of historic, because it’s the first burned CD I ever had, and as it turns out I ended up liking this song way the hell more than anything else on the CD (which really only had three good songs in the end). Even with the dumb “Make my nipples hard” open and the fake Rastafarian bit toward the end… this still has its charms. Er… that is, if I only listen to it every time I’m back in Lombard…

R.E.M. - The Great Beyond
I was obsessed with the “Man on the Moon” movie when it was released in 1999 – it’s actually still the only film that made me just bawl at the end in front of everyone in the theater. Kind of embarrassing, but I mean… a singalong at a funeral? How could you not cry? Sorry if I just spoiled it for anyone. Anyway, R.E.M. scored the film’s soundtrack and contributed this new song to it, which is one of the very, very few R.E.M. songs I really love.

Ringo Starr - La De Da
When Vertical Man was released in 1998, it was kind of a big deal. Not because it was Ringo’s first album since 1992 (really, who counts Ringo’s off years?), but because of the slew of artists that show up on it: George Harrison and Paul McCartney, obviously, but also Steven Tyler, Alanis Morrissette, Brian Wilson, Ozzy Osbourne, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmidt and Tom Petty to name just but a few. Even with all that talent, the album only lives up to Ringo album standards, but this track, which was the lead single, is still charming as f*ck. When Macca joins Ringo on the last line of the chorus “All you’ve got to say is la de da…” it’s impossible not to smile.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Wouldn't it be so nice to drag your feet in the edge of the sea?

You'll recall my mentioning that last week I was asked by a dear old friend to do some posting on the subjects of the Hollies, the Turtles and the Zombies. Okay, then. Hollies today, the latter two for another time(s).

The Hollies, for a lot of people, qualify as one of the great British Invasion groups of the 1960s, and not just of the mere quick hits and miss ilk that had woven the likes of Peter & Gordon or Petula Clark (Hey, I dig Petula too, but name me THREE songs by her). The fact that the Hollies had four certifiable hits that have made their way into lasting consciousness ("Bus Stop," "Carrie Anne," "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" and "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" puts them a notch above the 3-minutes-of-fame bands of the Invasion. The fact that the latter two of those hits came after Graham Nash's departure makes their story even a little more intriguing.

But the fact of the matter is that anyway you cut the Hollies cloth -- Nash involvement or not -- their music never quite equalled the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Small Faces (who as we know, never even got a chance in America), or even the Zombies and Animals. They had plenty of pop sensibilities, and while "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Anne" hold up just about as well as anything released in the 1960s, pretty much everything else in their catalogue feels like the generic version of the style du jour.

When Nash left in 1968 to join David Crosby and Stephen Stills (and sometimes Neil Young), he effectively took what little magic there was in the Hollies with him. I know people who LOVE "He Ain't Heavy..." of course, and "Long Cool Woman" got just as much popularity out of that riff that both "Get it On (Bang a Gong)" and "Cigarettes & Alcohol" also would, but Nash added that harmonic element that their two later megahits lacked and that made the good pre-1968 stuff really good.

I can explain it better. I'll just use Nash's last stand with the band, 1967's Butterfly.

The Hollies
Parlophone, 1967

01. Dear Eloise
02. Away Away Away
03. Maker
04. Pegasus
05. Would You Believe
06. Wishyouawish
07. Postcard
08. Charlie and Fred
09. Try It
10. Elevated Observations?
11. Step Inside
12. Butterfly

Butterfly's best moments (the three linked tracks among them) are truly little slices of magic. The worst moments ("Pegasus" leading the charge) are downright awful. The problem is that from best to worst (and everything in between), it feels like Mom brought home a bag of Fruit Circles instead of the Toucan Sam-featuring box of Froot Loops, dammit. And any kid knows that Fruit Circles suck. Froot Loops rule.

It can't have been easy to have been on the Beatles label (much less in 1967), but whereas the other predominant British groups did their best to forge their own path outside the Beatles' large shadow, the Hollies were just happy to stay in the wake. The Rolling Stones were blues-based and individual enough to separate themselves (Pepper-aping Their Satanic Majesties Request aside), the Kinks reverted back into strict Englishness and tales of tea times, village greens and searching classified sections, and Steve Marriott's voice alone was enough to separate the Small Faces from anyone, no matter what musical style they chose to peruse. The Hollies were just happy to be the bastard sons of the Beatles and Beach Boys.

To a limit, it worked. While "Bus Stop," "Carrie Anne" and even this album's "Dear Eloise" worked up the shy-boy-in-waiting angle that Brian Wilson had made himself the patron saint of in 1966, they also have enough snap, zest and Englishness to differentiate themselves from anything out there. But when the Hollies made their forays into psychedelia -- "Pegasus" was a song that even Syd Barrett at his most stoned wouldn't have dared, and singing about "lemonade lakes" in the title track just feels a tad too "I really like 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'"

Hell, even the sitar-led "Maker" isn't a BAD song, it just feels like "Well... I suppose we need to put sitar on one of these songs to stay hip, don't we?"

I understand the impossibility of the shadow the Beatles cast, and perhaps it's hypocritical of me to call out the Hollies for being wakeriders now and go home this evening and listen to Badfinger records, but... c'est la vie. It's not a total knock on the Hollies - as I said, I like them (so long as Graham Nash is around), and "Dear Eloise" and "Away Away Away" is as good a one-two punch as you were going to find on any record released in 1967. It's just that it quickly manifests itself thereafter as a 1967 time capsule. Great records are supposed to transcend space and time. That's why people can look past the 1980s production on Smiths records and "She's a Rainbow" is really the only thing anyone gives a rip about off Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Were there worse albums released in 1967? Undoubtedly. But there were also better ones just a shelf or two up.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

If I could have the other half of you.

Sorry for the extended absence - I returned to Madison late Tuesday night and would've done a post yesterday, but I inherited a rather nasty sunburn along my neck and shoulders over the extended weekend that's kept me in a rigid state for the better part of this week. If it was socially acceptable to walk around shirtless at work and everywhere else I would, but lord knows I couldn't even get a McChicken sandwich without a shirt, so... alas, alas, alas.

Suffice to say, I made the wrong choice in going with the soft cotton polo today -- I thought the light touch of the fabric would serve my charred upper extremities well, but the lack of bagginess around the neck and shoulders meant for a painful experience in putting the shirt on this morning and I'm not looking forward to what'll happen when I take it off tonight. It smarted this morning for a good two hours.

But enough about my achy breaky neck and shoulders. You're here for music, and writing about it will get my mind off the sizzling bits. Time for July's installment of the Fantastic 45's and this time, we go to my beloved underrated R&B juggernauts, the Small Faces.

The Small Faces' popularity and appeal is still lost on a lot of Americans to this day because aside from "Itchycoo Park" scraping into the Top 20 over here in 1968, the band never had a chance to make headway here. A marijuana possession bust of Ian McLagan meant the band could not be afforded visas to tour the States like many of their cockney counterparts were, and the fact that the band had a lifespan of just but three years meant virtually no time to reconcile the drug-related misstep.

Of course, when Steve Marriott left to form Humble Pie, and Ronnie Lane, McLagan and Kenney Jones brought in Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart to become the Faces, both bands found fame and fortune on US soil, but aside from those of us who live an Anglophile life and care enough to suss out the Small Faces' stuff (it's still a surprisingly small number here), most people still don't know about the greatest band hardly anyone knows.

But in old Brittania, ah... they know. This was a band at home that could rival the popularity of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in their heyday, with a golden-throated sparkplug of a lead singer and one of the tightest rhythm sections around backing them up.

The 45 featured today actually knocked the Beatles off the top of the British charts in 1966 (1966, remember, was the greatest year ever in rock and roll and the point when the Beatles were at their creative zenith), and with good reason.

The Fantastic 45's

Small Faces
"All or Nothing" b/w "Understanding"
Decca, 1966

Small Faces - All or Nothing
It's still somewhat strange for me to think that THIS is the song that gave the boys their only #1, because it's really such a transitional record for the band. It's one of their last stands on Decca Records, where they'd fuelled themselves on a heavy diet of beaty R&B, and while this record is an obvious precursor to the later lovelorn anthems they'd release on Immediate Records, like "Tin Soldier" and "Afterglow," this song hardly even fits into the league those two reside in. That's not to say it's not a brilliant song -- indeed it did shoot to #1 for a reason, but to count this as the band's finest moment would be a bit of a miscalculation. The rawness of the production puts the song's energy right at the front, but when compared to their later Immediate material, it becomes painfully obvious that they were probably afforded no more than (if even) three hours to record this tune. Case in point being the organ solo with Marriott ba, ba, ba, ba da ba, ba ba da da ba-ing along with it. While undoubtedly adding to the song's charm all these years later, you can also kind of tell he was thinking up a good guitar bit to go along with the organ, just might not have had the time to figure it out. Big props to the boys for circumventing the tight-assedness of the BBC, however. On the surface, this is a sweet enough song, but the merest examination of the lyrics clearly reveals this song's sentiment to be "If you don't have sex with me, we're breaking up." Niiiice.

Small Faces - Understanding
A song that's much more in line with their raucous Decca output -- all crashing guitar and drums, "la la la"s and pure unadulterated energy. I suppose it could be construed as the Small Faces' own kind of "My Generation" statement, although taking a much more peaceful go lyrically than Mssr. Townsend had. It's really the way Mac and Ronnie handle the backing vocals on the chorus: "You've got to doooooooooo," "You've got to knooooooooow" etc. that make the song so cool. Sure, Marriott's vocal is as great as ever, but something about the backing vocals that just totally make the song. One of the great B-sides of all time, and always sorely looked over in Small Faces collections. Get it now.

Both tracks can now be found on The Decca Anthology.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Where the buffalo roam around the zoo. And the Indians make you a rug or two. And the old Bar-X is the Bar-B-Q.

How many times have you heard (or given) this answer to the question: "So... what kind of music do you like?"

"Well... I like a lot. Actually, I'd say pretty much anything except country."

I know I've said it in my lifetime. I don't anymore, but I know I've said it. And I know I still hear it at almost every large social gathering where people are meeting for the first time that I attend. It's usually not me asking, mind you, but isn't it fascinating that that's usually one of the first questions people ask someone they see as prospective friend or love interest?

Country music seems to be an automatic dealbreaker. It's hard to find any kind of respect for someone that professes Big and Rich to be the best music they've ever heard. Now, granted, a night out at a bar and a conversation with an unbelievably smokin' hot girl that says she loves country can be tolerated, but only for the fact that questioner in question probably can't believe his luck that he's actually holding a conversation with this unbelievably smokin' hot girl. He might even profess to liking a bit of country himself. She thinks he means Big and Rich. He's thinking Johnny Cash.

Country music now -- that is the stuff that fills CMT and the like, is really godawful music. But it's unfair to dismiss country music entirely because of it. That'd be like saying you hate the Beatles because the Backstreet Boys are crap. "I Want to Hold Your Hand," really, was the 1964 equivalent of "I Want it That Way" -- only the Beatles at least had enough talent to write and actually play the song, not just lip synch and dance. There's good pop music and bad pop music, like any form of music, and there's good country and bad country.

Good country is the stuff like Cash, Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and pretty much anything that comes out these days on the Bloodshot label.

But because I was once young and stupid (and spent part of my young and stupid years in Houston, where I was referred to as "little Yankee boy" and forced to withstand outings to establishments like the Texas Tumbleweed where the songs du jour picked by the houseband included the likes of "All My Exs Live in Texas"), I once was pretty dismissive of anything bearing a country label.

Of course, then I grew up and started to learn a little more and realized that country ain't ALL that bad. There is stuff with a country and western core that can be shifted a bit musically and made into a completely enjoyable little number. Remember what Jamie Foxx said as Ray Charles in Ray: "It's the stories, man. People dig the stories."

For this month's Friday Five, here's some country tinged sauce that goes down nice and easy.

The Friday Five: Save the "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" Guys, and Ride These Instead.
(or... "Lotta, lotta redneck in yer")

Happy Mondays - Country Song
Er... what? Shaun Ryder as the last sherriff in town? Bez dancing to THIS? The opening track on Bummed -- one of the most celebrated ecstacy/rave albums of all time taking a country slant? Well, it is a very, very liberal slant -- with a thumping beat, woodblock and plenty o' slide guitar basically quantifying this as "country." Shaun's on a fantastic lyrical tare that takes aim at country folk. I was gonna say it might be one of the only country songs that features a line like "Smoke wild grown mari-juana keeps that smile on my face," but I haven't heard ALL of Willie Nelson's stuff yet. Originally this song was going to be called "Some C*nt From Preston" -- Cockney, er... rather Mondays rhyming slang for "Country and Western" -- but they were forced to make it a little more sanitary. It's bouncy, demented and as fun as it is passively menacing. You'll love it. Also incredibly fun to imagine Shaun singing this in ten-gallon hat, riding a horse into town. Albeit a very, very drugged up horse.

Harry Connick, Jr. - I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)
One thing that everyone in my immediate family loves is someone who's just brilliant on piano. Suffice to say, there was a lot of Connick in the house growing up, and Harry's take on this old country standard from his 1992 album 25 is absolutely amazing in terms of piano savviness. Lyrically, my mother, father, sister and I could also identify with Harry's musings after moving out of Houston. Seriously, talk about the most displaced family ever. This song explains exactly what kind of Texans the Snyders were. "I'm a cowboy who never saw a cow. Never roped a steer, 'cos I don't know how. And I sure ain't fixin' on startin' now. Yippie-ay-oh-ki-ay." Damn straight.

Jon Langford - Nashville Radio (Live at Antone's - Austin, TX)
Still amazing to me that the Godfather of Bloodshot Records - arguably the only label in America still breaking its back to preserve the original, pure (and damn angry) sentiments of classic country is a Welsh-born punk. But he knows how to write a good country-tinged tune. He's recorded several versions of "Nashville Radio," but the live venue is the best place to experience, when he turns his amp up, and makes the band play out like they've just had a shot of some damn good whiskey. This song charts the ugly, alcohol-induced demise of Hank Williams, but damned if he doesn't make it sound like one of the most romantic things ever. From the soundtrack to the Bloodshot Records documentary, Bloodied but Unbowed.

Ray Charles - It Makes No Difference Now
Fun fact: When Ray Charles released Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music in 1962, he made it forever impossible for people to dismiss country music entirely. A list of good country songs that DOESN'T include a cut (any cut) from this album is a list not worth making. This is my favorite cut on the album (although his take on "Bye, Bye Love" is also pretty fantastic).

Robbie Fulks - F*ck This Town
Gotta love when country artists themselves take aim at just how bullsh*t the country music genre is now. Somewhat autobiographical, Fulks laments his early days trying to become a wealthy songspinner in Nashville, only to find that they're promoting the likes of what would soon manifest itself as "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy." F*ck that, indeed. But Nashville's loss was Bloodshot's gain as Fulks is still one of the sharpest songwriters out there and is willing to take anything anyone holds dear down a peg and expose it for what it really is. From one of the greatest alt-country albums of all time, South Mouth.

I'm taking a bit of a vacation starting tonight, and I won't be back in the saddle here until Wednesday, so I hope this tides you over until then. Have a good weekend and beginning to next week, and I'll be back with plenty o' good stuff. One of my dearest friends has been needling me to start writing about the Turtles, the Hollies and the Zombies. So that's just a bit that you have to look forward to.

Adios, amigos.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

I need you here today. Don't ever fade away.

A good friend of mine, knowing my affinity for the movie 24 Hour Party People sent me an email last night containing a link to this brilliant video:

Pretty cool to see Bernard keep egging John Simm (who played Bernard in the film) to stay on stage and finish out the song with them, and man, do I love Peter Hook on bass. I really, really loved that performance, and it's so interesting what Bernard's voice does to Joy Division songs where Ian Curtis' once dwelled. "Digital" was a live barnstormer from Joy Division's earliest days, but Bernard singing it really kind of turns it into a lighter, oddly more optimistic number doesn't it? Heck, a New Order song even.

Curtis' voice, of course, just made it much more dark and uneasy song, but still powerful as all hell. Rather poignantly, the song was the first that the group recorded with genius/madman producer Martin Hannett, who oversaw their only two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and it was the last song that Joy Division ever performed live before Ian Curtis hung himself in 1980. Rather wondefully, the performance was preserved on tape and showed up on Still, a collection of studio outtakes and live performances that was released a year after Curtis' suicide. Great performance and quite a way to bow out.

Joy Division - Digital
Can now be found on Substance.

Joy Division - Digital (live)
From Still.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How can you stand to be so cruel?

Whew... lotta Britishness 'round these parts lately eh?

Let's clean house (and system) a bit with a good soul cut.

The Spinners - It's a Shame
It took the Spinners roughly 17 years to find the hits they'd forever be defined by with "I'll Be Around," and "Could it Be I'm Falling in Love," but the arduous buildup to that was merely a case of bad timing. After spending much of the 1950s trying to get a break, they were signed to the Motown label in 1963. Unfortunately there wasn't much interest in their own music at the time and while Motown enjoyed its exposion in popularity that rivalled only the British Invasion in terms of 1960s chart dominance, the Spinners were acting as road managers and chaperones to other groups. As the '60s wound down Motown threw them a bone and got behind their album 2nd Time Around, which featured this - their only predominant hit on the Motown label (charting at #14) - which was penned by Motown powerhouse Stevie Wonder. Shortly thereafter, Aretha Franklin suggested the boys take a look at Atlantic and 17 years after forming, the boys finally found their breakthrough. This song is a great number though and proved they had the chops and talent to run with the likes of the Supremes, Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder in the 1960s, but ah vell... as they say... it's a shame.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

There's no real control of a random event.

I almost hate to say anything if only as not to jinx anything (Cubs fans are a quite superstitious lot, you know), but I did a lot of gleeful jumping around last night at yet another come-from-behind win by the hottest team in baseball at the moment.

I've always loved the game in general, but when the team you root for is on a roll, it ony makes it that much more fun. When my uncle came to pick up my grandfather on Sunday, it was the top half of the 2nd inning. Houston was leading the Cubs 5-0, to which my Uncle scoffed "FIVE runs already?! Jesus."

"Well... it's only the 2nd," I said. "They have a lot of time here to get back into it."

Half an inning later, the Cubs were up 6-5.

You never can tell.

The beautiful thing about baseball of course is the fact that really, anything can happen. And I'm sure that you know (as most Cubs fans do) that that fact is both comforting and terrifying.

To quote John Guare, from his book Lydie Breeze:

The girls were so frightened. You know how children are? "Suppose we're taken into the air?" And Doctor Paynter laughed and laughed. "That can't happen." And on the way home, I thought about dying. We walked through the red rain. And I thought about you killing. And we stepped into great red puddles. And I said to the girls, "I will now give you a great lesson." Because the girls must be taught. "Anything can happen." That is the most horrid fact about living. Anything can happen.

So what say you? Is that a comforting fact or a scary one? Here are two songs that look at the different sides of it.

The Finn Brothers - Anything Can Happen
You wouldn't expect less than optimism from Neil and Tim, and this cut from 2003's Everyone is Here certainly likes its chances with uncertainty. "I can't wait to see what will happen to me next," they assure us over a rolling backing track. The whole album is actually a pretty Prozac-inspired affair -- "Won't Give In," "Luckiest Man Alive," et. al -- and this despite the fact that the cover shot looks like two guys spoiling for a bit of a fight and the two guys are responsible for some decidedly pessimistic material like "My Mistake," "Dirty Creature" and "Chocolate Cake." Hmm. Maybe optimism comes with age?

Jon Langford - Anything Can Happen
Or maybe it doesn't. While Langford told me last year that this song was probably the most positive song on Gold Brick (or Lies of the Great Explorers or Columbus at Guantanamo Bay), he doesn't really approach the uncertain with the aplomb that the Finn boys do. It's not necessarily casting the fact that anything can happen as a strict means of being frightened, but when singing reservedly about lack of control and waiting for explosions and so forth, it doesn't render itself to an entirely glass-half-full mindset.

Now which one do you think Cubs fans will be listening to come the end of September?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Because you can do. But only if you want to.

Welcome back to the working week. Hope everyone had a nice couple of days off.

I did myself -- my grandfather came to town for a visit, and that turned out to be a lot of fun. Impressive too, because he managed to put down as many beers as most of my other friends do when they come up for a weekend in town too. Granted, he's 100% German, so pouring down steins in establishments like the Essen Haus isn't necessarily a new thing to him, but it was still kind of cool to see.

Before he arrived Saturday afternoon, I did a bit of housekeeping 'round the residency, however, and put my iTunes on shuffle for some good background music. In the middle of a bit of dusting, the opening drumbeat and riff of Morrissey's obscure B-side "The Loop" started and I had to stop my bit of cleaning.

The song's been buried in my iTunes for ages and in all truth, I think my tattered old copy of the "Sing Your Life" single it's pulled from is still MIA back at the parents' homestead in Lombard. It's been forever and a day since I listened to it and hearing it again got me really excited. I LOVE the song. I jumped around a bit, but then I stopped and got kind of pensive and depressed as the song (like many do) got me thinking just a shade too much.

What's happened to Morrissey?

That joke isn't funny anymore. Neither is that one. Or that one. Or that one. And especially not that one.

His last album, Ringleader of the Tormentors got a bunch of press and acclaim because he actually started discussing the fact that he might like a bit of sex (not necessarily a unique rock and roll sentiment, but when coming from once the world's most celebrated celibate, it's something), but no one seemed to be able to get past lines like "I've got explosive kegs between my legs" to see that not only is that a pretty horrible couplet by Morrissey standards, but there are no great hooks to be found ANYWHERE on the album. The music is rambling and tedious, as are Mozzer's lyrics. Sure, a look at the tracklisting, and it's chock full of great titles. But as Elvis Costello once famously said "Morrissey comes up with the greatest song titles which he sometimes forgets to write songs for."

Back during the days in the Smiths, Morrissey once lamented how he felt that people sometimes expect him to change their lives with the wave of a pen. It wasn't really a "woe is me" comment -- indeed it was delivered in his rather dour sense of humor, but you could sympathize with both sides. There really is no one like him when it comes to writing lyrics -- and certainly he was peerless in the 1980s -- so when you're consistently spinning majestic little lines, it's only reasonable that people would expect you to keep doing so.

And he did -- even throughout the first 2/3 of his solo career. But that exile after Maladjusted was a killer. Sure, it made You Are the Quarry a certifiable hit, if only for the reason that it was Morrissey back after seven years. There are some good tunes on it, but the more I go back and listen to it, the fewer songs I let play. In truth, the only song I really adore on it is "The World is Full of Crashing Bores." Ringleader just sunk into a deeper depth of too much self focus and his latest number, "That's How People Grow Up" while at least finding some semblance of a catchy little structure musically, again falls on its face lyrically. When you got a guy on the cusp of 50 talking about dealing with disappointment as a means of growing up (really what he's been doing for 25 years now, right?), it starts to seem redundant. Maybe it'd be better if it didn't include the line "I was driving my car, I crashed and broke my spine // So, yes, there are worse things than never being someone's sweetie."

The problem is that the sense of humor's gone. "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," at the end of the day certainly wasn't the best Smiths song and shouldn't be the first thing people think of when they think of the Smiths, but it WAS funny. And smart. The greatest misinterpretations about Morrissey and the Smiths came at taking those song titles at face value. Now Morrissey is too. He's become the whiny old curmudgeon people have always perceived him to be. He's bought himself right into a pigeonhole. There's nothing that catchy about his music anymore, but the real tragedy is that there's nothing genuine in his lyrics anymore. It all reeks of "Let me come up with a wonderfully depressing title. Now let me try to rhyme words that fit that sentiment."

The thing about "The Loop" is its simplicity and overt LACK of trying. It's a four minute song with just one verse sung twice. The majority of the focus is given to the little rockabilly backing track that has all the power of a runaway steam train. Morrissey doesn't say anything grand -- just that if you want to give him a call, go ahead. If not, well, that's fine too. Whatever. It's purposefully effortless. And it's one of the best things he's done since Johnny Marr walked out on him.

Too bad he can't just relax like this anymore. At his age, he really should.

Morrissey - The Loop
The "Sing Your Life" single is long since out of print, but you can find this track on the Morrissey-disapproved collection World of Morrissey.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Oh, but what's the use of damaged goods?

Where is it then, Mills?

Given Kula Shaker's recent return, I've been on a super Crispian Mills kick as of late. Although to be fair, I've been going on them on and off again for years now and might even be on one had they not just reformed and released an album.

One of the great teases perpetrated in the Kula Shaker camp was following the band's breakup in 1999, when Crispian decided to keep to the Sony label and pursue a solo album. He put together a backing band called Pi (augmented on bass by the super bodacious Kim Khahn) and got to work on a new album and took a few live slots (most notably opening for the then-exploding in popularity Robbie Williams).

I tracked crispianmills.com (long since deceased) in those days almost everyday, and he would once in awhile put up 1 minute songs clips (in that wondeful old RealAudio format, no less) of the stuff he was working on. A lot of it was ambient music, but given that they were only one minute clips anyway, it was obvious (well, to super devoted fans like me) that they were going to be small parts of a much, much greater whole.

Two full on attempts were made at recording an album and although stuff was laid down on tape, the solo album never came to fruition. It's still in the vaults and while many a Kula fan has begged for release -- even in bootleg form -- it's never bubbled to the surface.

Well, three tracks did. But only in Japan.

When Crispian formed the Jeevas in 2002, the band needed a bit of music to sell ahead of their first trip to Japan and while they had not yet finished work on their debut record that would follow later that year, 1, 2, 3, 4, Crispian realized he still had that stuff vaulted from his aborted solo record and could piece together a nifty little EP.

The songs are great -- a lot more polished and expansive than the stuff the Jeevas would produce, and while the Jeevas would eventually rerecord songs Crispian had slated for his solo record ("Silver Apples," "Teenage Breakdown" and even "Stoned Love" later on), the EP serves as solid proof that Crispian's solo sessions weren't a complete waste. If anything, in fact, they're rather tantalizing glimpses into what else may still be gathering dust in the vaults.

But given this EP, the fact that the Jeevas did "Teenage Breakdown" and "Silver Apples," and the fact that Crispian's dusted off "Be Merciful" (easily the most beautiful song he let fans preview back in the days of his solo site) perhaps for an upcoming Kula b-side, as he just performed it at the UK iTunes Festival this past Monday, it could mean that the songs might just find their way out in time yet. Like how the Beach Boys' Smile songs trickled out slowly in the years after 1967.

Maybe Crispian will just do like Brian Wilson and just rerecord the album with a crack team of young musicians when he's 60...

Oh who the hell am I kidding, I can't wait that long. RELEASE THE ALBUM.

The Jeevas
One Louder EP
Sony Japan, 2002

01. One Louder
02. Red
03. Stoned Love

The Jeevas' own reading of "Stoned Love" on 2003's Cowboys and Indians is actually a bit meatier and ultimately preferable to this version, but this one's still got its charms. The fact that "One Louder" (great title, eh?) and "Red" have never been retread speak volumes to their own merits here. It's really kind of tortuous knowing there could be about 8 more tracks of this caliber tucked away somewhere, isn't it?

Have a good weekend, all.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

18 attempts on her best pair of knickers.

I love Britpop. You may have already guessed as much.

The 1990s were a musically exciting time for me to be barrelling through my teenage years and immersing myself in all this music that was coming from across the Atlantic. Obviously the teenage years are probably the most defining personally in establishing what you like in music, and part in parcel with that is identifying with the attitude that comes with it.

Look around at any high school in my day (and probably still today) - preppies, emo kids, baggies, punks, goths, metalheads, kids with Doors t-shirts, etc. etc. You stake your claim in high school. Mine was Britpop and a lot of its spiritual godfathers, the Beatles and Kinks.

Be Here Now was released on August 26, 1997 in the US -- my first day of high school. I'd loved Oasis already, but 1997 was a big year for Britpop in general. Where OK Computer and Urban Hymns reached for hallowed ground and thrilled every music journalist under the sun, Oasis blew their kingdom up in a pile of blow (although Be Here Now is still my favorite album of theirs), Blur finally found stateside success with a song everyone thought was called "Woo Hoo" and then found there was no more interest, and the perplexing popularity of both the Spice Girls and the Prodigy cast the death knell for Britpop's final stateside blow - "Tubthumping." A song by a group of self-important anarchists who realized that the only way they'd ever be appreciated by the masses is by singing about getting faced. Huzzah.

1997 was Britpop's breaking point. The "belief is all" sentiment that had carried it since 1994 went up its own ass to a point of condescending arrogance and while now most scholoarly journals cast Princess Diana's death that August as the proverbial last call, there's no way the Britpop sentiment -- however much I may have loved it -- was going to last that much longer.

Everyone wants to point to Be Here Now as the biggest criminal: a 70+ minute self congratulatory picture of too many guitar tracks (more than 30 alone on "All Around the World"), NWA samples, token Beatle references and a lot of cocaine. It's an album that could very well induce a headache. Yeah, I love it, but I don't listen to it everyday.

But by my estimation, there was another album released in 1997 that perfectly exemplified the "I'm f*cking great and you f*cking love it" attitude that was Britpop's blessing and curse. It didn't have half the chance stateside that it did in the UK, but even in the UK it was but a blip on the mighty radar Oasis commanded at the time.

One of Britpop's biggest criminals? One of my heroes - John Squire.

The Seahorses
Do It Yourself
Geffen, 1997

01. I Want You to Know
02. Blinded By the Sun
03. Suicide Drive
04. The Boy in the Picture
05. Love is the Law
06. Happiness is Eggshaped
07. Love Me and Leave Me
08. Round the Universe
09. 1999
10. Standing on Your Head
11. Hello

John Squire's decision to leave the Stone Roses in March of 1996 is still spurring debate in terms of its ethics and whether or not it was the right career move. The band itself had screwed up. Royally. Second Coming was released in 1995, and while it still is a fantastic album, there was no way the sophomore album could live up to the band's eponymous debut from 1989. The six-year gap inbetween just made expectations all the more unrealistic.

Reni had left the band shortly after the release, and while Robbie Maddix was brought in to bang the drums, it was obvious the Roses ship would never sail again as it once had. When Squire left the band by fax, it should've signalled the end of the line for the Roses. Bewilderingly, Ian Brown and Mani decided to carry on through a few torrid gigs before sputtering to an end.

But journalists started speculating that the musical savvy Squire would not only return soon, but in grand form and have the greatest success of any of the four following the breakup. Indeed, he'd been hoarding songs since his final months in the Roses and all needed was the right outlet.

But first let's put things in perspective. Squire was in the throes of a heavy cocaine addiction at the time that's been blamed on more than a few occassions for the obscene delays in recording and releasing Second Coming. It was even speculated to be the cause of a biking accident that forced cancellation of a spot at Glastonbury in 1995 that may or may not have put the Roses back on the map.

Following his exit, Squire went into intense seclusion to formulate his next move, emerging only briefly to join Oasis on stage at their landmark Knebworth gigs to play lead guitar on "Champagne Supernova" and "I Am the Walrus." Now think about this -- you're on coke, a very self congratulatory drug, you're playing lead guitar with the best band in the world at the biggest gigs ever in front of a British audience and you're playing circles around Noel Gallagher. An entire nation is waiting with baited breath on your next move.

You think he had a high opinion of himself?

Of course he f*cking did. But where most people in his position might wisely opt to seek out the best available talent at the time and form something of a supergroup, Squire let his massive ego take things beyond reasonable comprehension. Let's get a no name bass player and drummer, so that I'm the dominant musical force in the group and the only name. Singer? I'll do you one better. Let's get that guy I heard busking out of Woolworth's that one time.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Seahorses.

Now, putting two no-names with a busker and John Squire and getting an album out on the Geffen label might obviously imply some amount of magic.

There really is none on Do It Yourself. It's not that it's a bad album, it's just that it's absolutely impossible to live up to the expectations that Squire cast for the band without even having them play a single note.

Squire takes the Led Zeppelin guitar route that he'd forged to a lot of people's chagrin on Second Coming and turns that up to 11 while busker extraordinaire Chris Helme is at best a decent Liam Gallagher impersonator. What do you get? An album of very Oasis-y tunes.

Now, if any time was right to cash in on the wake Oasis had created, it was the right time and Squire showed a bit of cunning in employing Liam Gallagher to write the words for "Love Me and Leave Me." Little brother had never had a chance in the songwriting light and it guaranteed the album would chart just for all the Oasis nuts who wanted to see if Liam had any talent on his own. Mind you, this was before even "Little James." Sample: "Don't believe in Jesus, don't believe in Jah, don't believe in wars - we fight just to prove how real we are." Hmm... you say he's a Lennon fan?

Squire's own lyrical prowess on the album also seems to tip its hat to the bespectacled Beatle, particularly the double-time nonsense of "I Am the Walrus" (i.e. "Mad Lizzy Crumbs blind cobblers thumbs were a sight to behold // She was a rum old slapper and we always tried to get her pants off when she phoned").

Musically, the band Squire assembled wasn't too shabby. Indeed, if this album hadn't borne the weight of a "former Stone Rose" and was taken on its own, some more praise might've awaited, but at the same time you think that, you also find yourself feeling that if it hadn't borne Squire's name, what would've separated it from any of the new crop coming out of the UK in 1997?

Guitar-wise of course, there are flash solos at every turn, and even a shady attempt to recreate the end of "I Am the Ressurrection" at the end of "Love is the Law." The one thing I can say is that the pure pop whimsy of almost all the tunes (even the couple penned by Helme) that do take kindly to the ear. Squire grew up on a steady diet of the Beach Boys and while harmonies maybe in short supply on Do It Yourself, easy pop hooks are bountiful. "1999" and "Happiness is Eggshaped" will both grab your attention straightaway. The problem is there's just not that much reason to listen beyond that. And the lyrics and melodies barely seep into your brain the way those of good pop songs should.

If not ironically, then certainly funnily enough, Ian Brown's solo debut Unfinished Monkey Business received all the surprise praise imaginable and it's the Stone Roses non-musical, barely-that-good-of-a-lead-singer that's enjoyed the most success since the Roses demise. The Seahorses would try to do another album, but a general amount of disinterest and indifference among the ranks left it forever binned and Do It Yourself remains the testament to John Squire's first post-Roses statement.

Like a lot of Britpop, there's bucketfulls of brashness. It's just a shame the music didn't rise to even half of its self-imposed expectations.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It could be anywhere - most likely any frontier in any hemisphere.

I'm gonna be honest - I like the Clash.

I don't love them. I think that SOME of their stuff is absolutely sheer, jaw-dropping genius - musically and lyrically. But not all of it. And listening to a lot of the Clash doesn't move me the same way listening to a lot of the Jam does.

But that's okay. I still got a hell of a lot of respect for them.

A few months back I briefly dated this girl who was absolutely mad about them, though. In particular, the song "Straight to Hell." We never really discussed the song as it were, she would just listen to it a lot and do some bellydancing moves to it. She was learning to bellydance and found it a great song to practice to.

We stopped seeing each other shortly thereafter on a completely unrelated matter, but funnily enough, ever since I've been completely obsessed with the song. I always liked it anyway, but for whatever reason, in the past few months the song has just clicked in that really great way that songs do when you can appreciate every turn the guitar makes, the lyrics make and the drumbeat makes. Typical genius from Joe Strummer in his meditations on the after effects of the Vietnam war with American soldiers having fathered children abroad and not taking responsibility for them in addition to the typical Clash topics of industrial decay at home in the UK. Really amazing stuff.

Fun to watch a bellydance to, too.

The Clash - Straight to Hell
From 1982's divisive Combat Rock, which also contained some other tracks you may have heard of - "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go." The album served as a tipping point for the band -- it brought them massive commercial success which upset some of the hardcore/traditionalist following, and it also served as the last album to feature the original lineup as Mick Jones left after its release and Topper Headon was booted due to his drug problems. My friend Mike and I often disagree about this one. He calls it their worst. I actually like it the best. It's the biggest melting pot of all their different influences and even though it contains some of their most commercial stuff, who ever said commercial is entirely bad? Face it, even the most hard hearted punks love the bassline to "Rock the Casbah."

This is the BEST live version I've ever seen or heard of this song, and it's actually one of the best live performances ever. Too bad it was wasted on a generally disinterested audience. From a 1999 performance by Joe Strummer and his latter-day outfit, the Mescaleros at the Bizarre Festival, which is pretty much a hippie hangout. Not really a place for punk sentiment. But tell me this isn't one of the greatest performances you've seen. Just try. Makes me wish I'd gotten into the Clash a little earlier in life. Might've been able to catch Joe while he was still around. Le sigh.


Monday, July 09, 2007

It's direct from Lhasa.

Summerfest turned 40 this year and I went down to Milwaukee Saturday to take part in some of the festivities.

I met up with a good crowd, including my good old buddy Andrew who (like a total jerk) moved to Chicagoland a couple months ago, thus depriving me of crashing quarters every time I'm in Milwaukee. Funnily enough, however, he was also at the wedding last week, so even though he now lives further away, we saw each other twice in the same week which says a lot considering that when he lived in Milwaukee, it'd usually be about 1-2 months between visits.

The problem with an 11-day festival is that you never get the bands you really want to see all in one day. Steely Dan was the big opening act this year, and Andrew and I both sat and debated about going, but ultimately never pulled the trigger to call the other and say "Okay, I'm going, should I get you a ticket?" If one of us had made that call, we both would've gone, but laziness... you know... Steely Dan will be around again, right? Right...

Then Spoon played on Thursday. I would've liked to have seen them, but (like most people) I had to work everyday last week barring the 4th. Unfortunately, state and local governments didn't. Which meant writing stories about them was next to impossible. Last week was frustrating. I'm sure Spoon would've soothed my jangled nerves. But driving from Madison to Milwaukee at 5:00 would've agitated me more than necessary. Spoon will be around again, right? Of course...

The Old 97's played Saturday, so that was a good enough reason to go for me, plus Andrew & posse said that'd be the day they make it up, and Summerfest is always better with a gang of cohorts, so I took off early Saturday afternoon to meet the gang in Milwaukee.

Saturday was hot as the dickens and we decided that at Summerfest prices, spending the whole afternoon there incurring beer and water tabs would probably lead to catastophic credit card debt. So Andrew said we should tour Lakefront Brewery. Fair enough. At least we'd be drinking in air conditioning. We stood in line and then some dude came out and informed us that the group that was standing in front of us would be the last admitted. That's kind of a kick in the pants. It sucks to be turned away, but it sucks to be behind the last people to get in. You just can't help but feel like you're up against Steve Rubell and all you've got is a really crappy shirt on. Fire code, shmire code... we were turned away, 'cos they didn't like us.

So we went to a pub where we ordered a load of appetizers and almost $50 worth of beer. When the check came around I debated whether our earlier logic that running up a beer tab at Summerfest was now rendered moot, but I decided it was still a good call. Going this way was about $2 cheaper in the end and we got to spend the hottest part of the day in air conditioning. "Hooray air conditioning!" I could be heard to exclaim as Live Earth concerts were going on around the world.
Par for the course.

We finally started shuffling down to Summerfest grounds at about 4:30 p.m. Andrew started putting on a bunch of sunscreen, and I was talking to someone else, and thought "Oh, good idea." This is the problem with me trying to hold a conversation with someone and analyze something being done by someone else. I'm not really processing the fact that I'm putting on sunscreen in the evening. Had I not been engaged in conversation, I probably would've given Andrew a lot of ribbing about that brutal evening sun Milwaukee gets and the inadequate amount of shade the trees, stages and pavillions cast over the Summerfest grounds. Instead I thought "Oh, good idea!" and greased myself up for no good reason.

Andrew got adamant about checking out the alternative stage that would host Papa Roach later that evening. With absolutely no affinity for any member of the Roach family, much less their opener's opener's opener's opener, I begrudgingly followed. When we got there, there was no one on stage, so we bought some beers and sat and waited for awhile. No one came on, but they had a big screen next to the stage that you could text message for everyone who looked up at it to see. There were a lot of marriage proposals going on and "Magz is the best friend eva! XOXOXO!" type stuff going on display. The 2nd grader in me really wanted to text "boobs" up there for a half-second chortle, but I decided not to waste my dime. The joke would've been a little too high brow for Papa Roach fans anyway. (Oooooh!)

I started getting a little annoying to the rest of the group about how great the Old 97's are and what a show they'd put on that night. None of 'em besides Andrew had ever heard them before, so I kept going on about how much of a treat is was going to be, and literally making an announcement every 15 minutes that "The Old 97's are gonna be playing in ___ hours and ____ minutes!" I did that for about three hours. By the time I made the 1 hour and 15 minutes announcement, none of them wanted me to talk at all anymore.

We got our seats in the Potawatomi Pavillion about an hour and a half before showtime, which I got a good chiding from everyone else for, but then they ended up being glad we did it because the pavillion was PACKED an hour before showtime. Barring the group I came with, everyone else got pretty excited when I announced that "The Old 97's will be going on in 0 hours and 15 minutes!"

Two girls in front of me were asking if I'd seen 'em before. I gave them the whole "Pshaw, I've hung out with Rhett and Murry and interviewed Ken" supreme a**hole treatment, which actually seemed to impress them. They asked if they'd play "Barrier Reef." "Oh, pff... of COURSE!" was my reply.

It was the fourth song played.

Old 97's - Barrier Reef
I really respect all the different styles the 97's take on their albums, and I can name great songs off all of them. Too Far To Care is the popular favorite and it finally hit me at Summerfest why people keep imploring them to write more albums like Too Far To Care. "Timebomb," "Barrier Reef," "Big Brown Eyes," hell... even "W. TX Teardrops" always go down best. Fun, fun music. You can't help but love singing along to a lyric like "I went through the motions with her -- her on top, and me on liquor."

Pictured: Headband, red Fender bass. Not pictured: chick magnet.

Observations? Sure, I have some. Rhett wore a headband, which I can only gather was to limit sweat showers on stage and the front few rows when he starts jumping around during solos. It didn't last that long, it was gone for the second half of the set and just as well, cos he looked kind of silly in it. Murry wasn't playing the old Guild semi-hollow body bass, which was kind of a disappointment for me as I'm a traditionalist, and that guitar is just... him. A red Fender bass? Sure it looks great, but... With haircut, soul patch and "Chick Magnet" t-shirt, Ken Bethea is trying to look about 20 years younger than he is, and Philip Peeples all the sudden just looks very middle aged.

But that's all okay. They rocked. They weren't allowed an encore which actually had everyone in the pavillion booing. That was kind of cool. Nice to see such an impassioned group get such an impassioned audience.

I didn't stick around too long after. My options that night were Live, Papa Roach or Panic! At the Disco, none of which tickled my fancy. Plus I had to drive back to Madison. So... I left before congestion got too bad and called it a night a tad early. S'alright. At least I got to see an act I came for. Two years ago, I went to see Hall & Oates, who cancelled cos Hall had Lyme disease. So we saw David Lee Roth instead. I still don't like to talk about it.

I might not be seeing Andrew for awhile now, so here's a mutual favorite of ours in his honor... by the band we really SHOULD'VE seen.

Steely Dan - Time Out Of Mind
Even though Andrew always calls this one "Chasing the Dragon" -- which sometimes makes me wonder about his personal habits -- I do know he is a big Dan fan, and this cut from 1980's Gaucho has poured from many a speaker in car and apartments where we've dwelled. And will probably continue to do so.


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Friday, July 06, 2007

Whiling just an hour away.

I'm not really a big fan of live albums. I might've said this before.

There are a few exceptions -- I dig Neil Finn & Friends' 7 Worlds Collide: Live at the St. James and I dig Dave Davies' Live at Rock Bottom... oh, and Paul Weller's Days of Speed, but getting beyond that, there's not a great amount of stuff that catches my interest. Even by bands I'd love, you know? I'd rather just listen to the studio stuff.

Ocean Colour Scene, well, half of them at least, put out a really nifty little one in 2003 a few months prior to the release of North Atlantic Drift that they only put out through their website and made available to fans in the UK -- I managed to get a hold of a copy though.

Live on the Riverboat captured an acoustic gig by Simon Fowler and Oscar Harrison aboard the Renfrew Ferry in Glasgow in November 2002 -- a gig that, having listened to now several times over, I probably would've given my left leg to have been at.

I've mentioned it before, but Ocean Colour Scene fans are some of the most hardcore, devoted beings you'll ever find. They have and will mercilessly criticize virtually everything the band's put out since 1999, yet when you go to an OCS gig, ALL of them will sing along to the post 1999 material just as heartily as they do the pre 1999 material. Like I said before, it's a very familial relationship we keep with the band. We're allowed to not like stuff they do because we love THEM. The press on the other hand, they can f*ck right off...

Listening to Live on the Riverboat is an absolute treat, because in addition to hearing 18 great OCS songs done acoustically, you also get to hear the passion and delight of their fans. Here are my three favorite instances:

Simon Fowler & Oscar Harrison - I Wanna Stay Alive With You
This is probably my favorite OCS tune and arguably one of the five greatest love songs ever written. It's not really valentine material -- it has more to do with the seeming wear of the road in foreign countries, but the way "I wanna stay alive with you, yeah I wanna stay alive with you" is repeated so passionately as a chorus works to stunning effect. Sans the guitar wizardry of Steve Cradock, Fowler is left to vocalize the lead guitar part. He only has to do "Ba ba ba!" once though - the crowd takes the part the rest of the way. A gorgeous reading.

Simon Fowler & Oscar Harrison - It's My Shadow
Arguably the most underrated track on the boys' landmark Moseley Shoals album. It starts off kind of boring... a slow acoustic ode to a shadow, but it builds and takes some great turns - namely the "Happy in the time when I would've been there to see you" and the "If my shadow comes a creepin'" bits. The best, however, is the ending repitition of "When you find that things are getting wild is that the hardest smile that you could ever feel?" which the crowd here apparently enjoys just as much as I do and refuses to let Simon & Oscar finish when they otherwise might have. Oh and Simon also vocally mimicks Cradock's guitar part near the end which is... hilarious. My roommate Tom and I found it so funny that we used to mimic it ourselves all the time in college which would really piss our other two roommates off. I can't imagine why?

Simon Fowler & Oscar Harrison - The Day We Caught the Train
Anyone who's ever seen the band live knows how much of a monster this song is when performed live - even when electric, the audience can almost overpower the band. And anyone who's heard the song can imagine what a monster it is live. Unsurprisingly, it goes down a storm here, and unquestionably the best bit is the audience SCREAMING that "whole wide world" bit before it goes into the final "Oh oh, la la" part. It's distorted to an almost unintelligible effect on Moseley Shoals, but it shows you just how much the fans listen and discern every damn bit of their songs. Oh, and Simon's praise of the E minor chord at the beginning is also pretty great.
It's fun to be in a family like that.
Have a good weekend, all.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

I put this question to you.

Spurred on by AMC's ad nauseum play of Batman this month, I've become once again completely engrossed by the film.

Batman was my superhero of choice when I was a kid. I liked the fact that he didn't really have any superpowers -- this somehow made him more believable to me. You know... millionaire who goes out at night dressed up in a bat costume to alleviate the workload for the city's police department... completely plausible.

But when you're at that age between five and eight, hell, I'll even go nine, you have to have some hero to emulate on the playground. I wasn't that athletic and sucked at climbing, so Spiderman was out. I can't fly, so why would I choose to be Superman? Superman was kind of lazy on the part its creator... he can basically do anything. If you were a Superman idolizer growing up, we probably wouldn't have gotten along. The kids who wanted to be Superman were never fun to play with because they were the kinds of people that couldn't stand to lose.


"But... I... no, I flew away just in time!"


Jerry Seinfeld once explained it best: "All men kind of think of themselves as low level superheroes in their own world... When men are growing up and they're reading about Batman, Spiderman, Superman -- these aren't fantasies. These are options."

Batman fascinated me. Coolest backstory, best set of villains -- and actually I found myself liking the Joker more than I liked Batman, so if playground pickup games of Batman ever started, I was usually calling to be Joker while three kids started yelling at each other about who got to be Batman. No one ever wanted to be Robin.

So when the movie came out in 1989... forget about it. Batman AND Joker?! I had to see it. I had to. My one purpose in life that year was to see that movie.

My mom wouldn't let me.

Adressing my growing fascination with the Caped Crusader, she thought it was best to put me on a strict diet of the campy 1960s TV show, so I actually gravitated toward Adam West and Cesar Romano as a kid and then I saw that god awful movie they made with that cast... Even at that age, I knew it was all a bit silly, I mean...

Come on.

But the new movie seemed intriguing. It seemed cool. It was also getting reviews that were praising the hell out of it, but calling it "dark" and "sinister," which cued my mother to page out mandates to all my friends mothers telling them not to take me along if they were taking their own lucky sons to see the movie.

Well after an eternity and a half it came out on video and my grandfather, being very cool and being the posterboy, well, postergrandpa for grandparently spoilage of grandchildren bought me a copy of the video. He watched it first and told my mother that "It's very dark."

He meant visually. He had a hard time discerning anything going on on the screen because of Tim Burton's decision to basically cloak the whole film in black. Mom thought he meant evil, so even though I now owned my own copy of the movie, it was quickly confiscated and put aside until I was determined old enough to understand that dressing up like a clown, shooting people, destroying artwork, poisoning people and blowing things up was bad.

Come on. I wasn't exactly a child prodigy, but I wasn't an idiot either. It's amazing how much my mother thought that by adorning violence with "POW!" "THWONK!" and "GRNNUGH!" graphics, it made it completely okay.

Luckily my Dad was pretty cool and one weekend he sat down and watched it with me.

I really didn't get it. I was too young to understand things like the love triangle of Grissom, Jack and Alicia, who Grissom was, why Knox was even in the movie, etc. etc., BUT I LOVED IT.

For one it was the mother-induced element of getting to see something I probably wasn't yet supposed to, but I loved Jack Nicholson as the Joker. I knew that THAT was what the Joker was supposed to be. I didn't get all the jokes. I might not even have got half of them ("bat in my belfry?!"). But he was SCARY. He wasn't campy. He was what he was supposed to be. It was wonderful.

It was such a personal acheivement for me to have seen the movie, that - can you believe - I never watched that video again. One drunken Saturday night at Marquette I went up to a friend's dorm room and he had just started watching it and I watched it for the first time since that stolen afternoon as a child, and just completely marvelled at it. I got it. All of it. And I loved it.

Then AMC just started rerunning it, and I've stopped each time I've flicked past the channel and its been on. Last weekend, I also went out and purchased my own copy of it on DVD. Mom's coming up to visit next weekend. Maybe we'll watch it.

Here are five cool facts about the movie courtesy of IMDB.com

***Michael Jackson was originally considered to write the songs for the film. Due to tour scheduling, he had to opt out, leaving the job up open for Prince.

Ed. note: I don't really like Prince -- he weirds me out and his heavily synthesized music has never been my cup of tea. But I'm glad he got the gig. Having songs like "Partyman" and "Trust" blare out in the background while Joker gets up to his evil deeds just fits. It's silly music, but there's a cynicism about Prince that totally fits where Jacko wouldn't have.

Price - Partyman

Prince - Trust

They kinda suck without the visual accompaniment, but I still get pretty excited in the movie when "Trust" starts and that crazy looking clown balloon and float round the corner to start Gotham City's 200th anniversary parade.

***Nicholson took so long making up his mind as to whether or not he wanted to play Joker that they offered the role to Robin Williams to force his hand. Williams remains bitter about being used as bait.

***During filming, a young Tim Burton was having trouble shooting a scene with Jack Palance (Grissom). An irritated Palance asked Burton, "I've made more than a hundred films, how many have you made?" Burton said, years later, that it was a "whiteout" experience he would never forget.

***Nicholson received a percentage of the gross on the film, and due to its massive box-office took home around $60 million.

***In order to combat negative rumors about the production, a theatrical trailer was hastily assembled to be distributed to theaters. To test its effectiveness, Warner Bros. executives showed it at a theater in Westwood, California to an unsuspecting audience. The ninety-second trailer received a standing ovation. Later, it would become a popular bootleg at comic book conventions, and theater owners would report patrons paying full price for movie tickets just to have an opportunity to see the trailer, and leaving before the feature began.

Totally sweet.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

God, it's hellish at times.

Well well, I noticed from all the checks I was writing out last night to pay my bills at the ever present last second that it is indeed July, and thus, my monthly series get reset.

So while I'm lighter in the wallet today, you all shall be a tad richer in music.

"Vs." has quickly become my favorite of the monthly series, although "The Friday Five" usually elicits better response from readers, but as it's not Friday and I like "Vs." better anyway, here we go.

This month's "Vs." is kind of unique in that it pits the songs two songwriters against each other. I don't believe we've had that yet -- we've had in-house label writers write songs for in-house artists, originals vs. covers and two artists taking stabs at standards, but we've never pitted composer against composer.

So this is pretty exciting, eh?

As deep as my musical knowledge goes, the one thing I regretfully don't know is how, why or when exactly "Far East Man" was written. I know there are bootlegs circulating with a George Harrison "demo" of the song, claiming it to be from as early as 1970, but your guess as to whether or not that's valid is as good as mine.

What little I do know is that the music was written -- most likely in a loose jam session -- by Harrison and Ronnie Wood, and that the lyrics are pretty much Harrison's doing. Both George and Woody released their own versions of the song in 1974 and that while it has never been confirmed (nor denied) that each might have played on the other's session, first listens to the vocal arrangements in each tend to lead to that conclusion. Further listens, however, seem to blow that theory apart.

1974 wasn't exactly a banner year for either artist - Harrison came down with a bout of laryngitis that not only marred his Dark Horse album, but also his only solo American tour that year (which drew even more critical fire for sets by Ravi Shankar and Harrison's liberal re-interpretations of Beatles songs like "In My Life"). It was also the year that his first wife, Patti Boyd, left him for long-suffering friend (just listen to "Layla") Eric Clapton, which Harrison since said he didn't mind too much, although the piss-take version of "Bye, Bye Love" on Dark Horse that has Clapton sitting in, no less, lends itself to the belief that it perhaps wasn't ALL hunky dory.

Wood meanwhile, found himself in a bit of a limbo. Ronnie Lane had left the Faces the year before, and while the outfit staggered on with hard-drinking but non-English-speaking Tetsu Yamaguchi in his place, the spirit that had anchored the band through the four years prior was gone. Woody cast his sights on loftier goals, namely his quickly budding friendship with Keith Richards and a potential spot as the Stones' new second guitarist. I've Got My Own Album to Do certainly helped fill a personal creative hole, as the Faces had corralled a few sessions but weren't pulling an album together and Rod was further establishing himself as a solo act, but it also served as his audition for the Stones with Keef cropping up on a number of tracks and Mick sharing lead vocal duties on the opener, "I Can Feel the Fire."

Obviously, Woody passed the audition, as he remains Keef's partner in crime in the Stones to this day, and Harrison would meet and marry the woman he'd spend the rest of his life with, Olivia Arias, just a short while later. Following Harrison's passing in 2001, Woody undertook a solo tour in which he dedicated "Far East Man" (sometimes rather emotionally) to his old friend, and also did a lovely painting of George that shared the song's title.

Now we pit the two songwriters against each other. Who's version wins?

George Harrison - Far East Man
Certainly one of the high points of the Dark Horse album, given that it's one of (if not the only) track that doesn't bear the "hoarse horse" laryngitis-tinged vocal that laces the rest of the record. Most likely recorded before the ailment hit, Harrison sings both the main and falsetto parts. His version is a little jazzier - features a saxophone wailing away, and he also stretches the song out a full minute past where Woody took it. Also distinctive for its Frank Sinatra-ribbing at the beginning. Sinatra had just announced to the world that not only was the Harrison-penned "Something" the best love song of the last 50 years, it was also the best thing that Lennon and McCartney ever wrote... George quietly tells him at the beginning not to get carried away, but also that "We love you, Frank" and that he hopes to see or hear about him performing this track at Caesar's Palace soon. I don't think he ever did.

Ron Wood - Far East Man
Bats in the #2 spot on I've Got My Own Album to Do, and takes a more simplistic approach than the ex-Beatle did. Ornamented by some gorgeous electric piano from fellow Face Ian McLagan and plenty of slide guitar, Woody's own *uniquely* soulful voice also serves this song's feel and sentiment perfectly. Woody can turn out a few absolute gems on his solo albums, so if you haven't looked into them, I'd rectify that immediately. He's perfectly capable of firing up a bit of boogie, but just as capable of more heart-melting stuff like this.

Frankly, I prefer Woody's just because it sounds a lot warmer. There's a distance in George's version, and while he sings it quite nicely, I just think Woody's voice suits this one better.

What say you?

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Anyway, she dies.

I went to a wedding in Lake Geneva over the weekend.

An old friend from college exchanged nuptials and I went down to catch up with some of the old gang. It proved to be a pretty good time, but the whole time I was there I kept thinking about the cast of characters that filled the reception hall and how lingering arguments from college days decided who should and shouldn't be there, and if there, who should and shouldn't talk to each other.

It was kind of strange, and certainly bemusing in its own odd way -- I was deliberately snubbed by a couple of old "foes by association," and made a smarmy remark to another friend before that friend's mother came over to me and told me I had to be the bigger person and strike up a conversation with them.

"But it's not me being an a**hole, I just genuinely don't have anything to say to them," I protested.

"Come on, Paul. You don't want to sink to their level," came the reply.

And so I struck up a meaningless, 45-second "How's things?" exchange with them. You know what? I'm kind of glad I did. It's like a few weeks ago when I ran into a girl I used to date downtown and didn't realize who she was until the last second, but had already smiled and nodded in a general show of good will anyway. Once I registered who it was there was that "Oooooh" moment, but then I thought, "Well, I'm glad it played out like that anyway." It's always nice to leave ill will -- genuine or perceived -- in the backyard. Or something.

The cocktail hour leading up to the reception was also nice. They had these chicken quesadilla things. Friggin' amazing. I think after my sixth go-round for a handful of them, the server thought I had the hots for her. What can I say? She had the goods.

I'd planned on driving back to Madison after the reception but a healthy intake of beer and vodka tonics and the good natured "Stick around, we haven't seen you in ages" persistence of old friends conspired against that plan. I ended up sleeping the hotel room of two girls that I knew in college -- not that we were that great of friends on our own, but when the big groups got together, we were always among the numbers. Anyway, we got on like a house on fire on Saturday and all I could think of was, "Ha, this would've been nice senior year..." I slept on a couch that was pretty damn uncomfortable and it was only well after the sun rose the next morning and I awoke for 33rd time that hour that I realized it was a pullout. Grumble.

But the pièce de résistance of my extended stay was me doing the "walk of shame" to brunch the next morning. It would've been all well and good if something had actually gone down, but the uninspiring truth of the matter is that I got kind of drunk and was saved from having to drive home Saturday night. Nothing else transpired. Of course, I hadn't planned on staying an extra day, so I neglected to pack a change of clothes, toothbrush and razor... so staggering out to a brunch on the Lake Geneva shoreline with a bunch of people looking mighty refreshed and in new sets of clothes all around certainly cast a few skeptical looks my way.

No bother. The eggs were good.

Right before I left, I realized the whole she-bang would've made for a really good Randy Newman song. Hell it would've made a really good Randy Newman album.

Randy Newman - They Just Got Married
I certainly don't wish this fate on the just married couple, but what with me thinking Newman's perceptive eye would've been served well in Lake Geneva over the weekend, here you go. This is from 1979's Born Again - an album that got mixed reviews and turned quite a few people off due to its almost uncomfortably snide set of lyrics. People who get touchy about that sort of thing, though -- especially with Randy Newman -- might need to lighten up a little. Sometimes people are a**holes, and sometimes it's good to know that other people realize it too. We can all use a laugh sometimes, you know.