Friday, August 31, 2007

Dream it while you can. Maybe someday I'll make you understand.

Be Here Now Week, part 5/5... the "Don't Go Away" single

The "Don't Go Away" single was released in May 1998, 10 months after "D'You Know What I Mean?" had started the Be Here Now cycle. In that time, Oasis took one last definitive swipe at rock and roll excess on every front -- musically and chemically.

In that time alone, critics would perform an about face on the band's music of the period -- praising it upon release and then shredding it just weeks and months later as too much. Within the next year, Noel Gallagher would awake in the middle of the night to gripping chest pains and panic attacks that would force him to give up hard drugs cold turkey, and founding members Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan would find themselves out of the band.

Somewhat appropriate, then, that the curtain call for the period should not only be the album's most beautiful moment, but employ a potpourri of B-sides that highlighted the band's former glories.

Of course, it was only released in Japan.

The decision not to pursue a single in the UK could have come from any number of reasons -- obviously the boys had drained the tank of B-side material on the first three singles, and seemed unlikely to hole up in a studio to record three new songs on the spot. Be Here Now and its byproducts also placed a heavy stake in the heart of Creation Records, the indie label that provided a home not only to Oasis, but also the likes of Primal Scream and Ride. The label would go defunct within the next year, and while another Oasis single might have been a cash cow worth plucking, the sense by spring and summer 1998 -- after a headache inducing 10 month cycle -- was that the party might indeed be over.

"Don't Go Away" had found its way on to US radio and MTV the preceding fall, however, when the UK push for "Stand By Me" went ahead, and it was also the leadoff track the band performed on its sole appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Written by Noel after learning of his mother's cancer scare, the song tapped into that rare Gallagher emotional reserve that had previously shown itself in the likes of "Slide Away" and the lyrics of "Hey Now!" but never with as much emotional affront -- from the helpless pleas of the chorus to the frustration evident in lyrics like "Damn my education -- I can't find the words to say with all the things caught in my mind."

When Liam originally went to do vocals, he admitted he couldn't even get through the first take without bursting into tears, so the ordeal seemed to be taxing both brothers, but if pain does indeed produce beauty, herein lies the proof. While sounding as muscular as anything else on Be Here Now, the song also contains heavy orchestrational use and a tender acoustic outro.

And for all those living outside Japan, the B-sides were enticing enough to lure fans to cough up those importing fees...

Oasis - Cigarettes & Alcohol (Live at G-Mex)
Pulled from the boys' December 1997 homecoming shows in Manchester, this isn't the best version of the song -- live or otherwise -- but it does do a nice job in capturing the energy stirred by national heroes' homecoming ceremonies. This was a show that featured the ridiculous on stage props (phonebox, oversized clock, et. al), but the back-to-basics tunes like this should have served as fair instruction to both the band and audience that if you got great songs, you don't need all the other stuff.

Oasis - Sad Song
Easily one of Noel Gallagher's finest compositions, this track was only available to UK residents that bought the vinyl edition of Definitely Maybe, so its CD debut on this single was reason enough for fans to send money to the Land of the Rising Sun. An acoustic track that rivals (if not easily surpasses) the majesty of the likes of "Talk Tonight," "Sad Song" captured Noel in true bloom as a songwriter -- venting the frustrations of living in Manchester with little hope of ever getting out, but whereas it could've been a loud, punky, dare I say Be Here Now-certifiable beast, Noel instead turned it into a gentle ballad that seemed to make the point all the more salient.

Oasis - Fade Away (Warchild Version)
This was the band's contribution to the 1995 Help! charity album for war victims in Bosnia -- a collection that threw together Britpop's finest acts at the time, and was largely more renowned for it's contribution of "Come Together" by the Smokin' Mojo Filters (featuring Noel, Paul McCartney, and Paul Weller on lead vocals). This reading of "Fade Away" however, is still my favorite moment from the album -- sounding like a different song entirely by the punky, Liam-sung version that had surfaced a year earlier as a B-side to "Cigarettes & Alcohol." Instead, Noel takes lead and virtually turns it into a Lovin' Spoonful song with Liam relegated to backing vocals, Johnny Depp on guitar and Lisa Moorish (who would have a child with Liam) also on backing vox. Top to bottom, it's charming as hell.

The video for "Don't Go Away," like "All Around the World" was quite stylish and easy on the eye and was an MTV staple in the fall months of 1997. While it looks like plenty of money was spent on the production, it's surprisingly not as bombastic as any of the other Be Here Now videos and the coolest bit to watch out for is Noel playing a white Rickenbacker guitar -- a gift to him for his 30th birthday from Paul Weller. It's the exact guitar Weller wrote "Town Called Malice" on.

Hope you've enjoyed Be Here Now week and learned a thing or two... and an enjoyed a B-side or three... Have a great Labor Day weekend... back Tuesday with some stuff to soften up the ears and air out all this Oasisness that's taken over the blog!

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

These things, they really don't matter.

Be Here Now Week, part 4/5... the "All Around the World" single

Chances are, you're all very familiar with about two seconds of this song. If you've been privy to a television or radio ad advertising Cingular Wireless or AT&T in the last year, you've probably heard Liam sing the title.

Thing is, there's another 9 minutes and 18 seconds to the song that most people seem to have forgotten about.

If one single track on Be Here Now summed up the album's extravagance, it was probably this one. Surpassing 9 minutes in length, featuring more than 30 guitar overdubs, multiple orchestras, three key changes, and a host of backing vocalists including Richard Ashcroft and Patsy Kensit so buried in the final mix to be completely indiscernable, "All Around the World" was an anthem that Noel had stashed in his personal bank for years, waiting until the moment when he had the ability to record it properly.

There's footage of the band taking a crack at this song as early as 1992 -- two years before the band even released their debut album, and while by 1997 they certainly had the means to do it, it'd be interesting to find out if Noel truly believes this is what he ultimately wanted for the song. In an interview shortly before the album's release, he said:

"I wrote this one ages ago, before 'Whatever.' It was twelve minutes long then. It was a matter of being able to afford to record it. But now we can get away with the 36-piece orchestra. And the longer the better as far as I'm concerned. If it's good. I can see what people are going to say, but f*ck 'em, basically."

Of course he spoke highly of much of the album BEFORE it was released...

No doubt that even in its expansive final concoction, it's a great song -- the single actually returned Oasis to the top of the UK singles charts and the stylish video also was released in December 1997 stateside to get Americans excited about the upcoming US leg of the Be Here Now tour which -- while overflowing with excess and general bad behavior (read Paolo Hewitt's Forever the People), it also provided a hell of a lot of good shows. (Including a downright magical January show in Chicago at the former Rosemont Horizon -- now known as the Allstate Arena, that marked my first time seeing the band).

The other good news about the single is that while the "Stand By Me" B-sides may have staggered in quality, the B-sides for this single came off a bit better (sure, the bar had been lowered a bit, but even amongst their highest standards, this single contained the band's best B-side of the era).

Oasis - The Fame
This one -- like "Stay Young" -- I just was never able to get into. It just seems to me like a hackneyed swing at trying to rewrite the Jam's "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have a Nice Time)" with a bit of a punk flare and it never really convinces me. But as with "Stay Young," however, I do have an acquaintance that LOVES the tune, and in the interest of positivity and love for all things Be Here Now, I hand the floor over to my good buddy Umaar.
What say you, good sir?
"I remember being 13 years old, spending my summer vacation in Stevenage, England as usual and seeing people queued up all over for the Oasis Knebworth shows. My uncle told me that I should be lucky to be able to observe first hand how big Oasis is, as he told me about buying (What's the Story) Morning Glory? on tape the day it came out and being pulled over for speeding while listening and calmly telling the cop that he got excited by the new record. The cop's response? "Bloody good record innit? I have it playing in my car too -- just slow down mate and don't let it happen again." So of course it was bound to happen, the post fame tracks, and Be Here Now was chock full of 'em -- many of which fully captures what the height of the Britpop movement was all about, but "The Fame" was direct. There are quite a few people that aren't fans of the track, probably because of the lack of subtlety. After 'Cigarettes And Alcohol' being released as a single with the line 'you might as well do the white line' Noel singing about 'sniffing your cocaine' almost seems lazy. I digress -- this is just an honest track, most probably written in the aftermath of the Morning Glory release. It's all there -- laughing in amazement at the the size of the record release party while he sips the bubbly, the suits around him chuckling at the hyper rock star on his narcotics and of course the Rolls Royce Noel received despite the fact that he didn't even have a license. Besides the personal aspects to it, 'The Fame' also has, in my opinion, one of the Britpop's most defining lyrics in 'Is my happening too deafening for you?' That says it all. Here was a movement that was purely about being unabashedly British. It was ramming the idea down people's throats, which, to me is the greatest thing about the early '90s. No one gave two sh*ts about what the Yanks thought -- sure, breaking the states would be good, but it was time for GB to stand out. The best thing about the track, besides it being a full on (no pun intended) Noel rocker, is that there isn't any naivety. The song states fame is a fleeting thing, it came come and go, but when it's there it's mega. Noel always said his band was the best and the biggest, can anyone honestly be surprised he did a song stating that so blatantly? I'm not, and for that reason this just might be my favorite Be Here Now B-side."

Oasis - Flashbax
While Umaar's affinity falls toward "The Fame," mine goes toward "Flashbax." Far and away the best B-side Noel offered up for the Be Here Now singles, it's a laid back, Neil Young-style groover that's been given the Be Here Now treatment -- max volume mixing, wall of sound guitar augmentation and stretched to a five minute-plus running time. There's something intrinsically charming about it -- certainly "I spend my time sittin' on the fence with a mate of mine, we try to write the line of the story // We believe that everything said is a waste of time, 'cos life is well tried and it bores me" isn't necessarily genius, but it's the way he sings it that makes all the difference in the world. It's not just the song's irresistable melody (which is absolute class from verse to bridge to chorus and back again) -- it's the fact that it's one of the few performances of any of this era's songs that Noel really puts his emotion into vocally. It's one of those songs that you hear the first time and feel an immediate affinty towards -- you say to yourself "Oh my God," and then can't wait until all your music loving friends hear this one. A lot of Oasis B-sides had had that effect, you know... but that sort was in short supply in 1997 and 1998. It's just a well written tune, and frankly, I think it'd be great for the band to pull this out of mothballs and stick it in a live set -- I don't know that it ever has received a live airing, and since the pickings from this era are usually slim to nil nowadays anyway, why not plug in one of the few absolute, knock out winners?

Oasis - Street Fighting Man
The other cover that Oasis took on, in addition to Bowie's "Heroes," and like "Heroes," they sound great here doing other people's material. Not only does this song benefit from the overproduced Be Here Now treatment (sounding like a goddamned juggernaut in comparison to even the Rolling Stones' original version), it also seems custom built for Liam's trademark sneering vocals. He almost turns entire verses into one multisyllabic word -- "EvvvvvrywhereIhearthesoundofmarchingfeeeeeeeeeetboy." The Stones themselves were none too impressed with the cover, and apparently Keith Richards made a few disparaging remarks that prompted Liam to challenge the aging legend to a fist fight. The Stones in that era were none too pleased with any of the era's "tributes" -- even the Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony," which used a sample of a classically recorded version of "The Last Time" as its pulsating, continual string line was maligned by the band and the Verve in turn, ended up having to divert all their income from their biggest ever hit due to copyright challenges. Ah well. "Street Fighting Man" also gets a very special mention for being the only song besides the album-ending reprise of "All Around the World" to fall UNDER four minutes in length. Listeners can be forgiven for thinking this one ended much too quickly.

The song's video, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (now more well known for their wonderful film, Little Miss Sunshine) also, in my opinion, is the very best music video ever made for an Oasis song. Made over a painstaking six-month time period, computer animation was used to create a 1990s "tribute" (appropriate both for band AND song) to the Beatles' Yellow Submarine film. The band set up shop in some global, all terrain, circumnavigating orb that ends up with the full ability (by no more than a simple Guigsy pull of a lever) to turn into an extravagant multi-level spaceship. It's ridiculous in concept, but most music videos are. And damned if it's not total eye candy and the band look absolutely great in their white suits. The one part of the shoot that Liam took exception with was when he had to hang suspended from a rope ladder -- he curtly informed the directors that he wasn't "no f*cking stuntman," and while it likely was a mere few feet off the ground in front of a green screen, that story has always made me chuckle. It was also somewhat mercifully edited down to not include all 9:20 of the song. Keep an eye at the very end of the vid when Noel and Liam give each other that brotherly look and shake their heads... always been my favorite bit.

Tomorrow: the "Don't Go Away" single.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Today I think I'll waste my time.

Be Here Now week, part 3/5... the "Stand By Me" single.

While Be Here Now quickly shot to the upper reaches of the charts both in the US and UK (where it was, of course, #1), it's time at the summit was shortlived. Interest waned in America fairly quickly sending the album snowballing down the charts. In England, it's time at the top was quickly thwarted by Ocean Colour Scene, whose Marchin' Already album quickly usurped Oasis' throne.

Stiffer competition still was coming the next month in the form of the then-(for the first time) reconciled Verve whose landmark Urban Hymns would soon hit record shops and stake its claim next to Radiohead's OK Computer for most important album of the year.

As far as Be Here Now went, there was a sense (even among its egotistical authors) that it wasn't really in the same league as some of the other albums released that year, but that didn't mean it wasn't worth pursuing further or staying in the ring.

The "Stand By Me" single was released in the UK in September of 1997 and stalled at #2 due in no small part to Elton John, who dominated the world that month (and many months thereafter) with his tribute to the just-deceased Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind '97." I still really object to that single -- partly because of the immediate cashing-in-ness of it all (I know proceeds went to charities, but I hated the fact that because people bought the single they felt like they had secured themselves some part of Diana's lasting legacy) -- but moreso because as soon as that whole season passed, no one listened to the song anymore. Seriously, I had a friend who bought a cassette copy of the single, and when Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" became flavor-of-the-season two years later, she busted out the scotch tape and taped over Elton's tribute to the Princess of Wales to secure some obtuse connection to Leonardo DiCaprio and the "oh my god, greatest movie ever." That, and the fact that the single's A-side (which NO ONE remembers), "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" was actually a way better song.

But I digress.

"Stand By Me" is actually one of Be Here Now's stronger songs -- perhaps because it was written earlier than the other songs on the album, when Noel first moved to London and discovered the pains of living and cooking on his own. His own bout with food poisoning sparked the song's first lines, and the anthemic chorus was as good as almost any other Oasis hit, which may be the reason why it's one of the only Be Here Now songs that still gets at least considered (if only rarely included) in live sets to this day.

In America, the album's rapid fall down the charts alarmed the Oasis camp a bit, and they decided to push "Don't Go Away" in the fall/winter season instead. Why they made this move befuddles me a bit -- I can understand the penchant for going for a "Wonderwall"/"Don't Look Back in Anger" type song to keep fresh in people's minds what they got into Oasis for in the first place, but when you stand back, there's not so much difference between "Stand By Me" and "Don't Go Away" from a likeability standpoint. "Don't Go Away" is a bit moodier, so maybe they thought the American market would enjoy that...

But the fact that "Stand By Me" stopped at #2 said a lot more about the single itself then the excuse that no one was going to beat out Elton John that month did. While #2 is no small shakes -- remember, even "Wonderwall" only made it to #2 in the UK -- the fact of the matter is that the best thing about Oasis in their pre-Gem and Andy years was the fact that you continually look forward to B-sides that oftentimes outshone the album tracks.

Think of the heritage up until that point. "Listen Up," "D'yer Wanna Be a Spaceman," "It's Good to Be Free," "Half the World Away," "Talk Tonight," "Acquiesce," "The Masterplan," "Underneath the Sky." Until the 1998 compilation The Masterplan was released, NONE of the songs found themselves on an Oasis album, despite in many cases being the very best things Oasis had ever done.

So Oasis singles were exciting. What new, great B-sides would hit us this time? The answer on "Stand By Me" was kind of disheartening...

Oasis - (I Got) The Fever
It's not that "(I Got) The Fever" OR "My Sister Lover" are thoroughly BAD songs, it's just that it doesn't even seem like Noel's trying anymore. In the early days this worked to his advantage -- things like "Live Forever" seemed effortless in a good way, like he could turn songs like that at the drop of a hat. And when you do for two albums and countless B-sides, people rightfully would expect you to continue to do so. "(I Got) The Fever" just sounds like it developed out of a half-hearted jam and Noel was forced to write lyrics against his will. While the chorus tries its best to reach for that typical Oasis celebratory ground, it just never quite convinces you. What works even further against it is the fact that (like all it's company from the Be Here Now) sessions, it exceeds five minutes and is awash in near-white noise level guitaring. You kept hoping that Noel would remember that all "D'yer Wanna Be a Spaceman?" was was him, an acoustic guitar, and two and a half minutes, but he just never seemed to be able to remember that kind of simplicity in 1997. Maybe it was the cocaine.

Oasis - My Sister Lover
"My Sister Lover" seemed like a promising step up. Still mixed far too loudly, the descending minor chord progression and thundering piano note delivers a gripping intro and immediately makes the listener start to reckon something really good is about to pour forth. Then the lyrics come. While the inanity of a chorus that simply goes "You're my lover, I'm your brother" is strange enough, the sad fact of the matter is that it never appears like Noel's trying to do it in that roundabout funny way that Morrissey might or that Alex Kapranos later would in songs like "Michael." It just sounds like he's completely out of good ideas and thinking "Ha, this'll shock a few people." But it's not shock it's just "awww." Not awe, but "awww." Pure disappointed "awww." Noel even lovingly referred to this song as "thingy" in a 1998 interview with NME (completely forgetting the title of the song that was released just a year prior). Apparently "inspired" by a band Oasis shared stages with in their early early days called the Sister Lovers, this track ultimately ends up a waste of a perfectly good backing track. All it would've taken was a little more time with that pen and a little more willingness to cross out some of the more offensive (and not offensive as in offensive, but offensive as in BAD) lines. There just seemed no will to try. Maybe it was the cocaine.

Oasis - Going Nowhere
And just when you dejectedly thought that for the first time, the A-side was going to be the best thing on the four-track CD, this song comes along to save the day. A gorgeous, sweeping and fully scored Burt Bacharach pastiche, "Going Nowhere" not only captures the essence of what makes Noel a great songwriter, it does it with a lot of class and at the exact moment when you've begun to lose hope in the old boy. The only problem? It was written in 1990 - three years before Noel even joined Oasis. While the means he had in 1997 allowed him to fully produce this song as he originally intended, it didn't instill a lot of confidence after "Fever" and "Lover" that Noel might STILL be able to write songs of this caliber. Along with "Stay Young" this was the only other Be Here Now B-side to make The Masterplan.

The video, while not quite as ambitious/pretentious as "D'you Know What I Mean?" still found itself accepting that old music video cliché of "rock and roll will save the day!" While the world outside the studio where Oasis are playing is full of crime, bullies and general bad news, Oasis remain the constant -- playing away in their studio and remaining the one thing you can hold onto while everything else goes to pot and you realize what's important. Funniest bit is when a seemingly otherwise invisible Liam mimicks the two women bickering. Most people still wildly prefer (and some music video stations actually substituted) the acoustic performance Noel, Liam and Alan did for a TV special.

Tomorrow: the "All Around the World" single.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No eyes that see such beauty could lose their sight.

Be Here Now Week, part 2/5... the "D'You Know What I Mean?" single.

"D'You Know What I Mean?" started a tradition that runs with Oasis to this very day. The lead single of the boys' new album goes straight in at #1, because fans are so thrilled to finally have a bit of new material. "Go Let it Out," "The Hindu Times" and "Lyla" since have also debuted at #1 in the UK singles chart.

When "D'You Know What I Mean?" was released more than a month prior to Be Here Now in early July 1997, however, there was no way the band could lose. The previous summer had seen them play the largest gigs in UK history, only to nearly fall apart when Liam Gallagher ducked out of the band just before an MTV Unplugged taping, and then stayed behind a couple weeks later when the band jetted off to do an American tour. Noel led the band through a couple shows, but then called the rest of the tour off, leading many to believe the sibling rivalry that many times found itself ahead of the music in Oasis had finally done it in.

News and photographs started trickling out that winter, however, of a new album being recorded, and by the time the next July rolled around, everyone was so interested to hear what Oasis had been up to, even if it had been a complete dud of a record, it still would've gone straight in at #1.

There are those who argue that it is somewhat of a dud, and at more than 7 minutes (only about four of which are filled with actual singing and playing), Oasis challenged the listener a bit -- certainly the brainless chorus of "All my people right here, right now -- d'you know what I mean?" wasn't the finest poetry ever to drip out of Noel Gallagher's pen, and an overlong intro with backwards clips, morse code, an N.W.A. drum sample and the sound of helicopters was a tad much, but as it goes with most Oasis songs (let alone singles), it was still somewhat thrilling to listen to. Then again, maybe it was that air of familiarity (the chord progression is almost a dead ringer for "Wonderwall").

Miraculously, no one asked the band to edit down the song for the single, radio or even video -- such was the height of powers that they'd for all intents and purposes matched the Beatles' power in 1968 when the 7 minute-plus "Hey Jude" not only was released unedited, but also dominated the charts.

And if the brash, self-indulgent A-side didn't give fans enough an idea of what laid in store ahead on the new album, the single's B-sides -- all mixed at a teeth rattling max volume -- gave clear indication that whatever was coming out at the end of August was going to be loud. Very loud.

Oasis - Stay Young
"Stay Young" was originally slated to bat in the 3-hole on Be Here Now, but its whimsy never sat right with its author, and Noel relegated it to B-side status, replacing it on the album with the fair-but-by-no-means-fantastic "Magic Pie." I got myself an import copy of the "D'You Know What I Mean?" single in mid-July that year and played it incessantly. I tried as hard as possible to get into this song, but I never was able to warm up to it.
My sister, however, loves it, and since I'm all about positivity for Be Here Now and its byproducts this week, I thought I'd let her talk about why the song is so great. What say you, Carla?
"At the risk of sounding overzealous or pretentious, I will say that "Stay Young" should be every young person’s anthem. It glorifies adolescence -- "we know just what we are." Unlike many other songs that allude to the pain of growing up, i.e. "Ooh La La" by the Faces ("Poor young grandson, there's nothing I can say -- you'll have to learn, just like me and that's the hardest way"), "Stay Young" embraces the bull-headed mindset of young people. I can’t think of a better song to get you through those rough growing years when your parents knew nothing. It is always important to have songs that say exactly what you feel at any given moment. And after a screaming match with your parents what lyric could be better than "Making you take the blame, making you cold in the night, making you question your heart and soul, and you think that it's not quite right"? This song was a saving force my senior year of high school, long after my brother had left the nest for college, when I had come to realize the not so glamorous side to being the only child around. I remember driving to high school, setting my stereo on repeat, turning the volume all the way up, and screaming the words at the top of my lungs … no one understood me better than Liam Gallagher at that moment."
Now available on The Masterplan.

Oasis - Angel Child (Demo)
The fact that the tracklisting emphasized that this was a demo led many fans to look at is as a yet unfinished piece of work, and everytime there's talk about a new Oasis album on fan message boards and what songs might be due for inclusion, some knucklehead always says, "They still haven't recorded a real version of 'Angel Child.'" They're totally missing the point. Not only is this the only new acoustic B-side that Noel offered for any of the album's singles, even if this is only *demo* form, it's still blindingly gorgeous. It's also interesting to see the point where his voice as a songwriter starts to change -- where once he had written about dreams of being a rock and roll star, living forever, and even in the previous track staying young, now he was starting to talk about the downside of fame: "I gave all my money to people and things and the price I'm still paying for the sh*t that it brings." It's a tradition that would continue to manifest itself from "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" to "Just Getting Older" to "The Importance of Being Idle." Interesting to note that even in acoustic demo form, this still song still tops the four-minute mark.

Oasis - Heroes
While the amps-up-to-11, balls-to-the-wall mindset in recording everything for Be Here Now and its B-sides served a grave disservice to some of their own songs, it proved to strongly benefit the two songs Oasis chose to cover during the sessions. Noel put all his passion into David Bowie's '70s classic, singing each verse like Bowie had sung the song's last, and with a wailing wall of guitars and Whitey cracking away on the drums, Oasis delivered the urgency this song always possessed but that Bowie somehow restrained. Funnily enough, the Wallflowers would have a hit covering this song just a year later for the Godzilla soundtrack, opting to take the Bowie route and keep it low key and restrained. The results weren't half as impressive as this.

The video for the song followed the album's colossally over-the-top ambitions, set in Humble Pie's famed Beckton dumps. Military choppers were called out to bring "all their people right here right now" (and all their people look massively uninspired), and lots of colored smoke was employed. Noel for the first and only time plays a Gibson Flying-V and does a lot of rock star posing during the guitar solo, and one of the choppers lifts Oasis away at the end, showing them (who, apart from Liam, look as uninspired as their 'fans') wearily looking down on England below.

Tomorrow: The "Stand By Me" single.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Even if it means nothing, you'll never ever feel that you're alone.

Ten years ago yesterday, Oasis' third album, Be Here Now, landed in US record stores.

I will always remember August 26, 1997 -- and not because the date is immortalized on the album's cover. It was my first day of high school.

I wasn't really that excited about high school. You know when you're a kid and you're talking to your friend's older brother who goes to an upper level school, and he tells you how great it is compared to where you are now? Well in retrospect, yeah, I suppose I did have more fun in my high school years than I had in my grade school years, but I didn't sit through the summer of 1997 going, "This is great! I finally get to go to high school!" I was far more nervous about the prospect of being a freshman in a school where a lot of older kids I really didn't like milled the halls everyday.

And frankly, I was having too much fun that summer to be bothered with getting back into the school routine. While the Britpop explosion was beginning to show signs of fatigue in the motherland, America had suddenly cottoned on. People magazine was doing articles on Kula Shaker. Blur's "Song 2" and Prodigy's "Breathe" were completely inescapable if you had a TV or turned on a radio. The Spice Girls were providing annoying as hell songs at every corner, but also providing all the magazine cover shots a young teenage boy could dream. And Oasis were finally ready to wheel out their new record. For a 14-year-old Anglophile in the suburbs of Chicago, it was THE summer of my youth.

But on the morning of August 26th, I was near-miserable because I had to be in my first class at Willowbrook High School an hour and 15 minutes before Best Buy opened its doors. My dad dropped me off that day. "Dad?" I asked. "When I get home, would you mind running me out to Best Buy? The new Oasis album is out today." He nodded and said that was no problem.

My mission -- to get through my first day of high school. Not for personal satisfaction, not for personal survival, not to learn a damn thing. Just to be able to get the Oasis album upon dismissal.

What do I remember about the first day of high school? Barely anything. I remember it was hot, and all the girls seemed to be in tank tops... this was a big deal because all the sudden all the girls I'd grown up with -- even those that were never that cute -- suddenly had boobs. And as it goes... they were all very cool all of the sudden. But that's about it. Heat, boobs and Oasis. That's all that was on my mind that day... albeit in reverse order.

Dad made good on his word at the end of the day, and drove me up to Best Buy where I picked up the album I'd been waiting nearly two years for.

Be Here Now
Epic, 1997

01. D'You Know What I Mean?
02. My Big Mouth
03. Magic Pie
04. Stand By Me
05. I Hope, I Think, I Know
06. The Girl in the Dirty Shirt
07. Fade In/Out
08. Don't Go Away
09. Be Here Now
10. All Around the World
11. It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)
12. All Around the World (Reprise)

Now cited by its author as "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle," Be Here Now has been universally dismissed by the band, critics and even a number of fans as the moment that the boys went just a little too far. A sordid history of the album can be found at Wikipedia.

At its worst, Be Here Now is a self-indulgent, cocaine-addled behemoth that makes up for in bombast what it lacks in tunes (which, as it turns out, ends up in about a 50-50 split) and is a surefire headache sparker if you're not in a fun-loving, devil-may-care mood. At its best, it f*cking ROCKS!

You want rock and roll? How's this? The boys begin recording at none other than Abbey Road Studios. Halfway through the first session, an elderly gentleman walks into the studio where Oasis have it up to 11. "Pardon me, fellas," he says. "But I'm recording a flugelhorn solo in the next room. I don't suppose you could turn it down a bit?"

They tell him where he can shove his flugelhorn and continue on at full volume. They are unceremoniously forced out of Abbey Road just days later.

From a cliché standpoint, the album is almost unbearable to think about. The massive amounts of guitar overdubs (more than 30 on 'All Around the World' alone) stink of exactly the kind of thing Spinal Tap was made to make fun of. Noel went on a little too much of a Beatle-referencing bend (the album's title is a George Harrison song, while "The Fool on the Hill," "I Feel Fine," "The Long and Winding Road," "Band on the Run," "Getting Better" and the Let It Be album are all namechecked within the songs -- even the sinking Rolls Royce on the album cover bears the same license plate number as the black van on the cover of Abbey Road). Only the two-minute reprise of "All Around the World" clocks in under FOUR minutes in length, and who shows up to play slide guitar on "Fade In/Out"? Mr. Johnny Depp, ladies and gentlemen!

Self-importance? Oooh, we got it by the barrelful!

But what the people who have looked back in anger (har har) are missing is that massive egoism aside, the 50 percent of the album that is constituted by great tunes is still stronger (and a higher ratio) than most of the albums that are being released 10 years later.

There's a lot of white noise to wade through on the album, and I still can't manage to find any soft spot in my heart for "I Hope, I Think, I Know" -- which stands unchallenged in my book for being the worst song ever to make an Oasis album, the untitled sound collages on (What's the Story) Morning Glory? included. The shame of it is that in clouding things up so heavily and letting a couple duffers onto the album, some really great songs got lost in the mix.

"The Girl in the Dirty Shirt," for instance, is one of the finest tracks ever to grace an Oasis album -- it's lyrical earnesty a welcome change of pace from the gobbledygook that constitutes most every other turn on the album, and with one of the band's catchiest choruses and a bad ass bit of slide guitar to boot (and a super badass hit of electric piano). The title track is silly excess gone right, as it's one of the all time greatest songs to air guitar to, and goes right for the jugular from the synthesized opening to the sustained final chord. "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)" -- naff parenthetical use in the title aside -- builds on the title track's fist-in-the-air, fun-loving charms, and while it could've easily been shaved to a merciful five minutes, the excessively long outro is still stomachable.

And let's not forget some things about Be Here Now. Derisive hindsight be damned, the album debuted on the Billboard charts at #2 in America. The highest charting Oasis has enjoyed here, and solid proof that any Britpop naysayers that doubted the movement's American appeal were -- at least in part -- wrong. All four singles, "D'You Know What I Mean," "Stand By Me," "All Around the World" and "Don't Go Away" stand among the band's best works, and despite each songs absence from Stop the Clocks and the fact that the new AT&T/Cingular has made "All Around the World" virtually inescapable, most bands don't get four songs of that caliber on two albums, let alone one. It's the only album that afforded Oasis a stadium tour of the United States. It's the only album that got the boys a spot on Saturday Night Live (and why SOMEONE didn't write a sketch to include the Gallaghers and Chris Kattan's fast-talking, incomprehensible bespectacled character is still beyond me 10 years later).

Now granted -- a lot that came in the album's wake was also too much. The UK leg of the Be Here Now tour featured stage props and categorically uninspired performances, the SNL performance was ridiculous -- more amplification than three bands needed, and why the hell was Whitey playing a double-bass drum set? but the path of excess, as they say...

In the end, Be Here Now isn't all that great. But it's not half as bad as people seem to want to remember. Definitely Maybe will be remembered for its songs, Morning Glory will be remembered for its impact, and Don't Believe the Truth will one day get the recognition as a true return to form that it is. People won't remember Standing on the Shoulder of Giants or Heathen Chemistry. I can accept that. But I can't accept people remembering Be Here Now as a complete washout.

I didn't survive my first day of high school for a washout. Sentimentally speaking, this is and will forever be, my favorite Oasis album.

Tomorrow: The "D'you Know What I Mean?" single.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Hey you! You're such a pedant! You got as much brain as a dead ant! As much imagination as a caravan site! But I still love you.

Ringo Starr once said at the height of the Oasis phenomenon that that Mancunian quintet would be finished once they ran out of Beatles tunes to rip-off, ultimately suffering the same fate as ELO.

Noel Gallagher, upon being informed of the quote, casually replied that considering his extensive Beatles bootleg collection, there was still plenty in the tank to work from.

But while Noel spent Oasis' early years incessantly proclaiming his admiration for the greatest group of all time, a lot of people were so tuned into his Beatles slant that they missed the fact that he was pulling riffs and lyrics from everyone from T-Rex and the Faces to the likes of children's television.

And, yes, even the Godfather of Beatles parody/tribute, Neil Innes.

I mentioned last week when I wrote about How Sweet to Be an Idiot that we'd get to this. Now here we are.

When Oasis released their standalone single "Whatever" in December 1994, it marked their strongest showing yet. It was their first single to climb as high as #3 on the UK charts, featured a gorgeous Beatlesque string arrangement, a middle section where Liam's voice was toyed with to sound almost uncannily like John Lennon and reviewers proclaimed it to be "more Beatles than the Beatles."

Well maybe 'cos it was the Rutles.

Er... a Rutle.

Oasis - Whatever

Now Noel claimed for years thereafter that he'd never before heard Innes' 1973 album or its title track, and while only the first lines of each songs' verses match, they are identical matches. And as I said in my post on Idiot, I mentioned how people that get sickly into the Rutles likely backtrack and uncover the album at some point. Now I'm not saying Noel's obsessive, but during the band's 2002 Heathen Chemistry tour, their preshow music was the entire original Rutles album. Granted, that was 8 years after "Whatever," but one does wonder, do they not?

Innes told me in 2001 that the first person to inform him of the distinct similarities between Oasis' hit and his own 1973 composition was none other than Paul McCartney's younger brother Michael (who Innes had collaborated with musically in the early 1970s), who phoned him in 1994 shortly after hearing the song on the radio.

"Mike called me up and said 'Have you heard this new Oasis song?,'" he said. "I told him I hadn't and asked him why. He said, 'It sounds like 'How Sweet to Be an Idiot!'"

Neil Innes - How Sweet to Be an Idiot

Now again the only strikingly similar parts are the first lines of each of the song's verses -- it's nowhere near as blatant as "Shakermaker" ripping off "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," and while some fansites reported in 1995 that Innes was considering filing suit against Gallagher for borrowing just a little too much, Innes said that was never his intention.

"For me to do that, it'd be kind of..." he paused and broke into a knowing Ron Nasty-ish grin.

(Funnily enough, David Bowie threatened suit against Oasis for "Whatever" if Noel decided to keep an ending refrain of "All the Young Dudes" at the song's conclusion as part of the record. And when he performed live thereafter, if Noel didn't break into "Dudes" at the song's conclusion, he would go into the Beatles' "Octopus' Garden.")

Instead, Innes did what few others who've been ripped off by Gallagher have. He took his bit back. In 1995, The Beatles Anthology series made the Fab Four almost (if not just as... remember "A Beatle C"?) culturally dominating as they had been in their heyday, and longtime Beatles fanatic and sometime politcal blogger Martin Lewis thought the time was rife for a Rutles reunion as well.

Innes, Ricky Fataar (Stig O'Hara) and John Halsey (Barry Wom) released The Rutles Archaeology in 1996, finishing off backing tracks the the group had worked on in the 1970s and recording a host of new Beatle-pinching material to boot. The *new* single to promote the album was an old Innes number called "Shangri-La" that was given a "Hey Jude" style makeover for the album (complete with 4 minute long "La de do da, la de da, here we are in Shangri-La" coda). Realizing it was likely to be the album's most heard track, Neil decided to bite Noel back and had the orchestra used in the song open with the "How Sweet to Be an Idiot"/"Whatever" melody line.

The Rutles - Shangri-La

It would also be worth it to listen closely at the song's 5:51 mark.

But just for good measure, Neil wanted to have a bit of fun with it, and asked Noel and Liam to appear in the video for "Shangri-La" along with a myriad of celebrity impersonators (and some real celebrities themselves).

"We talked to Noel and Liam and they were all set to come down and be a part of it," Innes said, breaking into laughter. "But on the day of shooting they never showed. So we called up the Oasis camp and were told that Noel and Liam had had a big fight and weren't talking to each other, much less coming down to do the video."

As a substitute, a caption reading "Oasis very excited" was put onto the page of the fake New York Post paper used at the beginning of the video that proclaimed the Rutles reunion.

Ah vell, still an enjoyable video.

Have a good weekend, and if you're into Oasis, be sure to come back next week, where we spend the entire week revisiting one of the most overblown (but still fantastic) records of all time, Be Here Now. The album! The excess! The videos! The B-sides! It shall all be covered on the record's 10th anniversary at Ain't Superstitious But These Things I've Seen...

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

You don't think I'll make it -- I never said I wanted to. Well, did I?

Oh dear.

"Call me 'Flowercrotch!' ...Because I like sex now. Have you heard?"

From today:

Morrissey, currently without a record contract, also revealed that his forthcoming residencies in Los Angeles and New York, revealed by NME.COM earlier this week, are the last live shows he is going to perform "for the foreseeable future".

A statement from the star said of the forthcoming dates: "The desire is to go out with some great memories for everyone as who knows what the future will bring."

So Mozzer might finally be packing it in, eh? Well if you ask me, he should've done that three years ago, but we can forgive the man for being overexcited by the stateside resurgance that You Are the Quarry brought, and while more touring and another new album still may have SEEMED like a good idea, well... even the best laid plans, as they say...

So what now for Morrissey? Slippers and the evening papers by the fireside? Perhaps someone to cozy up to, what with the explosive kegs between his legs and all? Perhaps, but I reckon he'll take about three years writing his oft-promised memoirs, and around 2011, will be posting snippets with Johnny Marr's "It wasn't exactly like THAT" responses.

I saw Morrissey in Milwaukee in 2004, and I have bended a few ears and expressed my delight in being able to see the man in person and getting to experience one of the closest things to a religious epiphany ever. It wasn't that his material was particularly strong that night -- indeed, he dipped a bit too much into the deceptively shallow YATQ bag, and I've never really liked "November Spawned a Monster," but there's something about SEEING Morrissey that's terribly humbling for even the snobbiest and pickiest of music fans. Couple that with the fact that he OPENED with "How Soon is Now?" and paltry strobelights and lack of Johnny Marr on guitar be damned, he turned me into a shrieking, hysterical 13-year old girl.

And that's saying a lot. I do have a lot of composure, you know.

But what's come in the aftermath -- the dreadful Ringleader of the Tormentors album, a tour that's been stopped in its tracks on multiple occassions this year due to Mr. Ringleader's rollercoaster health (mental or otherwise), a few new songs that have made network debuts on the likes of Letterman and Kimmel to outright indifference and sycophantic fans that now seem unable to take even the stupidest and most irrelevant of jokes -- has all been pretty ugly.

Part of me wants to scoff at Morrissey for precipitating this -- a man who's quick as a whip to air his disdain and displeasure for the ghosts of his past, limping along and trying to maintain relevance in a day and age where everyone just wants to focus on how brilliant that past was. Don't get me wrong -- I think there's a very admirable quality in neither Morrissey nor Marr giving into the millions of dollars in offers to reunite for concerts and leaving the Smiths beautiful little career to lie as it is. At the same time, his pride's gotten a tad too bloated over recent years and his perpetual inability to come to the realization that while his new material may provide a relative gem or two, it's doing more harm to his overall catalogue than good is kind of distressing.

Seriously, the best thing to come out of all the Ringleader sessions -- which took place in Italy... with Tony Visconti... and Ennio Morricone -- was a friggin' cover of the New York Dolls' "Human Being."

But what must make it harder still is the fact that when the artist was a young man still in possession of a sense of humor, he was able to be self-depricating and jokingly predict that this kind of thing might happen to him. "It may all end tomorrow, or it could go on forever -- in which case I'm doomed," he sang in "Piccadilly Palare," nevermind the tongue-in-cheek "Now I Am a Was" for the troublesome Maladjusted days. Maybe it's just me, but I always loved those songs growing up, because it seemed that he was so aware of what might happen that he might actually be able to dance right around it.

The thing is, it's like the young man who swears he won't become his father. In spite of all your best efforts, it still happens.

You'd think that the man who wrote "Get Off the Stage," (which was through-and-through a completely sh*tty tune, but won ballsiness points for throwing down a gauntlet that the author himself would have to subscribe to), wouldn't become the very subject of his own song.

"And the song that you just sang, it sounds exactly like the last one. And the next one, I bet you it will sound like this one."

I suppose credit where credit is due -- he wrote that song in 1990 about the Rolling Stones, and here we are 17 years later and the Stones are still at it. Perhaps he, at least, is self-aware enough to know he might have overstayed his recent residency. But a more graceful exit still should've been made at the end of 2004.

Morrissey - Tomorrow
The grand finale of 1992's fine (but still with a load of craptastic tracks) Your Arsenal. What can you say really? "It's surely nearer now..."


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Outside I'm masquerading.

Billy Bragg's fans know that the man -- while one of the finest latter-day songwriters in his own right -- doesn't hide his influences all that well.

A devout Clash fan (that's currently pushing his new single "Old Clash Fight Song," mind you) and such a Small Faces/Faces freak himself that he's not unlikely to be caught with Ian McLagan accompanying him, Bragg is usually just as likely to belt out favorite songs of his as he is to spin some of the greatest unrequited love songs ever or inform you about miners strikes in old England.

While he normally doesn't reserve space for covers on his own albums, his covers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Smiths, Bob Dylan and Faces have all made their way onto various compilation albums and he's not aversed to spending a bit of his own studio time plucking out some old favorites just for fun or maybe for a potential B-side.

One of the great things about Bragg's albums getting remastered and rereleased with bonus discs recently (and avid readers will know how much I'm usually against the whole, reissue-repackage-reevaluate cycle) is that the bonus discs all come with early demos and studio outtakes that actually conjure up some perfectly nice little numbers and covers that may never have otherwise found the light of day.

Included, of course, are some fantastic covers, and while I was relistening to some of the rereleased albums this week, it got me thinking how odd it is that a guy with such a singular and unique (in a not-always-a-good-thing kind of way) voice as Bragg's manages to take wonderful songs and make his own loving attempts at them. One would never put Bragg in the same class vocally as Smokey Robinson, least of all Bragg himself, but when Billy tries a Smokey number, it's not the disaster that's more than likely anticipated. It's actually quite great.

And why?

Because Billy, like all great musicians, was and is a fan first.

Here are three covers that Billy managed to put his own loveable stamp on.

Billy Bragg - When Will I See You Again?
Yeah ... that "When Will I See You Again?" The one that you heard while being informed what happened to all the central characters in Can't Hardly Wait. Originally from a 1992, NME-financed compilation, Ruby Trax, this quasi-roller rink ready version was also included on the bonus disc that accompanied first pressings of Bragg's 2002 even-fans-should-own-it retrospective, Must I Paint You a Picture?: The Essential Billy Bragg. You'll be a little tepid at first listening to this, but I guarantee you'll be grooving along in your own little way by the song's end.

Billy Bragg - The Last Time
Billy Bragg became a big Smiths fan once the Manchester boys hit the scene in 1983, and struck up a friendship with Johnny Marr, who would go on to lend some of his six-stringed talent to many of Bragg's later contributions, including classics like "Greetings to the New Brunette" and "Sexuality." Here's one of the earliest instances of the two on tape together, rambling their way through the Rolling Stones classic, which finally came to light on the recent rerelease of Bragg's 1984 album, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg.

Billy Bragg - The Tracks of My Tears
Inserted onto the bonus disc for the rerelease of 1986's classic Talking with the Taxman About Poetry album, Bragg's solitary cover of this Smokey Robinson classic is almost every bit as affecting as the original. Hard to top a Motown classic that was rounded out by the Miracles with just a lone electric guitar and ol' Big Nose's voice, but without all the ornamentation, Bragg is able to cut right to the heart (or heartbreak) of the song and redeliver it in his own style. Why it didn't make it out in some other form for almost 20 years is beyond me.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I've got it bad, like I told you before.

Well the sun has made brief cameos in Madison today, so even thought it's brought along too much humidity with it, hooray. I'm in a good mood.

And let's use that mood to roll right into August's edition of the Fantastic 45's, why don't we?

This month's selection features one of the greatest 1-2 punches ever put on a piece of vinyl and gives you a nice hit of early New Orleans R&B by way of my main man, Allen Toussiant.

Toussaint was cutting his teeth as a songwriter and producer in the early 1960s and was signed up with the Minit label, overseeing a lot of the talent there. One of his first major hits with the label was "Mother in Law" which was done by Ernie K. Doe. During the session, Toussaint felt the record was missing something and called in Benny Spellman to sing the low pitched "Mother in Law" refrain, which tied up everything quite nicely and ultimately resulted in a #1 record on both the pop and R&B charts.

Spellman started teasing Toussaint a little, saying that he was the reason the song went to number one, and he deserved his own Toussaint-penned hit to run up the charts to. Well, teasing at first. Then he wouldn't stop. Toussaint now says he wrote "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette) to get Spellman off his back, but what's more, he also offered up another song of his, "Fortune Teller."

The 45 was recorded and released in 1962 and gave Spellman his own certifiable hit, but also ultimately proved to be just as potent and inspirational to a new crop of musicians across the Atlantic Ocean in little old England who were just two or three years away from taking our own country by storm.

The Fantastic 45's


Benny Spellman
"Fortune Teller" b/w "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)"
Minit, 1962

Benny Spellman - Fortune Teller
Pretty much any British group that amounted to anything in the mid-1960s got a hold of this 45 and learned this song and covered it to pieces during their early club performing days. It's frenetic, cajun-spiced beat draws the listener in, but the almost-erratic piano line and vocal (listen for Toussaint in the background) also wind their way into your head in spite of no easy or central hook in the song and the fact that the flip side, is far, far more pop oriented and listener friendly.

Benny Spellman - Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)
This song has also been covered countless times and just one listen tells you why. It sounds like it was one of the most effortless songs ever written and makes it's turns from verse to chorus to bridge to chorus in the smoothest way possible. Toussaint wrote the "Don't leave me no more" line especially for Spellman, as it's almost a perfect recreation of his "Mother in Law" spot from earlier in the year, and when Toussaint performs live nowadays, he'll often play the two songs in a medley, and alternate singing "Leave me no more" and "Mother in law" at the song's conclusion. A close inspection of both song's labels reveal the songwriting credit going to Naomi Neville, which was the pseudonym Toussaint wrote under in the early days -- borrowing his mother's maiden name. Interesting fact - Ringo Starr's own version of this song on his dismal 1978 outing Bad Boy provided the album's only highlight, proving that absolutely no one -- NO ONE -- can go wrong with this song.

Both cuts can now be found on any number of compilations.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Rain, please tell me now, does that seem fair?

Well, I don't know how things were in your neck of the woods this weekend, but the Midwest was under a complete washout.

Torrential rains kept me inside most of the weekend and also postponed Sunday night's Cubs/Cardinals game which could've given the Cubs a more secure hold on the NL Central (I say this because though he only pitched three innings, Zambrano was looking dynamite, and I know all it takes is a couple missteps, but given the fact that we'll never know, I say the Cubs could've won that one by a MLB record shattering score of 71-4).

That's as bad as it got for me -- things were worse to the northwest and around the rest of the Midwest as 13 people actually died due to rivers swelling up and washing houses (and more) away.

It's the damndest thing -- it's been dry as all hell here all summer and now we're in the middle of about five days of continuing storms. Better late than never, some might say, as our lakes (if not our rivers) have needed it, but I reckon it's still a strong argument for payment plans instead of lump sums.


Pitter patter pitter patter. Whoa-oh-oh.

As the sun is still reportedly a couple days away from showing its face 'round here again, it got me thinking of rain-themed songs, and while it would be downright easy to post tracks by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Madonna and Missy Elliot (ha!), I fell asleep last night to rain continually pattering off my windowsill which got me thinking about one of my all time favorite (rain-themed or otherwise) songs.

The Cascades - Rhythm of the Rain
One of the downfalls of my learning to drive was that I stopped listening to the radio. I never cared that much for the radio -- too much time spent scanning channels for a song you like, only to land on such a song when it's half or two-thirds over. My mother, however, is still an avid radio listener, and I do attribute a lot of my own musical loves to the fact that growing up in the backseat of our old white Chevrolet Eurosport, I was tuned into a lot of great old songs. Oldies 104.3 was a lock in both my parents' cars in Chicagoland, and this song, from the Cascades' 1963 album of the same name was always a favorite of mine. A song this "gentle" can come off rather wussy, but everything about it -- the harmonies, the glockenspiel, the melody -- is really solid. Along with Buddy Holly's "Raining in My Heart," it's one of the only rain-themed songs that really perfectly sums up the crappy feelings associated with incessant rain. Granted, in both cases, it also has to do with a breakup, but... a lot of rain can really start to suck too, you know.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Jesus, what a jerk.

Any five-year-old boy can tell you that being referred to as "Mister" is usually not a good thing.

If any five-year-old boy is being called "Mister," it's usually in the context of a mother (or some other higher ranking official) beginning a command/lecture/punishment "Listen, mister..." and therein seeds a displeasure for the title for the rest of his life (see: middle aged men pleading not to be referred to as "Mister," as MR. -insert last name here- lives in Florida/Arizona).

Wikipedia defines the pre-nominal social title as: "used for a man too old to be addressed as Master, under the rank of knighthood, and, supposedly though not really in practice, above some undefined level of social status."

While it was contrived as a titular form of respect, the fact of the matter is that most men feel somewhat of an aversion to the title, and most men (and many women) use the title on others not as often as a form of respect as they do a source of derision.

Now granted, that's not making too brash a generalization -- the polite terminology CAN be found in music (e.g. Sinatra's "Mr. Success" or ELO'S "Mr. Blue Sky"), and young boys are often taught to refer to parents of friends as Mister, so some amount of respect does still pertain to the title.

But with respect (especially of the forced measure) often comes contempt, and it seems to me that if you start hearing the title in a song, it's usually going to be of a more negative connotation than a positive one. For this month's Friday five, we look at five such instances.

The Friday Five: Five Bad Misters.

The Jam - Mr. Clean
A vitriolic young Paul Weller takes aim at the upperclass man with an office job on the Jam's 1978 breakout album, All Mod Cons. Whether he's upset about the fact that Mr. Clean has had a more priveleged upbringing and life than him (Cambridge education, wife and girls on the side, doting parents) or the fact that he's an office stiff and therefore worthy of derision isn't entirely clear (though I'd put more money on the former), but when Weller snarls the end of the menacing second verse -- "If you see me in the street, look away / 'cos I don't ever want to catch you looking at me, Mr. Clean / I hate you and your wife, and if I get the chance I'll f*ck up your life!" -- it's a far, far cry from the man singing about little birds flying on his last album (that's a gross generalization, I know -- he's still got a lot of bite, but not nearly this sharp anymore).

Jean Knight - Mr. Big Stuff
The token entry in your "bad misters" list, Mr. Big Stuff is a purveyor of the finer things in life -- fancy cars, fancy clothes -- but Ms. Knight has seen the man break too many a-poor girl's heart and is quick to inform him that she'd rather give her love to a poor guy that has a love that's true. Essentially solidifies Paul McCartney's claims from a decade earlier that money can't buy you love, and while it's nice in sentiment, why is it that all my friends who have far more money than I seem to be the ones now engaged? Hmmm. Well regardless, this is a Stax classic from Knight's album of the same name, and a good shot of R&B that's not solely enjoyable for women alone.

The Kinks - Mr. Churchill Says
Cor! RAY DAVIES being CRITICAL of a CORNERSTONE of BRITISH CULTURE?! What Twilight Zone episode have we found ourselves in? Taken out of context, this doesn't seem too critical at all -- merely a spirited relay of British officials' "chin up" sentiments at the time of the Second World War. But then there's the "air raid" second part of the song, "a house on fire and someone lying dead" and so forth. And let's put this in context -- it's mother album, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (one of the greatest concept albums ever, copycat Tommy be goddamned) tells the story of a man who lost a brother and son to war, and his losing his other children to Australia due to the cheerless existence offered by Mother England. Nevertheless, Davies' tongue-in-cheek recreation of the Greatest Briton of Them All's "Finest Hour" speech is almost as endearing as the original.

Randy Newman - Mr. Sheep
My assumption is that Mr. Sheep was buddies with Mr. Clean, and in 1978, Paul Weller and Randy Newman had one of those "You take him, I'll take him" conversations. Clearly that's just in my fantasy world, but Mr. Sheep seems to occupy the same contemptable space as Mr. Clean, and while Weller went for the jugular, Newman provided a much more bouncy, happy musical backing for far, far crueler lyrics. Simultaneously one of the highlights and nasty weights that dragged Newman's underrated Born Again down, poor Mr. Sheep got the licking of a lifetime here. From forgetting his umbrella in a thunderstorm, his monsterous family, his lack of a girl on the side and his (literally) painful inability to dance, Newman makes sure to point and laugh hard at ALL of it. Mr. Sheep may indeed be a bit of an assh*le, but damned if you don't feel a little sorry for him at the end of this one.

Stereophonics - Mr. Writer
God knows what the penman in question wrote about scruffy little Kelly Jones to deserve this diatribe, but Jones inserts his murder threat before the song's even half over. It would appear that Jones personal decision not to give an interview led Mr. Writer to ink an attack on the Stereophonics' lead singer who's undoubtedly a good music, but always just been a little too illogically popular for his own skills. Whatever the case, Mr. Writer apparently has Just Enough Education to Perform by Jones' own summation, which conveniently enough, also gave him the album title. You think he'd be a little more grateful. Whatever happened to "there's no such thing as bad press," Kel?

And listen Mister... have a good weekend.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Well, you know, I hate to be a downer, but I'm the guy she left before you found her.

I checked my Yahoo mail this morning to see this article announcing the new website,, "a kind of gender revenge for the 21st century," where women post personal information about ex's.

Now granted, they talk about some rather extreme, sleazy guys, but God knows we've all been in some rather nasty splits in our lifetimes and had we means to a megaphone in a busy area, we might have informed a few people about what a sh*tbag our new ex was. Had we had the means to do it, we probably would've and then felt a temporary flare of ego, but then (after awhile) a bit of regret. Because face it, ultimately it's kind of a pointless exercise to project your own relationship's failings on everybody else.

And forgive me for gender profiling, but women find a lot more empowerment and solidarity in this kind of thing than men do. "You're strong! You don't need him! NONE OF US DO!" Men -- in general -- only really care if there's a bad breakup and then a friend starts dating the girl. Guys likely want to exact a little revenge on their ex's, but they don't need to get all of mankind hating them. Case in point:

Now I fully understand that an exercise like could theoretically prevent others from falling susceptible to sex offenders or the like, but I got more of a feeling there will be more than one set of posts relating to the "he leaves the toilet seat up," "he never called - I always had to call him," "he's afraid of commitment" ilk.

Is that an unfair summation? Well... it's my blog.

"HE FORGOT OUR 17-WEEK ANNIVERSARY!!!!!!!" #&$&#^#@&!

People need to understand that a lot of relationships end. Not just theirs. And usually one person is extremely hurt and disappointed by an end. But you know what? It doesn't necessarily mean the other person can't find great happiness with someone else. Perhaps they'll find the ingredient they were missing with you. After all, if it was all peachy keen with you, it wouldn't have ended, would it?

And sometimes ends are for the best.

You come out of this heartbreaking situation but you find this other person who opens up a whole new world for you. I know. I'll be a groomsman for a friend who went through such a situation next year. I don't really care for the girl, but c'est la vie. As long as he's not marrying one of my ex's, what the hell do I care in the end?

But anyway, it got me thinking about the differences between men and women and got me thinking about that TLC song, "No Scrubs."

Here we got three girls profiling an entire group of men (and don't point out the fact that I've already made brash generalizations about women in this post, I know, I know...), but there's that part about "hanging out the passenger side of his best friend's ride, trying to holler at me."

Well, you never know, do you? Even men would admit that in general that's a pretty shady dude. But... what if said passenger side rider's own car had been stolen. And said best friend was driving him to file a police report, when, on the way, he spotted the most beautiful girl in the world on the street. He'd never seen her before, he may never again. What option is there? "Hollering," as they say, is a pretty stupid exercise in my opinion, but I suppose there's something primal about it. And you can't really fight thousands of years of primal instinct. He might not be a scrub, you know. He's just down on his luck. And thinks your cute is all. You don't have to be a bitch.

Guys, on the other hand, as I said, just advise their close friends to stay away.

Case in point:

The Beach Boys - Here Today
I really hope you've already heard this song. It was the first song on Pet Sounds that I truly loved. Here, the singer talks about the unpredictable nature of love and advises a friend that while he may be happy with his ex-girlfriend, beware. At the same time, he's not as angry about it as some men would/do get. "Now I'm not saying you won't have a good love with her," he insists. "But I keep on remembering things like they were."

The Zombies - Tell Her No
Classic from the boys' 1964 self titled debut, the singer here sings this song to his friend who, it appears, is getting his girl. "Don't hurt me now, for her love belongs to me," he insists. He concedes she'll throw his love away, and it may ultimately be a pointless exercise to try and find happiness with her, but still... that's no reason for your friend to be a dick and run off with her, right?

And I know there was "No Pigeons" and plenty of manmade songs that cast general dispersions on womankind. But again... This is my blog. I get to make the points here.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And if the song's worth singing, we'll sing it again and again.

Someone that I hold in the same esteem as I do the likes of my all time favorite songwriter Ray Davies and so forth is a guy that you probably know, although maybe not by name -- Neil Innes.

I've wanted to do a Neil post for awhile now, but his career is so varied that it was hard to know where to start. What's the one Neil song (well, co-written song) that everyone knowns? "Brave Sir Robin" of course, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. What would be next? Probably Innes turn as Ron Nasty (John Lennon) in the Python-influenced sendup of the Beatles' career, the Rutles. The Rutles... hell, a whole week's worth of posts could be done on the Rutles.

But what about his earlier career in the 1960s, with those comically-savvy-Dadaist-potential-threat-to-rock-and-roll-as-we-know-it (but still f*cking great of course), the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Sure, Viv Stanshall got most of the camera and mic time in those days, but Innes stood not too far behind anchoring the music and took the lead turn on their sole "hit," the Paul McCartney co-produced "I'm the Urban Spaceman." What about that?

Well, all in time. You'll just have to keep reading.

I decided to start you where my love of Neil Innes truly started. My father had the Rutles' soundtrack album on vinyl and I watched and was able to fully appreciate the film at a very young age. I loved the songs, but as great as they were, I never took them TOO seriously, because well... as George Harrison told Neil himself when listening to playback of the "Get Back" parodying "Get Up and Go," "That one's pretty close, there!"

It was when I was afforded a chance to hear Neil's debut solo album How Sweet to Be an Idiot that I really understood that this guy was the stuff that all time favorite songwriters are made of.

So come on, then, let's talk... at long last... Neil.

Neil Innes
How Sweet to Be an Idiot
United Artists, 1973

01. Prologue
02. Momma Bee
03. Immortal Invisible
04. Topless-a-Go-Go
05. Feel No Shame
06. How Sweet to Be an Idiot
07. Dream On
08. L'amour Perdu
09. Song For Yvonne
10. This Love of Ours
11. Singing a Song is Easy

Every music fan has an album in their collection they love that seemingly nobody else has heard before (at least among their friends - and even their music snob friends). They don't really even talk about it with their friends because as nice as it would be to share it and have something new to talk about, they don't know if the said friend really deserves to hear it. What if they don't like it? Worse yet, what if they love it as much as you and then claim that they've always loved it and go on to pose as a bigger fan of the album or artist than you? No, no... not worth the risk. Nothing worse than that. I'm talking about the albums that you only get to talk about on Internet community boards where other people who share the same affinity come from all corners of the world to talk about how this particular also changed their lives.

How Sweet to Be an Idiot is the mother of all those albums.

It certainly wasn't by design -- indeed, though the Bonzos drew huge celebrity fans (they showed up in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour movie and counted the Kinks as some of their biggest admirers), they never really found the success that the groups who loved them had. Granted, when you're singing songs about camels chasing LSD, twilight dancing to tubas and the table manners of tigers, you don't really lend yourself to Top 40 material.

It bothered Innes a little, who didn't hold back his aspirations for commercial success by forming the World in 1970 after the disintegration of the Bonzos. While their sole album, Lucky Planet had the makings of any of the best albums of its times, its players had already sniffed out different projects by the time it came up for release.

Innes would reteam with Stanshall and Paul McCartney's brother Mike for some work as GRIMMS, but he also tried his hand at a solo outing in 1973. The album didn't do much, and it wasn't until his path reconnected with Monty Python just a few short years later that he started to be known on a grander level. With the release of the Rutles documentary and soundtrack in 1978, Innes found his most lasting source of popularity. And the people who were truly nuts about the Rutles from then on (including me) started working their way back to that relatively obscure 1973 solo album.

While the title track alone would find a resurgence in popularity in 1994 and 1995 when it came to a head that Oasis had lifted a bit of the melody to their single "Whatever" from the song (a more comprehensive post on that "coincidence" to follow in the coming weeks), the rest of the album didn't come to light, which was a shame considering it could've been a wonderful 'forgotten landmark' album to reminisce about during the Britpop surge.

The title track is beautiful slice of gorgeous music and madcap lyrics, but it's actually only average in comparison to its company.

I first had the album on LP only, and started off by playing the second side because it had the title track and having heard rumblings about Oasis ripping it off, I logically wanted to hear that first. I got to see it right away, but then the song bled into "Dream On," one of the most arresting little bits of music I'd ever heard. I thought it was brilliant, and then it segued into "L'amour Perdu" -- a funny little take on French love songs, and typical brilliant Innes wordplay (e.g. "Et tout le monde et Tuesday too"). This goes into "Song For Yvonne," a carnival-esque ode to his missus, before making way for one of the simplest, most affecting love songs of all time, "This Love of Ours." Seriously. It's out of this f*cking world. I know I didn't post it here today. I'm saving it. You'll be glad for the day you visit and you see it posted. It's one of those "Oh my God" type songs. The whole procession concludes with the lullaby anthem, "Singing a Song is Easy" which could easily be scorned brutally if it weren't so goddamned disarmingly charming.

When the second side ended, I put the needle back to the end of outer ring and started again. It took me almost a year (much like the case of Ian Dury's New Boots and Panties!!) to flip the damn thing over. It was just too perfect. You know how people get into those vinyl-nut arguments about what's the greatest side of any record ever? Side 2 of How Sweet To Be an Idiot gets my vote. It's that great.

Side 1 isn't *quite* as good, it's more of a building process. Of course, "Immortal Invisible" - a spritely if doubtful discussion on the existence of God - is sheer genius ("I'm only a season heretic") and "Feel No Shame" is also an impressive number.

While the album did next to nothing when it made its first showing in 1973, Innes wave of popularity in relation to his work with Monty Python got him a deal on Polydor in the latter half of the decade (as well as his own musical TV show, Innes Book of Records). Many of these later solo songs have been compiled and released on three volumes of "Recollections," but How Sweet to Be an Idiot (maybe because of a different label and ownership rights) never made it to a proper CD rerelease besides being lumped in with a new song and a few old odds, ends and live tracks on the now out of print Recycled Vinyl Blues.

It's high time that were fixed. Only more and more people are going to find out about the Rutles, you know. And How Sweet to Be an Idiot needs to be there for the obsessives to go back to.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Kiss me goodnight.

The one problem with doing a blog that I (usually) only update Mondays through Fridays is that when big stuff happens on the weekends, I look like I'm a little behind in the game.

When I learned Friday evening that Tony Wilson had passed away, I was a bit bummed (no pun intended) by the news, and sure enough, a quick perusal of the Hype Machine over the weekend's posts will show that a number of blogs came out with tributes to Wilson and enough Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays (in addition to the odd A Certain Ratio track) to make yourself a decent little Factory mixtape.

I spent the weekend debating whether or not I'd make a big to do here about Wilson's passing, and on Sunday I put on the Mondays' 1992 album ...Yes Please! -- essentially the album that finally sank Factory Records -- and found all the inspiration I needed.

The thing about Tony Wilson is that he used his means to do something he felt was important to benefit his own city. Starting a record label is something every kid in high school with even half an interest in music considers. Carrying it through to fruition usually falls short when people get half an inkling of how much it really costs. Sure, Tony felt that a band like Joy Division was important and needed to be heard. Could he have anticipated back in 1977 that 30 years later the world would be awaiting an Anton Corbijn-directed biopic of its lead singer's life? I'm sure a rather large slice of the Manchester ego would've quickly said "of course," but I also think that even he, who at the time just wanted to expose a bit of punk music properly to northern England, would've thought literally affecting the world at large might have been a tad presumptuous.

It says a lot about the quality of karma to look at what happened with Factory Records. Joy Division is about to go to America, Ian Curtis kills himself. No band survives the death of a lead singer, but they try it anyway. New Order become huge. Wilson doesn't think New Order will be huge, so he allows a ridiculously expensive tri-cut sleeve to be produced for their single "Blue Monday," meaning they'll lose money on every copy they sell. It goes on to become the largest selling 12" in history. On the strength of that popularity and recognizing Manchester needs a place for congregation, Wilson opens the Hacienda. Ultimately it gives birth to the Rave scene. Unfortunately the rising drug culture in the city kills it from within. Since pretty much everything's been run on the assumption that "this will pay off in the end," the company now finds itself in huge amounts of debt. And who do they look to to save the franchise?

The Happy Mondays, who want to do their new album in Barbados.

Well, come on now. A sheep farmer in Tibet could've told you that wasn't a safe bet.

And it wasn't. The band wasted their recording advances on drugs and booze, all the members of the band wanted to go different directions musically, Bez got into a near-crippling car accident, but of course the cherry on top was that Shaun Ryder ultimately didn't record any vocals.

It wasn't really the right time to f*ck things up -- not just for Factory, but also for the Mondays themselves who had brought the Madchester empire crashing down with an NME interview in which, spurred mainly by comments from Mssr. Bez, they all came off like a bunch of gay-bashing thugs. The backlash was thunderous and if the Mondays were to stay afloat, they needed to make a great statement.

Factory had to shell out the last of what it had to get Ryder to record vocals for the album and when it was eventually released, it was viewed as a complete flop.

...Yes Please! wasn't half as exciting as their first three albums, and it certainly wasn't an album to bank both a career and a record label on, but therein lies what made Tony Wilson special. He did. No one else would've taken a chance on the Happy Mondays to begin with. He believed in them in enough to put his company in their careless hands. They f*cked him over, but he bore no regrets. In posterity, after all, it's an amazing story.

There are very few people like Tony Wilson in the music industry. There are even less now.

Happy Mondays - Stinkin' Thinkin'
This is the track that made me want to do a post on Tony. This isn't the Mondays' best track, and it's certainly a terrible choice for an album opener, but it's easily their most beautiful, and the only moment of pristine lucidity on ...Yes Please! Herewithin, Shaun Ryder, arguably one of the most boorish, unapologetic frontmen of all time... apologizes. Apologizes for everything. Is it to the NME readers that were offended by the gay-bashing interview? Is it to Tony Wilson for torpedoing Factory Records? Is it to his girlfriend? Is it to his bandmates? It's not ever really specified. And at the same time he's apologizing for his actions, he's also justifying them, implying that if he had to do it all over again just as is/was, he would. I think Tony would too.

And so would Icarus.

Belief is all.
Tony Wilson, 1950-2007


Friday, August 10, 2007

Now you know what to say.

I've mentioned my fanaticism with the Kinks and Ray Davies' songwriting before.

I was lucky enough to meet Davies in Chicago in 2001 and talk to him for a bit which is still one of the all time greatest moments of my life, but I had only gotten into the music of the band just two years earlier. Of course, as I do when I find something really like, I dove into it full stop and had the band's entire Pye catalog purchased, memorized and loved within two months.

Would you like to know where the obsession started?

Old Navy.

It's a good story.

I'd known "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" for most of my life, and while I'd always enjoyed those songs, I'd never heard anything past them and when I was started getting heavily into Paul Weller's music in the late 1990s, I kept reading interviews with him where he would reference how much Davies' songwriting had meant to him. I figured it might soon come time to buy a Kinks collection and find out what the guy was on about.

The summer of 1999, having turned 16 and in possession of both a driver's license and a car, meant that I also had to get a job. I found work at a local bookstore, and many of my friends were also scouring the nearby retailers for "now accepting applications" signs. Since I had a car, it meant that I gave a few of these friends rides to interviews. One girl I knew had an interview at some makeup dealy type store and as I wasn't really about to hang out in there for a half hour while she bullsh*tted about mascaras and the like, I headed down to the Old Navy located in the same strip mall to see if they had any cool cheap t-shirts on sale.

I don't think I bought one. Since it was midafternoon on a weekday, the store was pretty empty, and in the old days, Old Navy used to have these phone booths that you could listen to Old Navy compilation CDs in. The comps were actually pretty great, because they had a licensing agreement with Rhino Records which... say what you will about their marketing techniques, they've always had great stuff in their catalogue.

One comp you could listen to was called "Beach Party" and contained things like the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City," Jan & Dean's "Surf City," and lo and behold, the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon."

"Never heard that one," I thought to myself. "Let's see if it's any good."

I cued up "Sunny Afternoon" and listened. Right from the first descending guitar notes I was hooked. It was the most mesmerizing little piece of music, but Ray's lyrics and delivery are really what sold me. It was nothing like the other two Kinks songs I knew. It was laid back and beguiling as all hell. When it ended, I immediately hit repeat. And then again. And then again. And then again.

I listened to the song 10 times before Maggie came into the store looking for me and told me she'd got the job. I said I had better news and told her to listen. She wasn't half as impressed, which... whatever, she thought that Vanilla Ice movie "Cool as Ice" was enjoyable, so it's not the best barometer, but I was hooked. Every time I played it that afternoon, I loved it more.

There's a lot of subtle things in the lyrics that are absolutely genius, but none maybe more so than the second chorus when Ray sings: "Help me, help me, help me sail away // Well give me two good reasons why I oughta stay." The fact that he demands two blew me away. Everyone in the heat of an argument says "Give me one good reason," and if you ask for one, people are usually quick to snap back with one. Two is another thing still. That requires a bit more thought. It's still my favorite bit in the song.

But his casual dismissal of everything is great - taxation's taken all his money, the girl's run off with his car and is telling her parents about how he gets drunk and is a dick to her, and what of it? An ice cool beer and a sunny afternoon. Too f*cking right. I bought Face to Face two days later.

The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon

But did you know my own Steely Dan obsession also technically started at Old Navy? As I've mentioned before, I grew up with Steely Dan because my father was a massive fan and Aja, Katy Lied and Donald Fagen's The Nightfly were always in the tape deck on family road trips to Florida and back. For that reason, my sister and I came to quickly resent Donald and Walter -- something my sister still does to this day. But I shook those shackles loose another time when I had to drive my sister to Old Navy so she could return something she'd got for her birthday. I stood inside the store looking at some collared shirts when "Peg" came on over the store's soundsystem. It just sounded amazing. I'd been familiar with the song for years, but I'd never actually listened to it properly. Something about the horns, Michael McDonald's backing vocals, and Fagen's pleas to a starbound mistress mixed in with the smell of unworn fabrics really knocked me over the head. I rescinded my longstanding opinion of the band and started investigating their catalogue (including Aja, which I've already written about here) shortly thereafter.

Steely Dan - Peg

And just for one more song that I don't quite love as much as "Sunny Afternoon" or "Peg," nor the artist as much as I do the Kinks or Steely Dan, but this one will always remind me of Old Navy too...

M - Pop Muzik

It was another one that came blaring over the store's soundsystem one day and I just thought the guitar sounded amazing. I know it's a rather trite record and I don't know one other song in M's catalogue, much less the album this comes from, New York-London-Paris-Munich, but I do really like this song. Even though I couldn't listen to it 10 times straight. I can't even really listen to it twice in one day. But every now and again it's a nice surprise when I have my iPod set to "shuffle."

I haven't been to the store much in the past five or so years, but I have noticed the "listening booths" are long since gone. Sigh.

And you thought Old Navy was just good for a good price on clothes every now and then. Ha!

Have a good weekend all.

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