Friday, March 28, 2008

Sunshine. Moonlight. Good times.

So I'm a few days late on this, and even one more day late than I should be because I didn't blog yesterday (apologies), but maybe there are some of you out there that didn't see this.

Not that I like spending my time perusing celebrity blogs or the New York Times website, but good lord, the Jackson family's come to this?

Uh, WTF, dudes?

Marlon Jackson, 51, an original Jackson Five member who stocks shelves at a Vons supermarket in San Diego, had to temporarily move into an extended-stay hotel.

Randy Jackson, 46, does odd jobs, including fixing cars in a Los Angeles garage owned by a family friend. He recently claimed Michael was going to give him $1.7 million - "a pipe dream," said another brother last week.

Jackie Jackson, 56, the oldest and most debonair of the brothers, is struggling to manage his son Siggy's aspiring rap career after an Internet clothing business startup and attempts to produce music failed.

Jermaine Jackson, 54, shuttles back and forth from his girlfriend's home in Ventura County, Calif., to his parents' mansion in Encino, where Jackie and Randy still bunk.

Tito Jackson, 55, is the only brother still making music, but it's a meager living. The guitarist fronts a blues and jazz band that plays small venues and nets him $500 and $1,500 per occasional gig - a far cry from the days when the Jacksons could pull in 50,000 people at $30 a ticket.

And Michael, well... Michael's still weird. And now pictures of Neverland Ranch are starting to trickle out and give me nightmares (especially that front gate lithograph).

Now frankly, I don't really care about people's personal lives or "investigative reporting" of that ilk, but Jesus Christ, you got six brothers that managed to be one of the most popular acts of the 1970s, find their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and create a lasting legacy despite the fact that one of them got so ridiculously popular he naturally went bonkers (although... bonkers I think is still putting it too lightly).

How is it that not one of them managed to reach middle age on normal terms? And who says Jackie is the most debonair? I always felt the worst for Jackie, really. He was the oldest, but he just had to stand in the middle and and make sure Marlon followed his dance moves. I mean at least Tito and Jermaine got to hold instruments. And Jermaine got to sing lead once in awhile.

Personally, I blame that ridiculous stunt Michael pulled in 2001. Remember that BS? Only the richest people in America could see the show? And the reunited Jacksons only got to do 1:10 renditions of their hits?

And to make matters worse, they then had to share the stage with NSYNC?

Ridiculous. But think of it this way -- the average middle class citizen would've had to mortgage their house to see that show, but even the people who loathe Michael Jackson these days (Hi, my name's Paul...) will still vehemently defend the work of the Jackson 5. You do a proper tour, play the full songs, and at most charge $50, you'll sell out every arena in America. And be able to move out of your Mom and Dad's goddamned house.

But the question remains: WHAT is to blame for all this anyway? Michael's weirdness? Internet failings? Kids that wanna be rappers? Nah, come on you know better than that...

The Jacksons - Blame it on the Boogie

I know it's a cheap joke, but hey, it's Friday. Have a good weekend.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My friends say I'm acting peculiarly.

I never really minded Sheryl Crow that much.

I never bought Tuesday Night Music Club when it was apparently God's gift to music back in 1994, but it didn't matter as I was an avid MTV and VH1 watcher in those days and one single after another came crashing to the airwaves. I can still even get a little reminiscent if I hear the strains of "All I Wanna Do" in the right environment. Once in awhile...

But around the time of "Soak Up the Sun," I kind of lost interest and then this whole environmental crusade she's gone on -- while noble and all that, blah blah blah -- it just kind of made her seem a little more annoying. People can have their causes, but celebrities (especially musicians) often just come off as the temporarily trendy spokesmen for stuff you don't want to hear about. If it took Chris Martin to make you think about fair trade coffee, you know, I don't think we'd get along.

Anyway, Sheryl somehow managed to get a little more annoying by trumpeting news she wasn't supposed to let out to guarantee her spot as Christine McVie's replacement in an upcoming Fleetwood Mac tour. And now Lindsey Buckingham and his little guitar are a bit cheesed:

"I think we were all a little surprised (Crow) was announcing that to the world with such certainty," Buckingham told "We have talked about the possibility of bringing another woman into the scene to kind of give Stevie a sort of foil and shake it up a little bit. (Crow) was certainly a name that has come up. We'll have to see."

First off, between "The Dance" and an overlong "Behind the Music," VH1 virtually killed Fleetwood Mac for anyone with a passing interest in its oversaturation a few years back. Stevie Nicks hasn't sounded decent in ages and the last thing I can remember her doing is making a confusing cameo in the "Bootylicious" video (I know it sampled "Edge of Seventeen," but seriously, what the f*ck was that?). Mick seems like the old drunk at the wedding you sit around praying won't try to strike up conversation with you, and Lindsey, well... Lindsey seems like the kind of guy that would start a fight with you simply because he's lived his whole life with the name Lindsey.

Mick Fleetwood: "Sheryl?! Hooray!"

John I always respected, cos John just stands at the back and does his bit, but musically speaking, I always dug Christine's songs the most, so what's the point of going if she's not there? To hear Sheryl Crow lead Fleetwood Mac through "All I Wanna Do"? Come on, I don't like that song THAT much to begin with.

At least I'll always have Tango in the Night.

Fleetwood Mac - Everywhere
Like a Fleetwood Mac show would even be good without this song...


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Yeah, tight as you can.

Getting towards the end of the month which means it's time to finish off the last of the monthly series', The Fantastic 45s.

Today we take a look at just one of the 7-inchers that the young, fiery Ray Charles put out for Atlantic Records while simultaneously making the small label into a competitive market force and working in full throes of a heroin addiction. The drugs thing isn't that big of a deal, really -- God knows it's a common enough occurence in pretty much anyone (read: pretty much everyone) that's managed a hit record at some point in their career, but when you look at the history of music and those that dabbled in or succumbed to heroin and stack up their work next to that of Charles' while he was itching, it's pretty astounding. The guy maintained one hell of a work ethic throughout it, which couldn't be said for other musician junkies that followed.

The string of singles that Ray put together for Atlantic in the 1950s is still mindblowing -- obviously among the best single runs that any artist (The Beatles, The Smiths, the Kinks from 1966-1969) ever conjured, and when you look at how each one topped its predecessor, it's really no surprise that Ray was bound to head to the big leagues at ABC and be able to finesse a deal that meant he could control his own masters.

"The Right Time" came along toward the end of 1958, and if you have to find one Ray Charles song that everyone can agree on (although I'd say you should be able to find at least five), it's usually this one.

The Fantastic 45s

Ray Charles
"(Night Time Is) The Right Time" b/w "Tell All the World About You"
Atlantic, 1958

Ray Charles - (Night Time Is) The Right Time
Undoubtedly one of the sexiest and most soulful songs ever laid on wax, but you know that. Crazy passion from both Ray and lead Raelette Margie Hendricks... which the Jamie Foxx movie taught us wasn't just an act, either. Anyway, I also know you're reading this and waiting for the moment when I mention "The Cosby Show," so... here. Have done with it. What more could I say anyway?

Ray Charles - Tell All the World About You
A Ray Charles original that borrows its melody heavily from a song he (and others) already made famous, "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." Bit nitpicky to point it out, I suppose, as most great blues songs are essentially sideways versions of another great blues song -- plus it's not the point. It's a short, sweet song that gets right to you and makes you understand just why Ray Charles was so great. Put this song in pretty much anyone else's hands and it's fair. Put it in Ray's and it's downright stirring.

Both cuts can be found on the fantastic Atlantic collection, The Birth of Soul.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

I'm a foot without a sock without you.

Happy Monday, everyone.

An idea came to me last week. I've noticed a duality in artists' songs for a long time -- they'll say one thing in one song, but contradict that sentiment in another. I suppose songwriting (and other kinds of writing) offers that license -- you can be a character and assume different roles. Ray Davies did this to an extreme with Acts 1 & 2 of Preservation in the 1970s, but at least he did it under the conceit of "these are parts I'm playing." Other artists sometimes just change their minds.

That in mind, I decided it'd be fun to start another monthly series to join Vs., Fantasic 45s and the Friday Five to explore the duality of some songs -- It shall be called "Mixed Messages" and it shall start today.

Mixed Messages

Who's confusing us? Fran Healy of Travis
What about? Rocking (and the wanting to do it thereof)

Looking back on Travis' 1997 debut, Good Feeling, it's not really THAT much of a hardrocking affair, but certainly the energy and drive of the opening 1-2-3 punch of "All I Want To Do Is Rock," "U16 Girls" and "The Line is Fine" has not been matched on any of the four albums the Scotch quartet has released since. And given that Travis' definition of rocking now appears to be stealing an Iggy Pop beat and putting Fran's melancholic chord changes and voice on top (which isn't necessarily BAD, but...), it doesn't appear that it will ever be again.

The problem is that when Travis released its sophomore effort, 1999's mammoth The Man Who, everything changed. Fran got all reflective on his acoustic guitar (this started happening on the last third of Good Feeling), his choirboy voice was allowed to sing instead of yell, and "Writing to Reach You," "Driftwood," "Turn," "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" and "Slide Show" paved a wide path for the likes of Coldplay, whose American success made the college market all the more privy to the likes of John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and Howie Day.

So you kind of wanna say "f*ck you" to Travis for that, but you have to remember that Travis would've never made The Man Who if Radiohead hadn't made The Bends four years prior. And Radiohead wouldn't have made The Bends if Thom Yorke didn't develop a bit of a Jeff Buckley fascination. And Jeff Buckley's dead anyway, so you can't well say "f*ck you" to him (not that you would... cos he was awesome).

Anyway, the problem with The Man Who for Travis on a more immediately personal level is that it created such a swell for them, they decided to keep going back to the well which meant continual twee-cum-draggy-cum-emotional singles like "Flowers in the Window," "Closer" and "Re-Offender." Are they bad songs? Not entirely, no.

But they just remind you how quickly they lost their sneer. "All I Want To Do Is Rock" is primal -- it's not about musicianship, neat chord changes, or any kind of panache. It's more than that. It gets into you. It's not rocket science -- "All I want to do is rock" -- it's actually kind of an idiotic sentiment, but God help me if putting some big guitars and dumb drums behind it doesn't make you think it's close to gospel. Hell, even at the time, Noel Gallagher thought it was the dog's balls.

Maybe it's appropriate, then, that one of the B-sides to a Man Who single started point blank with Fran Healy singing "I don't wanna rock, baby."

Well, WTF, buddy? I can understand the need for a quiet night in now and again, but you're already on the record as saying ALL you want to do is rock. You can't go back on record and go "Nevermind." That's what the record is for. Physical, recorded proof.

Not that Fran ever had to tell us his yearning for rock had ceased. If you hadn't figured it out by the time "Luv" poured out of your speakers, you must've not been paying attention.

Pro-rocking: Travis - All I Want to Do is Rock
Anti-rocking: Travis - Village Man

So what does Fran want?
Anyone who's seen Travis live knows that sensitivity and affection for acoustic guitars aside, Travis still can rock. They just don't do it all the time. And records, sadly, live longer than gigs. So "ALL I want to do is rock?" Not so, it would seem.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

I was knee-high to a chicken when the love bug bit me.

Well, check your calendar. Spring is officially here.

I suppose it's funny (though it will take me a long time to truly appreciate the humor) that after a week of nice, 40-odd degree, sunny weather here in Madison that melted away almost all of the near-100 inches of snow the city accumulated in the last 4 months, the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the city starting at midnight tonight. By the end of the day tomorrow, we should be under a fresh seven inches. Fab. Just f*cking fabulous...

Nevertheless, the weather is expected to return to the sunny 40s Saturday, which means, that should all melt off really quickly and spring might yet come to town.

And as has been the tradition around these parts for the beginning of each season since last summer, I've got a mix for you!!!!

The rules with spring mixes? Simple.

1.) Avoid cliches. The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and "Good Day Sunshine" are too obvious. Great songs, but they don't belong on a spring mix. You're just killing room for surprise.

2.) Stay happy. We're getting out of a long, dark and cold rut. The sun's coming back out. Leaves and blossoms are threatening to grow. Rabbits are out. They're procreating. Humans should follow. Sunny melodies are a necessity, no season calls for perfect pop more. I was having a discussion with a great fella called Minty this past weekend about Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit. He said, "People knocked it, because it was all happy. But I was driving listening to it. It was spring, I had the sunroof open. It was perfect!" Exactly.

3.) Keep it short and sweet. Only two songs on this mix push past 4 minutes. Spring should be soundtracked by one sweet, quick hit after another.

And with that, dear readers, let's have it.

spring chicken.
The official "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." Spring 2008 mix.

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-10) from SaveFile here (left click to go to download page)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20) from SaveFile here (left click to go to download page)

01. Fiona Apple - Better Version of Me
While sweet little Fiona isn't necessarily known for bubbly optimism, this cut from the Jon Brion version of Extraordinary Machine is resolute and emphatic, and Brion's production (which apparently wasn’t up to snuff for the label) does add a lot of percolation to proceedings. It sounds like a mad carnival ride that makes you uncomfortable while you're on it, but it's still fun to be on. Then it ends really nicely and it makes you want to go again. In other words, a good opener.

02. Super Furry Animals - Hello Sunshine
A line like "In honesty, it's been awhile since we had reason left to smile" can really be applicable at any time of year, but when it's followed by "Hello sunshine, come into my life" it just seems all the more like the anthem needed to soundtrack all that snow melting away outside. A lot of SFA tracks would suffice, actually, and while this one runs the risk of being a tad cliché, screw it. It's just a f*cking great song, and hearing it again isn't gonna hurt anyone.

03. The Stills - Monsoon
This was recorded after the Montreal (now) quintet did their second album, Without Feathers, and although it never made it onto a B-side, it did find its way (as things do) onto the internet. Like the best Stills' songs, it aims high and even though it gets a bit loud and unruly at the end, by that time you're so engrossed anyway that you’re urging the madness on further. Probably would've been a decent holdover for album 3, but hey, in this day and age, who can wait?

04. The Ditty Bops - Ohh La La
I like these Los Angeles girls because every now and again they turn up a really stirring song that sounds like something you wish had been on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack if only for just a bit of easy pop sensibility. Of course, their first album came out a few years after that movie, so no such luck, but this cut from their self-titled debut works its way right into your bloodstream and has been known to cause involuntary foot tapping. And more than voluntary foot tapping, too.

05. The Kinks - Wonderboy
Ray Davies put yearning for a son into this 1968 single, and since God has a warped sense of humor, he bequeathed Ray with daughter after daughter after daughter over the next several years while his brother Dave fathered son after son after son. Still, his loss was our gain as it produced this fantastic song. A lot of people love it, of course, but the best story of its outstanding fantasticness is that of John Lennon, sitting in a British café in 1968 shortly after the song was released, and demanding it be played on the jukebox over and over and over again.

06. The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra - I've Gotta Be
Big Nick gets into a faux-reggae/ska groove with this badass cut from his yearlong 2005 experiment, "52 Reasons" (one new song a week, can you believe it?). Puts into words the exact insanity of head-over-heels love: "Please tell me dear what you want me to do – I'll rob a bank, even steal a plane, give you anything you want me to," but it's really that attempted falsetto the last time he sings "the bell you're ringin!" that drives this thing home. It sounds really great when he does it alone on his acoustic, too.

07. Ocean Colour Scene - Huckleberry Grove
One of the lads' ever fantastic Moseley Shoals-era B-sides, which tells the story of Shirley and the grove she used to inhabit so nicely that it sounds like it should be the beloved theme to a TV show. And rival the "Cheers" theme song in popularity. But maybe it's best that it didn't. It can be our little secret. But feel free to share it with your friends. They'll dig it. Oh, and the two handclaps after the "who mostly stayed at home" line totally make the song. I don’t know why. It’s just two claps...

08. T. Rex - Ride a White Swan
Marc Bolan had one of the great penchants for crafting a catchy song, all the big amps, big hair, glam rock BS aside. The ability to make such a wonderfully catchy song using just an electric guitar, handclaps, tambourine and backing harmonies is something a lot of people have tried, but few have pulled off. This one does, and doesn't even take two and a half minutes to do it. Perfect for highway driving on a sunny spring day. Say a few spells, and baby, there you go.

09. Tom Petty - Walls (Circus)
It's strange to think this song is 12 years old now, because it's really the last NEW thing Tom Petty did that just floored me. I liked "Free Girl Now" and "Square One," but there’s some spark missing from a lot of his stuff that's come out since 1996. Maybe it's age, maybe it's his added paunch, but he just doesn't seem capable of turning in a simple brilliant chorus like "You've got a heart so big it could crush this town" anymore. Ah well. We'll always have the She's the One soundtrack. Even Lindsey Buckingham's "I'm trying way too hard" backing vocals here don't kill the proceedings. It's all around joy.

10. Little Milton - You Colored My Blues Bright
Little Milton got a little more famous in the 1970s when he left the Chess subsidiary of Checker Records for more mainstream soul backing at Stax, but the stuff from his Checker days is really my favorite of his – the sound is a little fatter and though he always sang as though he had nothing to lose, it seemed all the more convincing on the Checker stuff. This was a single from 1967 and it kicks some formidable ass.

11. Isobel Campbell - The Cat's Pyjamas
From the former Belle & Sebastian whisper-voiced songstress' solo debut proper, Amorino. It's a lovely album that really sounds quite good any time of year, and it's continually surprising to see how well her understated voice jives with varying styles of music. Now she's all up for teaming it with the rusty tones of Mark Lanegan, but this quick slice of down home Dixie seems to work just as well. We'll have a few more of these, 'Bel.

12. Small Faces - Things Are Going to Get Better
It's hard to feel too bad when Steve Marriott's talking optimism. This song, a deep cut from the boys 1967 self-titled debut on Immediate Records, is like aural Prozac. It just lifts you right up, and that’s not just due to Marriott's vocal, but the fact that Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones are all quite happily bashing away on their instruments too. Jones in particular – any Who fan that questions Jones' ability with the sticks needs to listen to more of his Small Faces stuff. Seriously.

13. Nick Drake - Hazey Jane II
Everything that's happened to Nick Drake's music since some advertising dude decided to throw "Pink Moon" over a bunch of kids driving around in a Volkswagon Cabrio has had its good and bad effects. On one hand, the music deserves to be heard by a wide audience, but I get worried about all these new releases of scratchy demos and alternate takes. He only put out three albums. Each one was perfect. Why try to add to that kind of legacy? You can only subtract with addition. Regardless, for everyone who writes him off as a sad bastard, listen to Bryter Layter and this wonderfully sunny-while-dour bit. Belle and Sebastian's whole career is owed to this song, and "If songs were lines in a conversation, the situation would be fine" is unarguably the best closing line ever.

14. Stevie Wonder - I Was Made To Love Her
You can't have spring without a bit of Tamla-Motown in there somewhere, and sure as hellfire, young Stevie was going to find his way onto this mix. I don't know what I like best: the constantly upwinding chord progression, the driving beat, the all-over-the-place bass, the addition of strings to push the last verse over the top… no, it's the lyric "I was knee-high to chicken when the love bug bit me." Yeah, hey, hey, hey.

15. Louis Prima - Pennies From Heaven
A song to cheer you up during those predictable April showers, 'cos it's not all nice weather and blossoms, you know. This cut from 1957's Call of the Wildest borders (as many Prima songs do) on the verge of annoyance, but the reason it and the rest of them never get to be too much is because there was always genuine love and fun in his music. Try not to laugh at his building vocal challenge to sax player Sam Butera during the song's middle break. "I knew I'd get ya!"

16. Ambulance LTD - Country Gentleman
And this would be the song to soundtrack the April showers and make them all the more bearable. I know I've touched on this New York band on this blog before, but it always blows me away just how insanely good some of their songs are. This cut, from the "New English" EP is yet another example of that. And it's got a stunning set of lyrics to boot – few writers are turning out lines as unabashedly poetic as "So when you drive home, my loneliness is gonna be the distance behind you" these days. Needs to be recognized. And celebrated.

17. Burt Bacharach & Elvis Costello - I'll Never Fall in Love Again
I have a theory that Burt Bacharach only writes his music during spring. Think about it. It just makes sense. Even this depressing little "up yours" to love and all its romantic sentiments has such a sunny and breezy backing that it's hard not to want to grab your girl and do a little foxtrot around the room. Elvis adds a nice vocal to Burt's old standard, and in the process, adds one of the only tolerable moments to any Austin Powers sequel.

18. Kula Shaker - Avalonia
As big a Kula fan as I am, I really don't know what this song – a lovely B-side from 1999's "Mystical Machine Gun" single – actually means. Maybe it's not supposed to mean anything too grand, just a nice acoustic lullaby about moving forward with a bit of heavenly guidance. I'm not too religious, but for whatever reason, when Crispian Mills starts talking about angels or, in other songs, Hindu spirituality, I tend to listen up instead of knocking it. This little song's too pretty to ignore, anyway.

19. Bobby Darin - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
As if Americans didn't have enough fun rubbing Limeys' noses in the fact that their asses were saved in World War II, American crooners took this song about falling in love in London town and elevated it to American standard status. Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were just two big Yanks to make it their own, but as was often the case, if Bobby Darin got his hands on it, it wasn't going to get much cooler. He gives it a smooth reading on his 1962 album, Oh Look at Me Now! – right about the time when a bunch of British guitar groups were calculating their revenge by swiping American R&B for themselves.

20. The Doors - Moonlight Drive
It's actually the first song the Doors ever wrote, you know, but it didn't end up turning up until their second album. Strangely, it was never released as a single, which has always puzzled me as I always thought this was one of their coolest songs. It's more of a summer night driving song (durr), but I thought it would be the perfect closing here. Perfect song to drive you into summer.

Enjoy your spring!


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Man, this little girl is fine.

You ever simultaneously love and hate a song?

I have. I still do. Tommy Roe's "Sheila." Except I'd rather put hate first. I hate and love it.

By all accounts and measures, I shouldn't really hate it -- it's a great song. Early 1960s effortlessly catchy pop -- the kind of stuff that goes right for my heart and makes me a fan of admittedly lame stuff like "Sugar Shack" in spite of really stupid lyrics -- Roe's superfluous use of "doggone" not withstanding.

But it's such an obvious Buddy Holly impersonation. Everything from "Peggy Sue"'s rolling drumbeat to the hiccup and "aow haow haow"s.


I know I'm not the first one to notice it, but I remember thinking it right away when I first heard the song. I was about 12 years old and my family was driving back home from church. We listened to oldies radio a lot, and "Sheila" was on. I pointed to the radio and looked at my dad and said "That's a bad Buddy Holly impersonation." It pissed me off even then.

But thing is, it's not BAD. It's just obvious. It's like record execs have lived for two years without new Buddy Holly material and couldn't bear it. The irony, I suppose, is he had a stash full of apartment demos that had yet to be pushed out into the public -- apparently execs in those days were a bit more respectful about cashing in on the departed than they are today (e.g. Tupac's put out more albums dead than he did alive). You can almost see them pushing Roe to listen to lots of Holly before recording the song and a vocal coach on and trying to teach him the proper way to pull the Holly hiccup.

For whatever reason, the public seemingly couldn't bear life without Holly either and sent the song to #1 in 1962. Maybe Presley's army leave of absence had something to do with it, but while there are some real gems to be found in rock and roll between Holly's death and the Beatles' arrival on American shores 1964, it's really kind of tepid waters.

Tommy Roe - Sheila

After years of complainig about it/digging it, for the first time today I put this song on back to back with Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue." It is freakishly similar. Almost lawsuit worthy.

Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

You know where I've gone. I won't be coming back.

I can't prove it, because I've only been blogging for about a year and a half, but I remember the first time I saw a picture of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills together.

I thought, "She's no good."

I scoured Google images for the picture, which I remember vividly -- it was at some benefit and was long before they tied the knot and charged all that money for just one picture, but you could see it in her eyes.

You can see it in her eyes in a lot of pictures:

There's no earnestness in there. No sincerity. No wonder. They're cold. Empty. Sure, surrounded by a pretty (read: young) face, but if you don't got a good set of eyes in there, you're screwed.

A lot of fans and even his family went after Heather, because really, after Linda, it seemed like a slight. I'm not saying I was a huge fan of Linda -- I've heard stories about her own cunning cruelty, but more importantly, "Cook of the House" was a waste of perfectly good vinyl space on Wings at the Speed of Sound -- but at least there was sincerity (and wonder) in her eyes.

But she worked fine for Sir Paul at first. I was discussing it with my friend Umaar today, and he remarked that it made other rebound relationships pale in comparison. He was also a bit pissed about Mills' statement on the $48.6 million divorce settlement:

"I am very, very, very happy. I was always going to get between $40 and $60 million, but Sir Paul was offering much less than that. The judge said Paul was only worth $800 million, but everyone has known he has been worth $1.6 billion for the last 15 years. I wasn't allowed any access into any of our accounts, I was locked out of every home. I hope now that me and my daughter can have a life and not be followed every single day. Apart from one TV thing, I have kept silent for 21 months. I wanted to keep it private but he wanted it made public he always wants to look like he's generous Sir Paul."

First off, every interview I've read for the last two years, Macca's said nil-to-mum on any of the divorce stuff. Second off, whether the dude's worth $800 million, $1.6 billion, or Mars and Jupiter combined, who the f*ck is going to complain about $48.6 million!? I'd have divorced him for $2 million. Oh, alright, $200,000 and a Hot 'n' Ready from Little Caesars. But no less!

Problem is, Paul's gonna set himself up for this again and again. Were he even 20 years younger, it wouldn't be a problem, but age is finally taking it's toll on the cute Beatle and his bank account is his only surefire pickup line. And you've heard his songs. There's no way the guy's gonna live out the rest of his days alone. When you got that much in the bank, you don't have to settle for your daughter's friends' widowed mom. You can get yourself the pretty young blonde girls.

Just make sure the next one knows what "Get Back" is and who sang it, eh, Paul?

One of the only dudes to bring out some of Paul's darker and more brooding work was Elvis Costello, and the collaboration provided enough songs to fill one good album, although they opted to use them to pad out a few albums over a roughly 10-year period.

One of the more darkly beautiful ones was a track called "That Day is Done" which Paul was able to cull the title to his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt from. I don't think Macca's looking back in anger on any of what's transpired, but it still seems like an appropriate song for the day.

Paul McCartney - That Day is Done

And since I was a real jerk and didn't post yesterday, as a little bonus, here's Elvis taking lead on the song with the deep soul vocal stylings of the Fairfield Four from their 1997 album, I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray.

The Fairfield Four (feat. Elvis Costello) - That Day is Done

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Friday, March 14, 2008

And it's the end of everything that you've been told about decency, honesty...

Alright, alright, alright...

Well I hope you all enjoyed the series on A Northern Soul. Every time I do a series like that or "Fantastic 45s" et. al. I always get really excited about B-sides.

I've known I've gone on at length about the art of great B-sides here before, how they're these exquisite gems that feel like personal gifts from the artists to their truest fans that would only shell out for a song they already have just to get the song or two or three they couldn't get elsewhere. Some (read: a lot) of bands f*ck it up by stocking B-side space with uninteresting to downright pointless remixes or unnecessary live versions of songs, but when you get those really great songs that make you wonder why they weren't on an album, let alone, why they weren't an A-side themselves, that's when the payoff is big.

British bands are better at it than American bands -- there's still more of a concern about singles markets in the UK, and that's why you'll find bands releasing singles that aren't on albums and singles chock full of songs you can't get anywhere else. The Arctic Monkeys are the latest band to prove the value of the B-side (in my humblest of opinions, I think they're B-sides are actually FAR better than what's on either of their albums), but Oasis, the Stone Roses, the Smiths and the Jam before them all also stocked flip sides with amazing, quality tunes.

Some of these B-sides get famous -- indeed the Beatles kind of invented the art of the "Double A-side" with singles like "Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out," and there are also examples of songs intended to be B-sides that were accidentally played by label supervisors or radio disc jockeys and went on to become monster singles of their own -- the Stone Roses' "Fools Gold" and the Proclaimers' "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles" included.

For March's Friday Five I thought we'd take a look at five B-sides that never got "Fools Gold" or "500 Miles" fame but are just as good as practically anything else the band performing it ever released. These are the true hidden treasures. Come on, then, robustify your iTunes libraries...

The Friday Five

"To See How the Other Half Lives"
The truly great, but well-hidden B-sides

Belle & Sebastian - Meat and Potatoes
Those darling Scots that make up Belle and Sebastian are well known for their B-sides based so strongly on cementing their career with a run of non-album EPs that made their fans form a cult arguably more obsessive than Clay Aiken's "Claymates." Problem is that when they went to a bigger label in 2003 and started releasing singles from albums, less attention was paid to their B-sides. Then came the Push Barman to Open Old Wounds compilation, which gave major label backing to all those darling indie EPs that fans had spent so much time searching long and hard for. Seriously, when that was released, the collective gasp was deafening. Anyway, their B-sides of late are flying much further under the radar, but this hilarious one, from the recent "Funny Little Frog" single deserves a few spins. I'm reminded of Gareth Keenan from the (far superior) BBC version of The Office, who once said, "The thing about long term marriage is that inevitably, the sex suffers. You constantly have to find new and erotic ways of spicing things up in the bedroom." This ballad addresses that very touchy topic, and when things get rough, things get hilarious. I don't think the "She friggin' cracked me -- I got a nosebleed" lyric will ever get old.

Ocean Colour Scene - Men of Such Opinion
When Moseley Shoals shot these Brummies to the top of the UK charts in 1996, everyone took notice thanks to the stamps of approval from Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher. The band's singles from that album also feature an unending array of blindingly fantastic B-sides, which they cunningly compiled for the 1997 compilation B-sides, Seasides and Free Rides. And if it hadn't been released on a limited edition run, might've actually rivalled Moseley Shoals in terms of popularity. There was just one problem. Between releasing four singles, and a few limited edition versions of a couple singles with more completely different B-sides, there was too much material for a single disc. So just the best of the lot was taken and this bluesy groover, from the limited edition "You've Got it Bad" single criminally remained confined to a limited edition single that barely anyone got to hear. Thank Christ for this blog, eh?

Sleeper - Come On Come On
Despite Louise Wener's unbelievable hotness, America (rather perplexingly, considering it was the Jenny McCarthy/Pamela Anderson age and all) only had room in its heart for one Britpop babe, and Elastica's Justine Frischmann beat Louise to the punch. Sleeper never took off in America, but they put out three pretty good albums from 1995 to 1997. In Britain, they got to surf the wild Britpop wave, so when it came crashing to shore in 1997, no one really took notice of their final album, Pleased to Meet You. In itself that's kind of a shame, cos the album's just as good as their two others, but the real tragedy is that the album's lead single "She's a Good Girl" contained this gem on its B-side, which might just be Sleeper's best/sexiest-in-a-total-non-sexy-way song. I don't think Louise ever sang better. And that's not my massive crush on her speaking, either.

Small Faces - I Can't Dance With You
You have to go all the way back to the Small Faces' Decca days to find this track on the B-side of the "My Mind's Eye" 45. Astonishingly, barring The Decca Anthology, this song hasn't made any of the zillions of compilations released in the last 30 years that tried to illegally cash in on the Small Faces' great catalogue. Mac finesses his organ to a boil, Kenney pounds away on the drums, Ronnie goes mental on the bass, and Steve Marriott -- as always -- delivers a top rate, impassioned vocal explains why he can't dance with you, but could very well knock your socks off when it comes to romancing you. Despite the negative title, try NOT dancing to this one.

The Style Council - (When You) Call Me
Okay, okay, so that opening synthesizer bass line makes this song sound like it should be on some horrible TimeLife compilation like "It Came From the 80s Part II!" but like many Style Council songs that wear the dated production on their sleeves, this one also carries one hell of a little soul song underneath it. Anyone who's seen Paul Weller live recently knows how good of a song "Long Hot Summer" can be when you take away the synth beats and put in acoustic drums with a Fender Rhodes and fat bass line, and this song too could be a wonderful addition to Weller's live sets. Someone tell the Modfather. Or at least tell Steve Cradock to pass the message along. Lame instrumentation aside, this song actually is one of TSC's finest offerings bar none, so why Weller chose to hide it on a rare single pressing of "Come to Milton Keynes" is a head scratcher. To his credit, he did put it on the oddities compilation Here's Some That Got Away, but really -- who besides the Style Council obsessives were gonna buy that? And hey... I love the guy, and I love the band... but really... how many Style Council obsessives were there?

Have a great weekend, all.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

I guess it's time to feel the sun on our skin.

"A Northern Soul" week, part 4/4: "History"

Although A Northern Soul was released in July 1995 and found its way into the UK Top 20 based on the strength (if not the underrated success) of the two singles that trailed it and also the benefit of the Oasis Midas Touch (Noel Gallagher was a vocal supporter of the band and Liam showed up to offer his musical skills -- read: handclaps -- on "History"), the lack of dominating success on any chart front combined with excessive drug intake and a Herculean clash of egos between Richard Ashcroft and Nick McCabe led Ashcroft to disband the Verve within mere weeks of the album's release.

As Oasis' star rose to (for wont of a better term) supernova heights in the weeks thereafter, however, Ashcroft suddenly realized he might've made a bit of a mistake. Noel had written "Cast No Shadow" on the new Oasis album for Richard, and interest was returning to the lanky Wigan frontman in a big way. He had an album out, but now he didn't have the band to go out and cash in accolades or notoriety with. Whoops.

Ashcroft called the boys back together, and while Simon Jones and Pete Salisbury quickly returned to the fold, the quiet and introverted McCabe told his frontman in so many words where he could stick it. Offended by the snub, but determined not to let it rain on his parade, the Verve quickly enlisted the services of cast off Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to fill the hole, but after a few rehearsals, that experiment ended and so did the opportunity to cash in on the (relative) successes of A Northern Soul.

Broken but undeterred, Ashcroft called in Simon Tong to do some guitar work and the new Verve ducked away to write the material that would eventually come to comprise Urban Hymns. Eventually enough time passed for McCabe to swallow his anger (and maybe a bit of his pride) and return to make the Verve a five-piece, and when "Bitter Sweet Symphony" found its way onto radio and MTV in the summer of 1997, it sounded not only like a call to arms, but the perfect epitaph to Britpop and the backlash it was now bracing itself for. While the likes of Oasis, Blur and Pulp were sent reeling, the Verve and Radiohead took the rights to continue waving the Union Jack for popular music.

Then Ashcroft and McCabe fell out again after the ensuing promotional blitzes and touring.

Some things never change, which is why maybe we should ALL PAY ATTENTION if and when the new Verve album hits your friendly music dealer's shelves this year.

Anyway, back to the first breakup.

"History" was slated to be the first single released in the wake of A Northern Soul, but with the sudden breakup, and an obvious prospect of no promotion to push this or any subsequent singles further up the charts, the label duly issued a two-part single to empty the B-side vaults and cobbled together a video comprised mainly of castoff footage from their early videos to meet the music television needs. Commendably, but still rather perplexingly, they chose not to cash in on the aforementioned Oasis Midas Touch by crediting that Liam was on board clapping along. Sure, it's not really a credit worthy bit of tracking, but to ignore any Oasis connection in August 1995 was as independently prideful as it was marketing... er... ly stupid.

Appropriately, if only coincidentally, the sleeve for part one did carry a more-than-a-propos marquee:

The Verve - Back On My Feet Again
Along with "I See the Door," the finest B-side from the era. In the vein of "Drive You Home," it meanders for close to six minutes, but it keeps you locked in the whole time and makes the time seem to move by more quickly than it actually is. It also builds and builds to a triumphant climax and shows that when they wanted, the Verve could make you feel religion in their music. From the weary and defeated sounding verses to the backing calls of "Shine on!," this song still amazes 13 years on. To quote Liam Gallagher: "And it's a f*cking B-side. How top is that?"

The Verve - On Your Own (acoustic)
The slower, more mournful version that Ashcroft tends to play if he's on his own (not entirely like how Ocean Colour Scene's Simon Fowler always turns "The Circle" into a near-sleepy ballad at every opportunity). It doesn't skip along as nicely as the single version, but the piano accompaniment and Dickie's pained vocal give this version of a pretty wonderful feeling of its own.

The Verve - Monkey Magic (Brainstorm Mix)
A long, though I refuse to say "pointless" jam that I think Ashcroft, in spite of his own ego, felt inclined to allow McCabe every now and again, even if it only meant the last B-side on a four-track single. Nothing overly amazing, but then again, I'm not one for long and windy jams. Those of you who are, you're probably better suited to rate this.

The Verve - Grey Skies
A slower song, but instead of anchoring itself on an acoustic center, Ashcroft lets McCabe take the musical paintbrush, and though given an electric backing, this song sounds stunningly gorgeous. Johnny Marr once commented how he likes to see colors when he's listening to good music, and some bands are able to create vivid, multicolored pieces while others (like Oasis) tend to remain in a monochromed realm (namely, by Marr, "brown"). He didn't mention the Verve, but I'm always reminded when I listen to McCabe what sized palette this guy was working with. The great Verve songs can make you daydream. This is one of the great ones.

The Verve - Life's Not a Rehearsal
Rather jokingly titled as this sounds like a formative jam on what would eventually grow into one of A Northern Soul's funkiest moments, "Life's An Ocean." The final product is still a bit better (and was done to amazing effect by the reunited Verve 2 years later on Jools Holland), but this version's still cool and gives Simon's bass playing a bit more of a spotlight.

As mentioned before, the video isn't much, but... what are you gonna do? Get a split up band to spend a day sitting around together miming and pretending to like each other? Nah...

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Open your eyes and let me in.

"A Northern Soul" week, part 3/4: "On Your Own"

The Verve's second single to be drawn from A Northern Soul hit shelves just a month after "This is Music" had and a month prior to the album itself. While "This is Music" had stalled at #35, "On Your Own," which showed another completely new side to the band, didn't fare much better, only making it up to #28.

Chartly shortcomings aside, however, "On Your Own" remains one of the band's most endearing numbers and the first obvious cornerstone for the acoustic-driven pop rock that would dominate the band's return on Urban Hymns two years later. While usually performed at a slower and more mournful tempo live, the album version skipped a long at a decent trot with some Ringo-style stickwork by Pete Salisbury and gorgeous piano from Nick McCabe.

Given the fact that if Oasis had recorded the song and released it at the very same time the Verve had, it probably not only would've gone to #1, but also been hailed as complete genius probably got Ashcroft's goad a little, but in one of the very, very few television appearances the quickly disintegrating band did to promote the album or any of it's signals, they did do a nice live version on MTV Europe's 120 Minutes. The most impressive part has to be McCabe almost perfectly transposing his piano part onto his guitar.

The Verve - I See the Door
Certainly one of the best B-sides on offer from the era, "I See the Door" kind of expands on what "You and Me" from the previous single, and even "On Your Own" was doing by anchoring the band around an acoustic core. Ashcroft's always been more of a stream of consciousness writer than a guy who sits down and thinks about syllables and what would be the best rhyme for "lonely," but when he started spending more time on the acoustic, he started finding these little chord changes that made even the tritest things sound like the most important things you'd ever hear. Witness the "I have seen things that I can't explain" bit here. Sure, the song's probably 1 or 2 minutes too long, but when you stop and think about it, the only Verve song you'd ever complain about being too short is "On Your Own."

The Verve - Little Gem
Another acoustic-centered piece that falls a bit back into their trippier earlier feel, although astonishingly, this one checks out before it's even hit the four-minute mark. It's nothing that will make you stand up and take notice, but at the same time, it plays along in the background rather nicely without distracting the listener in anyway. I'm surprised it hasn't shown up in film soundtracks yet. Or maybe it has and I just haven't noticed.

The Verve - Dance On Your Bones
Not content to let this whole single go completely soft, the boys get back into a bit of a louder groove here, though still toned down from the bombast of "This is Music" and the like. Some parties have pointed out similarities at least musically to David Essex's "Rock On," but lyrically Richard's more interested in going on a bit about the devil and guns. Not typical Verve subject matter, but hey, no harm in a bit of dabbling now and again.

The video for the A-side was far more artsy than "This is Music," but to the point that I don't really get what it means. Just looks like a hazy, old English dream. Well, I suppose that makes sense, actually, as the song itself sounds like one.

Tommorow: The "History" singles.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

So knock on my door and let my world start turning.

"A Northern Soul" week, part 2/4: "This is Music"

"This is Music" was the public's first glimpse at what was ahead from the boys on A Northern Soul, released two months ahead of the album and -- like the album itself -- sounding a million miles from anything they'd done previously.

While a bassline only discernable to those with the knobs turned to the proper settings provided the track's intro it's really the strangling of the electric guitar by Nick McCabe that sets the song's pulse. McCabe had proved he could make a guitar sound throttled and angry before -- but the low-fi production of the band's debut A Storm in Heaven and its subsequent singles showed Nick to be more interested in ornamental textures then slashing away at power chords and riffs.

Richard upped his game lyrically, although still found space for his fallback/trademark calls of "Come on, come on, come on!," but the song's opening couplet, "I stand accused just like you, for being born without a silver spoon" was arguably the most forceful opening statement he had (and has) ever made, and although the single only managed to scale to #35 on the UK singles charts, the song firmly cemented itself in the band's live sets pretty much forever thereafter. And rightfully so. Winds you up on disc and in concert...

The Verve - Let the Damage Begin
This is a cool song that sounds closer to its brethren that actually made the album, but maybe the fact that this song fell a little more toward the looser jams that had defined the band prior to 1995 led the boys (or at least Owen Morris) to suggest it as a strong B-side option instead. Unsurprising, then, that it's the first B-side any of the album's singles offered up. 13 years later, the Verve have refused to give up on this song and though reworked, it's found its way back into the reunited band's live sets. Better learn the words now if you're going to be seeing them at Coachella or New York soon...

The Verve - You and Me
It was on the B-sides to A Northern Soul where Richard really started showing which way he wanted to go as a songwriter. While many of the acoustic driven B-sides on this album's singles were long and a tad rambling (lacking the cohesion and focus of, say, "On Your Own"), but there's still a drawing point to each one. Here it's the "It's you and me against the world, but the world is learning // so knock on my door and let my world start turning" couplet. Ashcroft would grow and enable himself to expound on those drawing points, and therefore make later songs like "Sonnet," "Space and Time," "So Sister" and "Never Wanna See You Cry" enjoyable all the way through.

The song's video wasn't anything too amazing or artsy, just the four of them performing with a few "ooh look what I can do" camera effects thrown in and a few random outside shots to balance things out. Is it just me or does Simon's bass look ridiculously huge?

Tomorrow: The "On Your Own" single

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Monday, March 10, 2008

How come change always seems to bring the rain?

It's been a long time since we did an "album and its singles" series here at Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen... (I think the last one was Be Here Now back in August). Probably time to get back on that horse, no?

Certainly one of the most exciting announcements made last year was that the Verve was reforming, and while "The Thaw Session" -- a long, meandering jam meant to clue fans into how they sounded -- was posted for awhile at, it was cool to hear once, but I'll be honest, it's nowhere near the 25 Most Played list in my iTunes.

The Wigan lads just announced that they'll be playing a few US shows soon, albeit conveniently located on southwest and northeast coasts of this country... 'cos Chicago would just be too easy to come to, wouldn't it? Grumble.

But I can forgive. Should EMI pull its collective head out of its ass this year, we just might have a new Verve album, and maybe a proper tour, but if nothing else, a new Verve album.

This week, I thought we'd take a look at their most underrated effort, but the album that defines the Verve for both the band and its most diehard fans, 1995's A Northern Soul.

The Verve
A Northern Soul
Hut/Virgin/Vernon Yard Recordings, 1995

01. A New Decade
02. This is Music
03. On Your Own
04. So It Goes
05. A Northern Soul
06. Brainstorm Interlude
07. Drive You Home
08. History
09. No Knock On My Door
10. Life's An Ocean
11. Stormy Clouds
12. Reprise

It's easy to look back at A Northern Soul now and think "what could have been!" but what you must remember is that most people (this author included) didn't pick up the album until two years after its release when "Bitter Sweet Symphony" hammered its way into all of our subconsciouses and Urban Hymns made us collectively wonder if they'd always been this good.

Indeed, the only ones thinking "what could have been" after A Northern Soul was released in July of 1995 were Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe, Simon Jones and Pete Salisbury. And the thought was so maddening that it led them to breakup before the album's third single had even hit store shelves.

From top to bottom, A Northern Soul is the perfect proper encapsulation of the Verve. Sure, aesthetically, Urban Hymns was far superior, but Urban Hymns (as much as I do love and regard it) is more of a Richard Ashcroft solo album with the Verve + Simon Tong as his session musicians. A Northern Soul strikes that balance between the lush acoustic balladeering ("On Your Own," "History") that woul define the 1997 Verve, and the trippy, offset jamming ("Brainstorm Interlude," "Life's an Ocean") that had defined the early 1990s Verve.

The middle ground found on this album was badass rock and roll. Cuts like "A New Decade," "This is Music," the title track and "No Knock On My Door" showed a brand new side of the Wigan foursome that hadn't been explored before -- songs that were pared down from the 8- or 9-minute jams they staked a name on, songs that sounded a lot more menacing than anything they'd done before (the guitar effect in the title track still sounds nightmare inducing to this day), but with lyrics that simultaneously defied and succumbed to their dark feels and spilled out like Psalms.

It's fitting, then, that the accompanying CD booklet contained no sets of lyrics, but rather a series of one- and two-liners pulled from each song's lyric sheet: "Give me your powders and pills, I wanna see if they cure my ills," "This bed ain't made, but it's filled full of hope, I got a skinful of dope," "There's a door," "So hop on the train, 'cos it kills the pain," etc. Personally I'm still blown away by lines like "These streets, these towns, they tie me down, I'm through with you," "Now I see my face in cardboard wall, nobody comes, nobody calls," "Life seems so obscene until it's over," and "A little light with you and me in it -- I know it's there, but I can't see it."

Obviously, the lads were dabbling in a few substances in the writing and recording of this album, and given it's sound, it's no surprise. Critics now often point to Oasis' 1997 behemoth Be Here Now as the apex of cocaine-fuelled overindulgence, but the devil's dandruff leaves its own aural touch in this album's chambers, too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both albums also shared a producer in Owen Morris.

But A Northern Soul succeeds where Be Here Now failed by balancing it's menacing moments with stripped down beauty ("On Your Own," "Drive You Home") and recognizing when it had to put on its regal robe ("History"). I don't think you'd find a lot of people that would argue that "Don't Go Away" off Be Here Now was a fantastically beautiful song, but even though it didn't hit you over the head and continue pounding you like "My Big Mouth," it still came on like a juggernaut.

The Verve, on the other hand, show that even in a coke- or ecstacy-fuelled glaze, they can still beguile you. Witness the back-to-back punch of "Drive You Home" (which makes six minutes seem like two) and "History" (which Noel Gallagher heard for the first time and exclaimed "F*ck me! Bastards!"). Both songs sound like an entirely different group that had been performing for the first half of the record, but not in a better or worse way, just different.

When the record went out in the summer of '95, they knew they had a winner on their hands. They just couldn't sell anybody else on it. People were too caught up in Britpop's inflating bubble to take note of serious and more heady music, and while plenty of people on the outside of the Britpop circle took pleasure in picking up the likes of A Northern Soul and Portishead's Dummy, the masses were too busy arguing the merits of "Roll With It" and "Country House," who was hotter, Louise Wener or Justine Frischmann, dropping the lyrics of "Common People" into any quasi-appropriate social situation and claiming they'd always been Mod after listening just once to Paul Weller's Stanley Road.

An ego the size of Richard Ashcroft's wasn't going to take not getting his proper notice very well, and that ego countered with the inward leanings of his prodiginous guitarist (and a bit of cocaine use just to spice things up, of course) soon set off a powder keg that ruined the band in a matter of a few weeks thereafter.

We all know how the story picked back up and dropped back off two and four years later, of course, and then picked back up again last year, but it's important to note what the Verve missed -- the summer of 1996. Think about it. The Verve's close alliance with Oasis. A tad more patience (and a TFI Friday appearance or two) and restraint on the boys' part and Knebworth could've easily been a double bill. After all, "History" was just as stirring as "Wonderwall" or "Don't Look Back in Anger"...

"What could've been!" eh?

Tomorrow: The "This is Music" single.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Make me do the James Brown every time I get on my feet.

I was having a conversation with my friend Kiki (who's probably still upset that I haven't done a proper Roy Orbison post yet), and we got onto discussions about our latest musical obsessions.

I conceded that there hasn't been a band or artist I've been particularly wrapped up with lately, but I did express that I'd been listening a lot to Linda Lyndell's 1969 single "What a Man" recently.

Almost too much, in fact. Like... to the point where I worry about the fact that I'm listening to "What a Man" so much (and enjoying it so much to boot), it might technically make me a chick.

"Yes," confirmed Kiki. "Yes it does."

Well, sh*t. My girlfriend might be alarmed.

I don't know what it is about women singing soul songs, but it gets into my bones. It's not a slight against other women artists -- lord knows I'll go to the ropes for the likes of Liz Phair, Natalie Merchant and Carole King, but none of them have me dancing around or singing along like Linda Lyndell does.

Yes, singing along to "What a Man." I know, it's kind of disturbing.

But what can you do? You can't fight a good soul song. And I suppose I could try to justify my jones for "What a Man" by saying that Dave Crawford, a DUDE, wrote it, but I thought I'd just go one better and post the damn song, and CHALLENGE YOU, male or female, not to dance and sing along. And I'd post a couple other female soul tracks to drive the point home.

Resistance is futile.

Linda Lyndell - What a Man
Salt N Pepa and En Vogue took this song to the next stratosphere in the 1990s and gave my cousin Amy reason to shout, "YOU SO CRAZY, I THINK I WANNA HAVE YOUR BABY!" at every possible juncture (appropriate or not), and while girls everywhere went mental for the song, I don't think it grooves half as well as the original. Maybe because the original features an organ, a fat bass line and a great understated guitar lick, and was put out on Volt, the subsidiary of the mother of all Soul labels, Stax. I also appreciate the fact that this version doesn't set really high standards (obvious that it was written by a dude) for a girl to be singing her man's praises. Salt N Pepa just set the bar too damn high -- "A body like Arnold with a Denzel face... He's smart like a doctor with a real good rep... He always got a gift for me everytime I see him... From seven to seven he's got me open like 7-Eleven... With him I'm never losin', and he knows that my name is not Susan..." I mean, JESUS CHRIST. That's a tall friggin' order! And you slip up on a name once, you know... it was a MISTAKE, alright?! I was tired! Anyway, Linda here is happy with the fact alone that her man can do the Funky Broadway, and a couple other dances. That's enough reason to sing, "what a mighty good man!" See, she knows where it's at. That's what I'm talking about. I can dance. Ain't that enough? Plus her backing band grooves WAYYY funkier. Linda, you so crazy... Pick this up on one of the greatest compilations of all time, Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration.

Betty Wright - Clean Up Woman
When Betty wasn't calling Allen Toussaint asking what the hell "Shoorah!" meant, she was singing heartbreaking tales like losing her man to a babysitter or a "clean up woman" as demonstrated here. What can I say? Some dudes are fickle, and I'm not going to sit around making excuses for 'em, but you tell your story with a funky little backing track here and I'll sympathize, sister. I'll even dance around a bit. From her album I Love the Way You Love.

The Supremes - Come See About Me
Sometime around when I became a teenager, my mother stopped listening to modern radio and started listening to oldies radio all the time. This was fine -- it helped formulate my own tastes, but it harvested a huge resentment for the Supremes in me. I don't know why -- Diana Ross kind of irks me and the fact that she kind of, er... "slid" her way into the lead singer spot despite the fact that she wasn't the best voice in the group. I don't know, I'd rather listen to Martha and the Vandellas anyway, but this song is the one that I'll always forgive the Supremes for. Supremely (no pun intended) amazing song that works in that Motown pocket like nuts. Basically, if this doesn't make you want to move around a little, you have to be dead. That's all there is it to it. This beat and guitar lick is irresistable. And that "crying baby for you" bridge, good God... From Where Did Our Love Go?

Have a good weekend, all. Feel free dance around and sing along to these. A lot. I don't want to be alone...

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Head to my feet.

One of the (many) great things about Paul Weller is that he doesn't mind giving his fans some pretty indepth looks into his musical vaults.

This has been most recently shown on the Deluxe Edition rereleases of his seminal 1990s albums Wild Wood and Stanley Road, wherein a slew of demos, studio covers and jams were compiled to comprise the bonus discs that came with the albums, and the B-sides for the albums singles were again made available to US buyers that hadn't already picked them up on the fantastic 2003 box set, Fly on the Wall.

It's not just his solo career that he doesn't mind casting full light on, either -- the 1997 Jam boxset, Direction, Reaction, Creation contained a whole disc full of demos, rarities, alternate versions and covers done with no intent of ever formally seeing release, and while the Style Council box set that followed shortly thereafter, The Complete Adventures, didn't take as voyeuristic a look into studio noodling, it did offer up Modernism: A New Decade -- the album that Polydor rejected and effectively ended one of the most endearingly contrary groups of the 1980s.

Even in the Style Council days, Weller wasn't averse to doing covers, and it's something he remains fond of to this day (see the not-blindingly-amazing-but-still-underrated 2004 record Studio 150) and Disc 3 of Fly on the Wall, Button Downs (a clever play on David Bowie's covers album, Pin Ups, for all of you keeping score). But even though he lives by the creed that he won't "properly" release his own versions of songs he loves that can't possibly be bettered (e.g. the Small Faces' "Autumn Stone"), it wouldn't be at all surprising to see such treasures pop on Deluxe Edition bonus discs in the future.

Hell, Weller's been noodling around with favorites since his earliest days. Here are four of the best rarities that Direction, Reaction, Creation had to offer -- all Paul Weller taking stabs at his favorites.

The Jam - Rain
While this and all the other covers listed today are attributed to the Jam, they're actually Weller on his own, taking a bit of studio time to sort out his own muses. You can tell from the drumming and bass playing here that Buckler and Foxton aren't involved, as they likely wouldn't have been able to recreate Ringo Starr's and Paul McCartney's indescribably amazing rhythm section from the Beatles' original, but they might've been a little more mobile than what's on display here. Obviously, Weller was a fan of the Fabs' 1966 output at the time, as "Start!" pinched "Taxman"'s bass riff and the Jam also did a cover of "And Your Bird Can Sing" that would later show up on Extras.

The Jam - Dead End Street
Weller's long been a huge fan of Ray Davies, and besides the Jam having covered "David Watts" for their 1978 album All Mod Cons, Weller still rates the Kinks' run of singles from 1966-1968 (which would include "Dead End Street" -- featured already in this blog's Fantastic 45's series) as unparalleled by anyone else in music. It's not half as forceful as the Kinks original, but Weller's voice does suit it. A proper version might've been nice... someone organize another Kinks tribute album and give him and excuse to do it.

The Jam - Stand By Me
I got this feeling about "Stand By Me" that it's kind of like "Come As You Are" -- if you're a budding guitarist and you figure out that bass riff, you kind of feel inclined to do your own version of the song. Maybe that's what happened here, but just as likely, old soul fan Weller wanted to make his own go at the song Ben E. King made famous. Not even as good as John Lennon's overproduced version, but still decent.

The Jam - Every Little Bit Hurts
It blew me away how well this song -- a stone cold soul classic made most famous by Brenda Holloway -- works with just Weller plodding away on piano and acoustic guitar, but maybe taking a hint from his heroes' the Small Faces' version, it works well in its simplicity, even if Weller's voice (here, at least) doesn't reach the fervor that Holloway's or Marriott's had. Then again, they both recorded it properly...

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

He might be thrilling, baby, but my love's so doggone willing.

I have a general rule about reposting songs. Don't do it.

It's kind of a disservice to people who read the blog everyday, but then again, this blog has obtained loads of new readers in the last year, and some of them might of missed out.

I wrote about Steam and this song last year at greater length and with much more humor, so you can go back and check that out.

But given today's fantastic news -- news I and plenty of other Bears fans have waited FAR too long for -- there's only one song that seems appropriate. Aside from the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's "Messiah."

A.K.A. Bane of my existence.


Monday, March 03, 2008

I'm speeding by the place that I met you for the 97th time tonight.

Alright, kiddies.

Welcome to yet another new month -- fresh snow had fallen on Madison when I woke up this morning (who'da thunk it?) and what better way to start the month off than by forgetting about the snow (or at least trying) and indulging in that esteemed monthly series we run here, Vs.!

Today we pit against one of the late 1990s finest pop tunesmiths against two of the early 1980s finest pop tunesmiths... and Todd Rundgren, who I'm still not entirely sure how he managed to show up.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone with a BAD thing to say about Gregg Alexander, save for Marilyn Manson, who threatened to crack his "f*cking skull" open for listing him in the same breath as Courtney Love in the New Radicals' 1998 hit "You Get What You Give" -- but even that song earned Alexander such ridiculous amounts of respect (Ice-T listed it eight years later as the only thing he'd heard outside the rap genre that made him take any kind of notice) that it was hard to hold a grudge for too long.

"You Get What You Give" was a fine song by any standards, and other cuts from the New Radicals' 1998 album Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too should've done their part to cement Alexander's status as one of the elite pop songwriters America had on offer, but the fact of the matter was the album -- while containing many bona fide gems -- was a bit of a let down as a whole, and Alexander's own contrary temperment and aversion to the tenants of pop stardom sank the New Radicals almost as quickly as he'd started them.

One wonders why, if the game of pop stardom is so ridiculous and all, Alexander chose to sign with a major label for his little pop experiment... did he really NOT think a coheadlining tour with Sugar Ray was inevitable? How cute if he did...

But if nothing else, it relegated Alexander to a position he was more comfortable in -- that of a songwriter and producer, and while he hasn't since written anything that reached the same fever pitch as a "You Get What You Give," he has been on a few bona fide successes in the last decade.

Still, nostalgia for Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too runs high around music message boards these days, no?

The album's finest cut was it's centerpiece, the tender "Someday We'll Know" that has since uncomfortably been pushed into that realm of oversappy love song (it kind of was anyway, but Alexander's voice did lend an indescribable youthful credibility to proceedings), not at all helped by the likes of Mandy Moore tackling it for soundtracking high school melodramas like "A Walk to Remember."

Nor was the song more blatantly pushed into "oh no..." adult contemporary, MOR status than when Daryl Hall and (now moustache-less) John Oates decided to tackle it as one-by-the-kids-for-the-grownups on their 2003 er... comeback?... album Do It For Love. Let's not kid ourselves -- the album was much more successful than it ever should've been, helped in no small part by Delilah-friendly tracks like the title cut and "Forever For You," which my roommate at the time dismissed as "something they'd play as a slow dance at prom... but one that you'd get stuck dancing to with a girl you don't really wanna dance with in the first place. It'd just go on... and on..."

How Todd Rundgren helps proceedings is beyond me, and how this song managed to be steered into such ridiculously cheesy waters is still a conundrum. Centered on three chords, and driven by an acoustic guitar, this song was written by the standard rules that anybody should be able to do a good job covering it, but this is one of the strange cases where all the cover versions that have surfaced since have made the New Radicals' original seem that much stronger.

No small feat considering I even thought the original walked that cheese-line a little too finely. Then again, maybe that's why Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too sentimentality runs so high these days. But even then, it wasn't that great of a song -- asking Titanic-themed questions in 1998 was overkill by any stretch, and Alexander's aversion to MCA and making music videos made the video for the track (which he did in his dumb bucket hat only out of spite, apparently) easily worth changing the channel on.

It wasn't near as fun or call-to-arms-esque as "You Get What You Give," but people who'd listened closely to Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too knew that anyway.

Damned if some terrible cover versions don't make you look back at it with rose-tinted shades, though eh? And why change the line about Amelia Earhart? I mean come on John and Daryl... I love "Private Eyes," but this... this is inexcusable.

New Radicals Vs. Hall & Oates (and Todd Rundgren for some reason)
"Someday We'll Know"

New Radicals - Someday We'll Know

Hall & Oates (feat. Todd Rundgren) - Someday We'll Know

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