Monday, June 30, 2008

Dorothy was right, though.

It's Monday and I'm posting. You know what that means ...

The Get You Goin' Track

Arctic Monkeys - Old Yellow Bricks

Admittedly I've been listening to a lot of the Last Shadow Puppets recently and admittedly I'm a bigger fan of the Arctics' B-side material than I am of their album cuts, but this pounder from last year's Favourite Worst Nightmare is easily among their very best work. I think Turner works well against the lush '60s Bond-style arrangements the Last Shadow Puppets staked their debut on, but his voice is also a perfect fit for these tracks which runneth over with immediacy. Sure, it's a Franz Ferdinand-esque call to arms and while it's hard to call it fantastically original, the fact that it's such a pulsating call to arms to go back home once in awhile always strikes me as entertaining. Of course, maybe it makes your Monday at the office that much longer. C'est la vie.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

How does it feel?

Bob Dylan UnderCover
Case 6, The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones - Like a Rolling Stone

While it probably should've seemed like an inevitability, it took the Rolling Stones almost 30 years to get around to covering arguably Dylan's most lasting song which (incidentally) bears their moniker.

Perhaps a little self-conscious about it (notice how Keef closes proceedings with a near-sarcastic "Thank you, Bob"), it also stands to reason that the band never took it up, because they'd have been much more interested in covering a Muddy Waters tune anyway. Sure, Woody and Keef have graced the stage with Bob, but even when Bob went into his "Judas" period in the mid 1960s, there was still a tangible distance between his music and that of the stock of British artists that either claimed to love him (Beatles) or hardly give a rat's ass (Kinks).

Still, with one of the most audible grains of salt ever committed to acetate, the boys plugged a live rendering of the song into their 1995 album Stripped, a collection of live cuts and acoustic readings. The strength of the Stones' reading of the song (despite omitting the "frowns on the jugglers and clowns" verse) didn't go unnoticed by the honchos at Virgin, who put the song out as a single and used it to propel Stripped to a #9 position in both the US and UK. In the UK, the single climbed to #12, the highest charting single the Stones had at home during the decade.

And as it stands, it's a pretty damn good cover. Going down to employing the trademark organ, the Stones get right to the heart of the song's shambolic glory, even if Mick doesn't hit the subject matter with same knowing smirk as Dylan did on Highway 61 Revisited. Still, there's a lot of reverence here, and the genuine feel paid off. It's not better than Dylan's, but of the countless covers of the song, it's right up there among the very best.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And wash it down with cool, clear soul. Uh huh.

To this day, there's a sense of guilt whenever my eyes fall upon the "Ringo Starr" section at a music store.

I'm a Beatles nut. Have been since the age of 10, but there's this thing about Ringo albums -- even down to their ridiculous cover art -- that make you inherently doubt the album's worth your $15 before you even look on the back cover to see what songs are on it.

Sure, he might have the other Beatles show up on it, or any host of friends from Harry Nilsson to Billy Preston to Tom Petty or Eric Clapton on board too (seriously, the guest list for his solo albums is actually kind of ridiculous -- did you know Brian f*cking Wilson was on Vertical Man?), but at the end of the day, it's a Ringo album, and it was preconditioned from the Beatles days -- Sure, Revolver's a great album, but what's Ringo's track on it? People so easily forget the drumming on "She Said She Said" and always just equate Ringo and Revolver with "Yellow Submarine."

And frankly, he never did much to shake that reputation in his solo years. Ringo is Ringo -- his albums are going to have a party atmosphere, include a bunch of big names, carry off his fun personality and however good natured proceedings may be, make you wish you'd put on Imagine, Band on the Run or All Things Must Pass instead. Just the way it is.

So while even hardcore Beatle fans will cast a critical eye on the person that actually ventures to purchase Ringo the 4th, perhaps there is something to be said for taking a big old grain of salt when you throw the record on your turntable and give it a chance. You're not going to get Sgt. Pepper, but did you really think you would?

Ringo released seven albums in the 1970s, only two of which (Ringo and Goodnight Vienna) provided any resonance, and today we take a look at one of the other five that always gets overlooked. Maybe it's not unfair, but if you've made an effort to ignore it, you also might have missed out on a little bit of fun.

Ringo Starr
Ringo's Rotogravure
Polydor/Atlantic, 1976
01. A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll
02. Hey Baby
03. Pure Gold
04. Cryin'
05. You Don't Know Me At All
06. Cookin' (In the Kitchen of Love)
07. I'll Still Love You
08. This Be Called a Song
09. Las Brisas
10. Lady Gaye
11. Spooky Weirdness

First off, let me admit this: I never bought this album. This is one of the many I saw in the Ringo section over the years that the cover alone put me off. It's not a BAD cover (I actually like the black and white with a bit of purple -- good coloring), but it just screams, "In no way is this record going to astound you." Not that I'd expect to be astounded by a Ringo record, but ... if you're putting that right up front, why drop the money?

My acquisition of the album came when I was about 14 and mowing some guy's lawn down the block from where my family lived. He knew of my rabid Beatle fandom, and as he was getting rid of a load of old LPs, one day with my payment he bequeathed a bunch of solo Beatle records upon me. This was in the stack. It took awhile for me to get around to putting it on the turntable, but one Saturday, I was either really bored or really adventurous and thought "What the hell?"

On paper, there's really no reason why Ringo's Rotogravure is an album people either never bought or don't even know about. 1976, after all, was a good year for Beatledom. Even though John Lennon had gone into his five-year househusband sabbatical, Paul McCartney was living large with the Wings Over America tour and George Harrison was turning up on "Saturday Night Live."

The Beatles were finally done with their EMI contracts, and Ringo, coming off the back of the two 1970s album that everybody remembers, found himself as a hotter commodity than maybe he should have. Labels weren't expecting magic from Mr. Starkey, of course, but with the Ringo album proving the Beatles could still be technically reunited on one album -- that being one of Ringo's -- it was hard to say "not interested." No one wanted to be like that guy at Decca all those years earlier, you know ...

So Ringo enlisted with Polydor at home and signed on with Atlantic Records for US distribution, and before you knew it, he was in the studio with hot shot producer Arif Mardin ready to make a big, fresh new statement.

And what did he decide to do with this opportunity? The same goddamned thing he'd done on his last two albums. Call up all your big name friends and have a party. Now, understandably, this had worked twice before, so why change it? Hell, if that "third time's a charm" statement is really true, the rewards on this one would be outstanding.

Rotogravure is filled with clout. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all contributed songs, and Lennon and McCartney actually showed up for sessions. Peter Frampton, Jesse Ed Davis, Klaus Voorman, Dr. John, Harry Nilsson and Eric Clapton also offered their skills. The problem is EVERYBODY adapted that "We'll give him 'Yellow Submarine' and keep the good stuff for ourselves" mindset.

This is kind of disappointing, especially from Lennon, who'd developed a knack for writing songs Ringo could knock out of the park. Both "I'm the Greatest" and "Goodnight Vienna" were tailor made for Ringo's few musical charms, but his contribution here, "Cookin' (In the Kitchen of Love)" was another upbeat piano number that lacked the hook and punch of the former two. It should be noted, however, that this was the last time Lennon set foot in a studio for four years before going back to work on the Double Fantasy album.

McCartney had been giving Ringo schmaltz like "Six O'Clock," so "Pure Gold" doesn't come off as much of a surprise, another silly love song that he might not have even considered worthy of a Wings B-side. Harrison's "I'll Still Love You" is better, but it was also a song sitting around for six years before either he or Ringo decided to do anything with it, and say what you will about "Pure Gold," but at least Macca showed up to offer some backing vocals. Harrison never showed up.

Clapton contributes "This Be a Song" which is about innane as the title indicates. It has a nice faux-calypso hook, but is too silly to ever take seriously and categorically unsurprising that Clapton didn't choose to keep it for himself.

So as far as originals go, Ringo's left to fend for himself otherwise, and while "Lady Gaye" is actually pretty impressive for a Ringo song (LOVE that middle "take a leaf from her book" bit), "Las Brisas" and "Cryin'" ... not so much.

The strength of the album then, has to lie in its three covers: "A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll," "Hey Baby" and "You Don't Know Me At All." Considering Ringo's country proclivity, his tackling of "You Don't Know Me At All" is unsurprising, but it's also pretty cornball. Once Ray Charles does a song, you know ... it's kind of pointless to try your own hand.

The album's opening one-two punch of "Dose" and "Hey Baby," however, ultimately provides Rotogravure's saving grace. On these two tracks, it sounds like a party, but one you WANT to be at and as such, Ringo's never sounded more self-assured -- even on his better albums. Even Peter Frampton's talkboxy guitar on "Dose" doesn't f*ck things up.

Maybe it's the copious amounts of backing vocals, the spirit or that "uh huh" after the "wash it down with cool, clear soul" lyric, but I firmly contend that "A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll" is one of Ringo's finest hidden treasures.

What's more, his cover of Bruce Channel's "Hey Baby" is also fun enough to rival (if not better ... commence argument) the original. Sure, it sounds like a big, dumb Ringo song, but it also sounds fun as hell and listen to Ringo growl "Hey baby!" and "Let me hear you one more time!" toward the end with all the reserve of a French guy dining at a cafe full of American exchange students. The last time THAT was heard was when he bellowed "I'm the greatest, and you better believe it, baby." And admit it, you liked that. Ringo deserves the spotlight once in awhile, and he makes a good case for it now and again.

Despite this handful of charms, Rotogravure quickly slipped into oblivion (if not irrelevence) and has long since been forgotten by the masses. To date, there's still be no issuance of this album on CD in the United Kingdom. On the whole, it's not a huge loss, but it seems ridiculously unfair to me that people can go out and buy Ringo Rama and remain completely unaware that "A Dose of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Hey Baby" exist somewhere.

I mean, the guy's a goof, but let's not really have "Missouri Loves Company" wave the flag for his reputation.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In the meantime, let me tell you that I love you.

I know, I know. I missed Monday. I'm slacking, right? Nothing to do with me being busy. At all. I'm sure ...

The month is quickly coming to a close, and if you believe it or not, I've actually got some good ideas for posts over the next few days. So with that in mind, I think it's best we get to the last of our monthly series 'round these parts, the ever popular (if seldom commented upon) Fantastic 45's!

Today we take a 7-incher from the original king of Nevada swing (by way of New Orleans), Mr. Louis Prima.

Louis' career hit its apex in the late 1950s, and while his most popular tunes would later become more popular by the likes of David Lee Roth and Brian Setzer, his originals still carry a hell of a wallop and while many can't take more than a few songs by Prima before they start getting a little annoyed, I'm one of the dudes that could happily soundtrack an all nighter with Louis. "Angelina" alone, I mean ... come on!

Today we look at one of his standard ballads and a rather kitschy B-side.

The Fantastic 45's

Louis Prima
"Buona Sera" b/w "Beep! Beep!"
Capitol, 1958

Louis Prima - Buona Sera
Louis never delivered the Italian songs like Dean Martin -- Dean was always a bit more smooth and drippy, while Prima always came off as a bit more shifty and "let's see if you'll get what I say if I say it real fast." If I knew Italian better, I might double check some of his songs for profane suggestions, but I doubt there'd be any to find in this tender little number. This song's a bit out of character for Louis -- he just didn't have the persona to turn over ballads like this, and thankfully in the middle he realizes and lets his band go a bit, but the song's not without its charms, either. It just might have been better handled in Deano's hands.

Louis Prima - Beep! Beep!
This song is absolutely ridiculous, and I love every second of it. Undoubtedly cashing in on the space talk that went hand in hand with the launch of Sputnik and all that crazy, out of this world jive, Prima steps up to the mic to deliver the tale of an interstellar romance. Let's face it -- everything about this song, from the ridiculous sound effects to the rather lame translations (or at least possible translations) as to what the headache inducing beeping could mean, is outright lame and cornball, but because of Prima's "Hey, what the hell, we can have fun with this" attitude, it rocks. It's not the best song he ever did, but it'll make you smile.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

All inside your file, the good and the bad.

As a nation gears itself to see Heath Ledger's final (full) performance when "The Dark Knight" hits theaters next month (okay, so a lot of people would've seen the movie anyway, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking there won't be a morbid curiosity group checking it out), it's now more apparent than ever -- death sells.

It's been a known commodity in the music business for sometime now, especially in the rap world, where I *believe* Tupac has been more prolific since being murdered than he was in his lifetime. The Beatles weren't the first artists to salvage unused demos to produce new material, but the fact that the Beatles did it, like always, made it mainstream, en vogue and highly lucrative.

Indeed, if you read any musician's obituary and it contains the phrase "working on an album at the time of his death," the reader should never think, "What a shame that we won't get to hear that music." They should expect a new album within six months. Hell, even Nick Drake, dead for 34 years, has been releasing new material in the last few years. In today's day and age, it seems, no offhanded demo recording is ever going to remain unclean and unreleased.

For this month's Friday Five, we look at five of the nicer songs to be released by an artist after their time on Earth had expired.

The Friday Five

Dancing Beyond the Grave: Posthumous Pop

Brian Wilson (feat. Carl Wilson) - Soul Searchin'
Alright, alright, Brian's not dead, but since his brother Carl, who succumbed to the effects of lung cancer in 1998, takes lead vocal on this song, it counts. "Soul Searchin'" was a song that Brian wrote for the Beach Boys in 1996 and while Beach Boys attempts at the song have flooded out in bootleg form, no official version was ever let go. Wilson also handed the song over to soul legend Solomon Burke who did his own version of it on his 2002 album, Don't Give Up on Me. But still in possession of tapes with Carl's voice, Brian decided to give his deceased sibling one last good airing as a part of his semi-disastrous Gettin' In Over My Head album. It's kind of a slipshod record in whole -- Brian insisted on doing all the vocal harmonies himself, and while that's not a bad idea on paper, the fact that his voice today isn't that of his in 1966 or so kind of mired things. Thankfully, Carl's voice aged like a fine wine and "Soul Searchin'" proved to be one of the very, very few highlights of the album. Then, thankfully, Brian released SMiLE and everyone forgot about this album.

Elliott Smith - Coast To Coast
Debate as to whether From a Basement on the Hill should have ever even been released steamed on among Elliott's friends and fans following his suicide in 2003. He was working on a double album, but was having disputes with his label about it -- he'd already burnt away previous attempts at the album (including one with Jon Brion, with whom he had a falling out in 2001), and much of the last few years of his life were spent in a bit of a drug-addled mess. When the album was released with 15 tracks on a single disc in 2004, it sounded quite bleak, but... it probably would've if he were alive anyway. Those that worked on mixing the tracks after he'd died insisted little to nothing was added to what Elliott had left behind -- they were just mixed and cleaned up for release. Who knows if this is what he'd have wanted, but I love this opening song and the cryptic message to his fans, family and maybe those left to work on the album -- "If you can't help it, then just leave it alone. Leave me alone. Yeah, just forget it."

George Harrison - Rising Sun
It was George who noted when the Beatles were working on "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" in the mid-90s that he hoped someone would do the same to his crap demos when he died -- turn them into hit songs. Obviously, it was likely said in George's typical dry humor, but George had been working on a proper album prior to his 2001 death, and old buddy Jeff Lynne and George's son Dhani stepped up to finish off all the tracks for a suitable 2003 release, Brainwashed. This isn't the album's finest moment, but it may be one of its most regal, as George's basic guitar, vocal and ukulele tracks not only got full on accentuation, but also a bit of orchestration to boot. The fact that Brainwashed served as not just a posthumous collection of bits and pieces, but a worthy follow up to Cloud Nine says a lot for Jeff and Dhani.

Ian Dury & the Blockheads - Dance Little Rude Boy
When he was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1990s, it wasn't at all surprising that Dury didn't pack it all in but opted instead to keep working at full throttle. This was, after all, a man who'd overcome a lot in his life -- including a childhood near-fatal bout with polio and had done the impossible for many elderly artists; produced an album of new material in 1999 (Mr. Love Pants) that rivalled the best stuff from his late 1970s/early 1980s heyday. Not keen to stop touring, writing or recording, Dury quickly set to work on new stuff, but his health declined quickly and he was left too weak to do vocals on some of the tracks he'd written before passing away in 2000. The Blockheads and producer Laurie Latham lovingly finished off the album, after Dury's wife Sophy found a list of songs under the headline Ten More Turnips From the Tip among Ian's papers after his death. This fantastic opener showed Ian undeterred by his illness and in as good a form as he was on "Wake Up and Make Love with Me" back in 1977. No trace of remorse or sadness, but it made listeners really realize what a wonderful talent they'd lost.

Pete Ham - Makes Me Feel Good
When Badfinger's driving force took his own life in 1975, his band were at a low point, in fantastic debt and under management contracts that looked near-impossible to ever escape. Anyone remotely familiar with the band's story knows just how tragic it is, but thankfully they gathered some ridiculously devoted fans, one of whom, Dan Matinova made it his life's work to tell the story and preserve the band's music. Matinova released two discs worth of Pete's home demos recorded between 1967 and 1974 and even employed some of Pete's old friends and bandmates to lay down some new parts to spruce up proceedings. This cut, originally demoed in 1968 and spruced up by Matinova and co. in the late 1990s, opened up 1999's Golders Green compilation and although only 1:47 in length, it begs the question as to why it never made it onto a Badfinger album. This is perfect pop music right here.

Enjoy the weekend. I hope I haven't made you too morose.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 22nd of loneliness.

A few months ago, I started a series called "Defending the Defenseless" wherein I tried to stand up for songs that are pretty much universally regarded as crap.

I've given up on that series.

Not so much because I have a lack of songs that would constitute inclusion, but moreso because everytime I went to post a song, I'd do a quick Google search to make sure the jury still said "No" to what I was about to post and I'd always find some message board thread that said, "You know, I've always really liked that song..." "Yeah, I know what you mean," "Yeah, that is a great song," etc. What's the point of doing justice when justice has already been served?

But I thought there could be a similar series where I reveal songs that I actually think are quite great that you might not figure I would think are so great. I did a quick scan of my iTunes library and found that most of these songs come from the 1990s.

I did a Friday Five awhile ago about great 1990s songs that got a lot of good response, and despite VH1's ridiculous intentions to kill nostalgia for the last 30 years by beating the dead horse of "I Love the _____!" until people that you never thought were that funny to begin with are talking about some toy you barely even remember seeing a commercial for -- seriously, VH1, stop -- I think there are still a lot of people out there that like to reminisce for the decade past.

While my musical appreciation roots took hold in the 1990s on a steady diet of Beatles, Beatles, Beatles, it was also tempered by the popular songs of the day. That's a day in age when both VH1 and MTV still played videos and everybody, yes, even you, owned Ace of Base's The Sign.

So today we begin a series that will pop up at random around here instead of "Defending the Defenseless" -- "Confessions of a '90s Survivor."


TLC - Creep
From CrazySexyCool

I take no shame in admitting to liking "Creep." Thirteen years later, it still sounds like a fresh slice of R&B that, while unfairly eclipsed by other TLC hits, is undoubtedly the strongest thing the three Atlanta girls ever conjured.

It's hard to forget just how dominant CrazySexyCool was throughout both 1995 and 1996, and despite the success of "Creep" and "Red Light Special," both singles' popularity was dwarfed by the runaway smash of "Waterfalls" (which I still argue was pinched in part from an unknown Paul McCartney single from 1980).

The combined power of the three singles brought along with it all sorts of rabid TLC fandom, which meant people taking a second look at their earlier album, Oooh ... On the TLC Tip (which will forever be a horrible title), realizing that was still early '90s kitsch at best and then going back and playing CrazySexyCool again. The thing about "Waterfalls," though, is that it really showed how unimpressive the girls were vocally.

While Chilli had arguably the most soulful pipes, T-Boz always sounded as if she was just getting over a spell of laryngitis when she tried to sing and Left-Eye's rapping voice always sounded just a little too close to Rosie Perez's chiuaua-becknoning tones in "It Could Happen to You." Sure, it had a catchy chorus, a trendy video and a very mid-1990s practice safe sex message, but it didn't play to the girls' strengths.

"Creep" on the other hand, did. With a sultry beat and backing track (that sparse horn really makes it, doesn't it?), T-Boz was only made to "talk sing" over the track in her throaty tones, which made the whole affair that much sexier, the chorus was just as hooky as any of their other hits, and while it seemed like a fertile ground for a mid-song rap, Lopes kept her rhymes clear of the song. Of course, she also vocally complained about its choice as a single and subsequent popularity given that the song's message supported infidelity. And we all remember how Lisa felt about suspected infidelity.

I know it was explained on "Behind the Music," but it still baffles me just how after all the success of 1995 and 1996, the band managed to go bankrupt. Of course, that was rectified and years later they produced a comeback that no one (be honest, now) saw coming -- propelled by that damn song "No Scrubs." Congratulations, you have success and credibility restored, but now all the males on Earth hate you. So much so that in our blind rage, we somehow allowed Sporty Thievz to offer our rebuttal. Not that it wasn't *momentarily* enjoyable, but I still ask ... who the f*ck are Sporty Thievz?

Of course the big comeback was cut a bit short when Left Eye died in a car crash a short time later, and in an ultra classy move, the two surviving members launched a reality show "not to replace" Left Eye, but you know ... find a new third member. Or at least stay in the public spotlight. On UPN, no less. Nice!

So looking back on TLC as a whole, I'm not left with the finest impressions. Like many stars of the 1990s, they were products of a good song or three at a good time (and I'm sure being signed to Babyface's label didn't hurt), and were probably overrated in a big way. But I hear that lone trumpet in "Creep" and I'm quick to forgive ...

And I hate infidelity too. Maybe not enough to set a house on fire, but ...

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I don't wan't you to tell me just what you intend to do now.

So I don't know if you're up with the latest scuttlebutt, but apparently Paul McCartney is planning a great big "farewell" tour, so that he can duck away from the grind and spend time with his young daughter.

As I've recounted on this page before, I last saw Macca in the fall of 2005 at a show at the United Center during his tour to support the rather lackluster Chaos and Creation in the Backyard album. While it was a great show -- I don't think many music fans such as I would dispute the chance to see Paul play "For No One" solo on the piano, the air that surrounds his shows now, undoubtedly because of ungodly expensive ticket prices is a bit unenjoyable.

Seeing a show in a stadium is one thing -- I'm much more of a club show kind of guy, but seeing it in a stadium with a bunch of rich old stiffs that insist I sit down while Paul McCartney is playing "Jet" is not really anything I want to be a part of. It's "Jet" for Christ's sake. It's a rock and roll show. I'm standing.

(By the way, I know this is egregious name dropping and "ooh look at how important I am"-ism, but I recounted this story to Ian McLagan when I interviewed him in 2006, and as soon as I told him I was asked to sit during "Jet," he shouted "AW, F*CK OFF!!!!" down the phone line. See... Mac gets it.)

Anyway, the mix of emotions about whether or not I might want to shell out to see Macca one last time has been stirred a bit further by new additions to his setlist. He added this one in Liverpool a few weeks ago:

By the way, isn't it interesting that the part of the song he fluffs was the part he originally wrote?

But way more exciting for me at least, he added this at the insistence of his Ukranian fans at a show in Kiev last week:

It's good to see the guy digging some deep cuts out of the Wings catalogue. What I wouldn't give to see some more of that -- maybe "Magneto and Titanium Man," "Getting Closer," "Girls School," "She's My Baby," "Bluebird" or "Arrow Through Me" dusted off? That'd be the sweetest.

Then again, Denny Laine has come out of hiding lately and is cashing in on his Beatle connection by appearing at Beatlefests and other such events on the nostalgia circuits. It's a little degrading, I think, but then again, it's kind of awesome to see this. I'm not gonna lie, if I was there, I'd be going nuts:

I ask the question again: how could Paul McCartney put Wingspan together and not f*cking include Denny Laine? It'd be like doing the Beatles Anthology without George.

It's easy to overlook now considering both McCartney and the Moody Blues career arcs in comparison to his own, but one would do well to remember that Laine was an integral part of the Moodies in (what I humbly consider) the only years where they REALLY mattered as a tight English R&B group.

And with or without Paul, he'd have always had had this to his name:

The Moody Blues - Go Now
Okay, so the Moodies didn't write the song, but there never has and never will be a better version of the song than this... the pounding piano, the stumbling drugs and Laine's uniquely impassioned delivery. From the album of the same name.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel.

Alright, alright, so I missed Monday and the "Get You Goin' Track." I apologize. But it seems plenty of you were getting the Summer Mix anyway, so... at least there was something right?

Today we'll turn to our newest developing monthly series, Mixed Messages, and today we pull argument from that most literate of Mancunian front men, Steven Patrick Morrissey.

Mixed Messages

Who's confusing us? Morrissey
What about? Being memorable, and whether he cares or not

For many years, Morrissey's charm lied in his duality. He pigeonholed himself as a lyricist and the Smiths as a group as soft skinned mopes with titles like "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," but those who cared enough to listen to the songs found as much hope in songs like "Rusholme Ruffians" and "Is It Really So Strange?" as they did wallowing despair in "I Know It's Over" and "Unloveable."

If Morrissey didn't give such entertaining and readable interviews, listeners might left to be discover who he really is inside his lyrics, and no surprise that he's just as enigmatic there as he has been about his sexuality and social habits over the last 20-odd years. Well, at least until that crappy last album of his.

But there is a continuing theme, both in lyrics and interviews of Morrissey appearing to not care about legacy or his impressions on people (humorously alluded to in the likes of "Disappointed," more darkly alluded to in the likes of "Trouble Loves Me"), but despite not wanting to care, or at least saying as much, it's become clear in the past few years especially that he does care very much about his legacy. Very much indeed.

If he didn't care, after all, he could have cultivated it a lot better. Let's flashback to just five years ago, when the man was five years detatched from a record deal but still managing to sell out anywhere he played whenever he decided to play. The call-it-a-somewhat-of-a-comeback tour of 2002 and an appearance on Craig Kilborn's late night show seemed to spark up enough interest to get him a new record deal, and while he was able to ride a new wave of excitement on You Are the Quarry, the fact of the matter is that just 4 years later, the album hasn't stood up well and it's follow-up, Ringleader of the Tormentors was downright appalling.

Well, now Decca picked him up and while we all wait with bad breath for his new album, another Greatest Hits compilation was dropped earlier this year that features two new insepid songs, "That's How People Grow Up" and "All You Need is Me." Sometimes I wonder why he bothers.

After all, look at the back catalogue that's getting trampled underfoot. Sure, he's never been a spot on his own compared to the Smiths, but I would say that 1988 to about 1994 produced some definite highlights under his name and his name alone.

Two of those highlights address his memorability right up front: "I Don't Mind if You Forget Me" from 1988's Viva Hate and "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get" from 1994's Vauxhall and I.

While the former merrily meditates on the fact that he can't seem to leave a formidable impression on anyone, the latter takes that thought, ruminates on it and almost makes it a savage threat. Albeit with a very lovely early Britpop backdrop.

The fact that "I Don't Mind..." ended up being one of the lesser tracks on Morrissey's solo debut while "The More You Ignore Me..." ended up being one of the centerpieces of arguably Morrissey's finest solo album is probably just a nice coincidence in arguing that Morrissey does indeed care about his rep and does indeed mind if you forget him.

But it's even in the lyrics. "I Don't Mind..." is really rather basic for Morrissey (although the "Your mild best wishes / they make me suspicious" couplet is still pretty great), very sing-songy and almost passed off as a "we need another track to round out the album? Gimme 20 minutes" type tune.

"The More You Ignore Me..." meanwhile builds off a simple but catchy refrain into something you might read in a letter that you'd probably alert the authorities about. "Beware! I bear more grudges than lonely high court judges. When you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can't pay. Take the easy way and give in." I mean, if he puts that much effort into saying "You might want to remember or pay attention to me," it's hard to argue he probably would prefer to be forgotten.

Forget me: Morrissey - I Don't Mind If You Forget Me
Remember me: Morrissey - The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get

So what does Moz want? To be remembered, obviously. He even ends many shows with "Remember me" or "Don't forget me" type speeches, and when he doesn't do that, he might walk off the stage to the strains of Sinatra's "My Way." Not exactly a subtle way of saying, "Whatever." But if tripe like "All You Need is Me" is what we can expect from here on out maybe it's better to forget this Moz. But remember the one that sang about not minding if you forgot him. Er... yeah.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

One plush summer you come to me, ripe and ready -- and bad through and through.

Well, it's that time of year again. Heavy rains are causing misery for several parts of Wisconsin, but they're also making everything as vividly green as the German countryside and check your calendars -- we're but eight days away from summer's official start.

As my seasonal mixes here have become one of the blog's most popular features, it seemed only natural to compile a sequel to the mix that launched everything last summer, summer is a mixtape.

Last year, you'll remember, I included a strict regiment of rules for concocting the perfect summer mix. In the interest of being non-repetitive I couldn't adhere to ALL the rules this time around, but I still will put money down that of all the summer mixes that MP3 blogs will offer this year, you're going to find the very best one right here. Trust me, I know what I'm doing when it comes to this stuff.

As per usual, this mix is intended for the sole purpose of soundtracking: summer drives (provided you can afford them), beach parties, summer cookouts, gatherings at the lakehouse/summer getaway, walks around town on a sunny day and anything and everything else you do that makes you think, "Ah... summer."

Roll on the sequel!

summer is a mixtape. vol. II
The official "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." summer 2008 soundtrack.

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-10) Here. (Left click for SaveFile page)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20) Here. (Left click for SaveFile page)

01. Steely Dan - Gaslighting Abbie
I mentioned last year that Steely Dan's 2000 "comeback" album, Two Against Nature, for me at least, is one of the all-time quintessential summer discs. It's not their best album, but it sounds as shiny as a newly waxed convertible driving down the California coastline. This cut kicks off the album, and from the opening hits of bass, guitar, electric piano and hi-hat, it just demands you put on your shades and sit back. This is the sound of cool ... from two cynical old curmudgeons, no less. I still don't know what "Gaslighting Abbie" means exactly, I assume something a little "blue," "luscious invention for three" and all ... If you do know, don't tell me. I like the ambiguity, and if it's something that would make me twist my face, you'd ruin the song for me. Don't want that.

02. Happy Mondays - Moving In With
Can't have a proper summer without the loud, annoying neighbors at your summer getaway that mostly make you want to go over and complain, but every once in awhile make you laugh and wish you had the same devil-may-care attitude. This cut from 1988's landmark Bummed album is nowhere near their best work, but it dances that line between great amusement and total annoyance very finely and in the end, you're won over. Who else could get away with a refrain of "henny penny, cocky locky, goosey loosey, turkey lurkey, ducky lucky, chicken lickin'"? That's right. No one. And Martin Hannett's frenetically layered production even seems to simulate the sound of all those summer insects that you also love so much. Go on. Dance along with Bez.

03. ? and the Mysterians - 96 Tears
Yeah, you really listen to the lyrics and it's actually quite a depressing song, even if there is hope of redemption. But misery's seldom sounded so sweet and danceable. Hell, the guys could've been singing about things far worse than crying to a point of totally giving up on life and if it would've had that organ lick, it'd still be totally appropriate to put on at the beach. Doesn't it sound like it should soundtrack one of those beach dance scenes in a Frankie and Annette movie? And yet, it's still miles cooler than any song used in those movies.

04. Bebel Gilberto - Baby
This is an old Latin number that Os Mutantes were nice enough to translate into English. Bebel Gilberto picked it up and used it to kick off her self-titled 2004 album, and in one fell swoop, forever captivated me. The sound of pure, languid seduction with a few nice, tall, cool drinks to wash it all down. A summer without some Bebel Gilberto is a summer I don't ever want to experience. This song could probably even take the bug out of Kim Jong Il's butt.

05. Professor Longhair - Tipitina
Okay, so 'Fess recorded countless versions of this, his most famed tune. And yes, it's probably more suited to Mardi Gras than anything else, but this version, from his 1974 album Rock and Roll Gumbo sounds like summer. It's that backbeat -- a little more straight and uptempo than other versions he did. Even the fact that he forsakes all his original brilliant lyrics (e.g. "You are three times seven, baby, and knows what you want to do") in favor of just repeating "Tipitina" and "Tra la la la la" over and over again is forgiveable because everything about this version just equals fun in the sun.

06. James Brown - Sunny
The Godfather of Soul mixes it up with Marva Whitney in front of the jazz stylings of the Dee Felice Trio for a blinding little version of Bobby Hebb's classic -- prerequisite "Good God!" included. This cut led off his 1969 album Gettin' Down to It! and on an album of one highlight after another, this still reigns supreme. Solid proof that James didn't need an oversized backing band with a heavy brass section to conjure all his energy. It's almost like "James Brown Unplugged." And he still brings the damn roof down.

07. Jill Sobule - Cinnamon Park
An idyllic tale of tripping out on 'shrooms and listening to crappy bands. If it really was as nice as this song, from her Underdog Victorious album, makes it out to be, I don't think any work would ever get done 'cos everyone and his mother would be doing it. While still more known for "I Kissed a Girl," Jilly's never lost her talent to spin a good lyric, and it's all the details that make this perfect -- right down to said crappy band's use of a talkbox and Peavey bass. You're gonna wish Summerfest was half as cool as this song's battle of the bands is. Hell, she even saved the piano lick from Chicago's "Saturday in the Park" from eternal damnation. Is there anything this girl can't do?

08. Frank Sinatra - It's a Wonderful World
No, it's not Frank's version of the Louis Armstrong classic -- it's a sweet little swinger from his 1962 Swing Along With Me album. Easy, breezy and among the best stuff he did that the majority of people out there still haven't heard. I'm still not quite sure what exactly a "ring a ding world" is, but it sounds nice. Based on this reccomendation, I think I'd give it a try.

09. Billy Bragg - The Warmest Room
One of the central cuts from Bragg's 1986 classic, Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, where he discovered there could be more instruments on a record than just an electric guitar. Purists moaned, of course, but with the sparse addition here of piano, organ, acoustic guitar and tambourine, it's not like anyone was necessarily talking overkill. While the name Billy Bragg still doesn't necessarily conjure images of sunny days at the lake, this wonderful tale of clumsy love should hit home for any boy who ever experienced a summer romance in his teenage years. And for the rest of you, the best creed ever: "The wife has three great attributes: intelligence, a Swiss Army knife and charm."

10. Randy Newman - Falling in Love
Another uncharacteristic cut from an artist more known for being a cynical (but deadly funny) old grouch. Maybe he'd upped his Prozac intake around the time of 1988's Land of Dreams or maybe it was the fact that he got the then hot-as-hell producer Jeff Lynne to oversee matters on this cut, but this song sounds like it should be playing over the end theme of some terribly cheesy 1980s movie than taking up space on a Randy Newman LP, but c'est la vie. Unorthodox approach withstanding, this song is really charming as all hell.

11. The Essex Green - This Isn't Farm Life
Maybe it's the title or the band's name, but to me, this song always sounded like it was written after listening to a lot of the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society LP. Of course, the more fun cuts like "Sitting by the Riverside" and "Picture Book" ... Anyway, this song, from the band's 2006 outing, Cannibal Sea, is terribly cute, but not in a way that would induce eye-rolling. The minimalist guitar hook and electric piano pounding is really the lynchpin here, but turning a lyric like "In my kingdom, in my stratosphere" against the appropriate backing is always nice too.

12. Small Faces - Eddie's Dreaming
God bless Andrew Loog Oldham for giving the Small Faces endless studio time and encouraging plenty of drug-taking. 'Cos lord only knows how else one of the most important Mod bands of all time would've come to this attempt at Cockney calypso. If the bongos and woodwinds aren't out of place enough, even Ronnie Lane gets the pleasure of singing the lead. Of course, it also grooves likes its nobody's business.

13. The Kinks - Holiday
A perennial favorite from the Kinks' 1971 classic, Muswell Hillbillies. Falls somewhere between country and western and vaudeville and comes across as one of the most pleasant things ever concocted musically, which is interesting considering Ray Davies was in a personal hell watching his marriage fall apart and Dave Davies was in the throes of a drug-fuelled paranoia. All you music aficionados, meanwhile, might like to listen to this and the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" back to back and notice how Ray cunningly swiped everything from sentiment to structure.

14. Bobby Darin - Lovin' You
And speaking of the Lovin' Spoonful, Bobby Darin here takes one of the band's cuts from their Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful album for himself and gives it a tight little summer swing treatment. The ultimate version of this song, and proof that Bobby really could make ANY damn song he wanted his own. Everything from the scat to the woodblocks is just icing on the cake.

15. Sugar Ray - When It's Over
Okay, maybe this is the moment where I lose a lot of you, and if I don't lose you, I lose your respect, but you know what? F*ck it. Yeah, I know they were ridiculous, yes I know he's Mr. Extra now and yes, I know how cornball "Fly" really was. But for a few summers there, they wrote a few painfully catchy pop songs and this was the last really great one. The summer of 2001 was a good year in my life and this song was almost inescapable during that period. Funny thing is, for once, I didn't really mind it. But the video is still pretty stupid.

16. Neil Finn - Don't Ask Why
Much like Two Against Nature and a bit of Bebel, it just can't really be summer without everyone's favorite Kiwi, the younger Finn brother. This cut made the original version of his One Nil album, but when it was reformatted, retitled to One All and shipped to America, this track was conspicuously absent. Well, my Yankee brethren, I'm here to right that wrong for you and let you hear this in all its sunny glory for your summer parties. "Error gorilla, know what I mean?"

17. Kula Shaker - Shower Your Love
Frequent readers will know both my feelings toward this band and this song, so I won't go into lengthy explanation other to say than not putting this on the mix would've been criminal. An absolutely glorious slice of pop music, and that middle bit -- "I can't wait, I'm losing faith" bit still kills me every time.

18. Ian Brown - Dolphins Were Monkeys (Single Version)
While I'm one of John Squire's biggest fans and it was a huge personal battle to put this on over a Stone Roses song, King Monkey has some fantastic cuts to his name alone, and this single from 2000 is one of them. In my ideal world, this is played at every summer party and everyone smiles and nods at the "No one can judge you, baby, that don't live your life" lyric. We're probably a long way from that, but if you download this, burn it and bring it to all your summer parties, we'll get there quickly. I promise.

19. Peggy Lee & George Shearing - Blue Prelude
Alright, so not everyone's summer is going to be margaritas, bikinis and beach parties. There will be some broken hearts out there, some dudes and dudettes after you that you wish would go bother someone else, and this jazzy cut from the 1959 album Beauty and the Beat! (see, the Go-Go's were so unoriginal) is for all of you with a cynical eye on hot fun in the summertime. Of course, Shearing's hot little musical backdrop still makes this song perfect for the beach.

20. Paul Weller - Long Hot Summer (live)
Like many Style Council songs, "Long Hot Summer" was kind of dated by its instrumentation and production, and while it's undoubtedly a great song, it's something that I wouldn't consider being "for everyone." Thankfully, Paul still thinks there a good soul song underneath the synthesizers and has ressurrected it in more stripped down fashion during recent tours. This cut, from the 2006 live compilation, Catch Flame!, exemplifies just how sweet the song really is, and is the perfect thing to roll you into a summer night or even summer's end.

Enjoy and have a great weekend, all.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

The answer is love, my friend.

One of the great things about being in Germany on June 2 was that I got to pick up a hard copy of Paul Weller's new one, 22 Dreams, which is undoubtedly his most adventurous solo album to date.

If you think I'm posting a track from it here, though, you're mistaken.

American mitts will be able to get their hands on it soon enough, and while the album isn't quite as solid top to bottom as maybe Wild Wood or Stanley Road, it's a step up from his last couple outings (which were fine in their own right) and show that even as he continues to age, he continues to WANT to remain vital. There's a big difference in that and remaining vital. The want is what sets the great ones apart.

Not that I needed any instigation, but it's put me back on a Weller kick and rather serendipidously an MP3 from my good buddy Lou arrived in my Gmail inbox yesterday of Lord Large performing an old, unreleased Weller song with American soulster Dean Parrish on lead vocals.

Lord Large feat. Dean Parrish - Left, Right & Centre

The cut arose courtesy of OCS lead guitarist and Weller collaborator/lapdog Steve Cradock, who struck up a friendship with Parrish during a Weller US jaunt while rifling through Weller's unreleased material looking for stuff worth revisiting.

Weller wrote this track when he was but 15 years old, which explains some of the simplistic lyrics (e.g. "I never saw no sunny skies 'til I looked into your eyes"), but considering the strength of the music and the wonderfully simplistic and catchy refrain, it might make you wonder just what the hell you were doing at 15. The Northern Soul influence is rampant throughout, and it got me thinking ...

For as big a connaisseur as the Modfather seemingly always has been of Northern Soul, isn't it interesting that during his formative years, it only really seeped into his music with limited frequency? You could put this down to the youth/punk movement, I'm sure, but considering Weller wrote "Left, Right & Centre" at 15, and "Pity Poor Alfie" was also one of the earliest numbers in the Jam's canon, it seems like that inclination for the '60s brass stomp was always there ... only to be left for amped up Rickenbacker driven youth anthems.

"I thought we'd do some early Tamla Motown for you tonight..."

No loss, really -- who's going to complain about "The Eton Rifles" or "Going Underground" after all? -- but it makes you wonder what kind of impressions the Jam would have left if they'd tempered things out by following more of young Paul's soul muses?

Here's another early stomper that never made it past demo stage for the Jam...

The Jam - Walking in Heaven's Sunshine (demo)
Can now be found on the Direction, Reaction, Creation box set.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Her bags are packed up under the bed.

I know what you've been thinking.

He's been gone the whole first week of the month! And now he wants to tell us about his trip! We're never going to get all the monthly series in in time!

Calm down.

Before I get to my German exploits (read: if I ever do), I thought I'd make up for lost time and give you the June installment of Vs.

"Mercy, Mercy" was a song written in 1964 by Don Covay and Ronald Miller. Covay was a soul singer of the era who, despite not having a lot of fame himself, had worked with the likes of Little Richard.

As it went, the Rolling Stones, like many up and coming British bands in the first half of the 1960s found their muses in soul and R&B 45s that trickled across the Atlantic into old Blighty. And even though by the end of 1964, they'd had a couple years' work and an album under their belt, it didn't stop them from devouring American records.

Assembling at Chicago's famed Chess Studios in 1964, Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill and Charlie took a stab at Covay's recent number which would find its way onto 1965's Out of Our Heads -- the album that would formally launch the Stones as a force to be reckoned with (especially by their mop-topped compatriots). While the album would land more acclaim for housing "Satisfaction," their slinky, blue eyed take on Covay's song still seems to me to be the album's true highlight.

Interestingly enough, the song bears far more than a passing resemblance to another song Covay and Miller penned, "Take This Hurt Off Me," which would be the true highlight of the Small Faces From the Beginning album the very next year.

And when British groups weren't lapping up Covay's tunes, even his American counterparts were. Wilson Pickett took a stab at "Mercy, Mercy" on his landmark 1966 album, The Exciting Wilson Pickett.

Pickett's version is so tight you could set your watch to it -- much like the rest of the material he was spinning at Atlantic Records at the time, and while it's pure soul top to bottom, I find the Stones' reading preferable if only because it's a little looser which plays into the lyrical themes a little bit more. It's a song about losing your girl... it can't be too clean and tight, you know. There's gotta be a little dishevelment in there.

Still, Pickett's version is not without it's charms -- especially when he says the gypsy referred to him as "Pickett" and his decision to deliver his trademark golden throated howl at the "Please don't say we're through" line as opposed to Mick Jagger's bashful falsetto. Notice also how Pickett promises to work three jobs, while the Stones only settle for two. Those Brits ...

But that's just me. What do you think?

The Rolling Stones vs. Wilson Pickett
"Mercy, Mercy"

The Rolling Stones - Mercy, Mercy

Wilson Pickett - Mercy, Mercy

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Monday, June 09, 2008

I could've sworn I saw a light coming on.

Alright ... back in the saddle.

There's plenty to talk about when it comes to the trip to Germany, and I'm sure something of a travelogue post will be coming soon, but for the time being, I have to readjust to life back on home soil and catch up with everything I've missed in the past week-plus. Barack wins the nomination and the Cubs go on a mental winning streak? Maybe I should leave the country more often.

Since it's Monday and I got a lot of stuff to sort through, I'll just revert to the Get You Goin' Track to kick off the week.

The Get You Goin' Track

One of the first things I saw in Germany was a poster advertising the new Radiohead best-of, which features the big-headed stick figures shaking hands from the OK Computer art. It reminded me of a time when Radiohead was challenging, but still enjoyable. Since about 2003, it seems, they've tipped the balance more uncomfortably towards challenging. It's a bit frustrating for me, but when you have a catalogue as stacked as they do, it's hard to dismiss them entirely. This popular cut from 2001's Amnesiac hit fans like a breath of fresh air after their first real try at difficult, the Kid A album. Yeah, this has a processed beat and all, but damn was it good to hear a guitar hook again.

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