Thursday, July 31, 2008

Just like you were a miser.

So every week, I like to peruse the iTunes store and check out the new celebrity playlists. The stupidity of what some of these celebrities write is going to merit a Friday Five one of these months, I promise.

The other day I somehow, with morbid curiosity, checked out the soundtrack page for the recent Alvin & the Chipmunks movie. I, of course, didn't see it -- computer animated chipmunks don't do it for me, and as much as I dig Jason Lee, he just isn't a David Seville. Of course the posters for the movie which had the Chipmunks looking like gangsta rappers turned me right off. But the funny thing is that in an effort to make them look more modern, they actually made 'em look like something straight out of a Grandmaster Flash video.

Anyway, the 30-second sample of the new version of "Witch Doctor" was enough to guarantee that never under any circumstances would I give up a second of my time for the movie.

"How could they do that to the Chipmunks?" I thought. The Chipmunks were a huge part of my childhood -- the 1980s Chipmunks, that is, with Chipettes and that old lady that got stuck being their mother in tow. Sentimentality for that show ran high for me, of course, as it was pretty much a staple of my childhood, and people tend to not like seeing such enshrined memories pissed all over by Hollywood for a cheap gimmick to try to peddle to kids. The previews for "Beverly Hills Chiuaua" should be proof enough that Hollywood heads are bastards like that, but the funny thing is when you look back, it actually was pretty cringe-worthy when I loved it too.

See what I mean?

Talkin' bout my generation.

Which means that like everyone, you have to go back to the days of the "original" chipmunks, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s when that f*cking Christmas song made its way onto vinyl to irritate us every December thereafter. Don't get me wrong, I like it once or twice. But by the time it gets to December 15 or so, and I've heard that song about 30 times, someone's gonna get an ornament thrown right at their head. But maybe Patton Oswalt can make me laugh about it this year.

But to bring it back where I started from, the 30-second iTunes clip of the new "Witch Doctor" made me realize, more than ever, what a great track the original one was.

David Seville - The Witch Doctor
The joke, of course, is that this was done as a novelty record. "David Seville" was actually a stage name for Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who, apparently, was the first guy to think that speeding up tape was pretty damn funny. I suppose when he was a kid, he didn't have the access to tape speed control devices like kids my age did, but wasn't there a knob on the phonograph that at least made the record spin faster? Anyway ... Bagdasarian wrote and recorded the song, duetting with sped up version of himself and, lo and behold, the Chipmunks were born.

I'll be honest. I detest the very idea of the last Chipmunks movie. I'm afraid to search YouTube for anymore cartoon clips from the Chipmunks era I grew up loving. And I still hate Nickelodeon for knocking those out in favor of rerunning the 1960s originals as I was coming out of adolescence and into my teenage years. What 11-year old wants to watch 25-year old cartoons? Huh? But for all I now can't stand about the Chipmunks, I love this song. And this is the damn thing that started everything.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who gets blamed whenever you're in trouble?

So I checked a calendar today and noticed it's almost the month's end and the blog here still has yet to roll out the last of its monthly series, the Fantastic 45s.

Today, we take a look at Declan MacManus, or more commonly, Elvis Costello and that punchy little single he put out in 1978 that got a bunch of people (especially the United States) all hot and bothered, "Radio Radio."

Although it hadn't made the cut on the UK version of his landmark album This Year's Model, Columbia Records decided to tack it on the US version that came out 2 months later. Columbia didn't, however, want Elvis out there on US television doing a song that openly criticized major broadcasting and payola.

Kind of an obvious thing for Columbia to request, really, but why they thought Costello and the Attractions should instead perform "Less Than Zero," a song about Oswald Mosely on "Saturday Night Live" is less apparent. Famously, Elvis stopped the song a few bars in, told the audience there was no reason to do the song here and, in very punk fashion, ripped into "Radio Radio." Infamously, it got him kicked off the show for 12 years.

Then in very non punk fashion, he bought into the nostalgia and kitsch of it and recreated the moment for "Saturday Night Live"s 25th anniversary special. Still, pretty good performance.

If there's any problem with the infamy of the song, it's that it serves as people's first intro to Elvis Costello and therefore, what to base your first impression on. Not that it's a bad song to take that mantle, but you gotta feel kinda sorry for the kids that hear it and go, "No thanks," and miss out on the likes of "Pump it Up," "Big Tears," "Shipbuilding" or even "God Give Me Strength."

Of course, now "She" is apparently becoming a wedding staple, so that can't help his cause much. But I digress ...

The Fantastic 45's

Elvis Costello & the Attractions
"Radio Radio" b/w "Tiny Steps"
Radar, 1978

There was something to be said for young Elvis, who could spit out songs as politically confrontational as this with as much as ease as he could a song like "Alison." Say what you will about the crop of young artists that came out of the late 1970s British punk movement, but few (even Weller) were dropping words like "anaesthetise" onto A-sides of potential Top of the Pops material. The byproduct of its punk flagship status is that every young up and coming garage band inevitably learns the song and now you got kids with frosted tips and iPods singing about how their radio dial broke 'cos it's old. Really? Nevertheless, whatever miserable byproducts iconic songs bring with them, it still is an iconic song.

A charming enough song that works as a nice yang to "Radio Radio"s yin, even if mellowness is only found in the song's music. The entertaining part of this song is that it folds right into almost every other song recorded during the This Year's Model era. You listen to this and it really doesn't sound so far off from another B-side from the era, "Big Tears." Thank God Elvis was the lyricist he was -- few people can pull about 20 songs from the same musical idea. 

The A-side can now be found on The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions while the B-side recently showed up on Rock and Roll Music.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From the west unto the east.

Bob Dylan UnderCover
Case 7, Paul Weller

Paul Weller - I Shall Be Released

Although by 1995, Paul Weller and his rejuvenated solo career were drawing comparisons to Neil Young more than the likes of his early career peers (Elvis Costello), inspirations (Small Faces, Kinks) or quickly rising hero worshippers (Blur, Oasis), Weller got into a rather nice habit of tackling covers for B-sides or personal use, and went after this 1967 Dylan single to backup his own "Out of the Sinking" single, which would prelude his 1990s commercial high water mark, Stanley Road.

While never shying away from covers over the course of his career, Weller has always maintained that he only goes after songs that he thinks he can better. It's basically the reason that while he'll state his avid fandom of songs like "The Autumn Stone," "Days" or "All I Do is Think About You," you'll never find his own versions of them. But you will find enough to make up multiple albums -- Studio 150 (which also included a cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower") -- included.

Does the Wella fella's "I Shall Be Released" top Mr. Zimmerman's? I have to say so. Vocally, it's no challenge (although it'd be funny to ask my sister which version she prefers as she hates both Bob's and Paul's voices), but I also think that Weller tapped into a great folk-feel reservoir in the period between Wild Wood and Heavy Soul that he's really never recaptured.

There's something inherently auspicious in this reading. The musicianship is far from the best of Weller's career and the production also isn't as polished as several of his other recordings, but there's a simplicity that he tapped into on this and other Stanley Road-era B-sides and outtakes like "It's a New Day, Baby," and a cover of "Out on the Weekend" that never quite cropped up again in later folky outings like "Going Places" or even as recently in "Light Nights" (which are both still fantastic). In the mid 1990s, it was a different Weller. It was a Weller that earned his rights as an elder statesman, but still attacked music with a "you gotta hear this" attitude. There wasn't just an eagerness to show people up with his songs -- there was a tenacity to put stuff out as quickly as his fresh faced mates in Oasis were. And maybe what lacked in top shelf refinement more than made up for in charm.

He's still attacking music with an audible hunger these days, but a lot more of that elder statesman status is assumed (and also audible) these days.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

You don't even have to wear that little bustier.

I can't be too hard on my good buddy Mike and his lady friend Kristen, because in addition to letting me crash at their fabulous new digs in the Little Italy part of Chicago this weekend, they also did provide an assortment of Goose Island beers for my arrival Friday. It's just that they also bought a load of Budweiser and Miller High Life cans, and as the Goose Island went first, the duration of Saturday was spent polishing those off, and I can't even begin to explain how much I dragged Sunday, let alone did not want to come to work today. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way on a Monday. And for myself and the rest of us, there's this wonderful opening track from the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra's 2003 album, Napoleon. Fittingly, NTO, like Goose Island, comes right out of Chicago and there's little you can do to resist the coolness of this track which rattles off famous (or infamous) names in much more awesome fashion than, say, "We Didn't Start the Fire." If you ever see a Nick gig coming up in your locale, don't pass it up. The man puts on a fabulous show.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the beggar's house of wasted thoughts.

So this past weekend I returned to Milwaukee again for my former college roommate's wedding. It was a nice time. I spent too much money, but it was all worth it and you hope that kind of opportunity only comes along once for the just wedded.

Anyway, I had to make a quick run up to Grand Avenue Mall with another one of the groomsmen who'd forgotten to pack black socks for the weekend and might've looked kind of ridiculous in his tux without them. We ran up to the mall in drizzling rain, an hour before we were supposed to be suited and booted for the ceremony and while he tried to find a cheap pair of black socks, I took a look around the old mall.

It's been years now since I'd last stepped foot in the mall and I know tons of remodeling work had been put into it, but coming in through Boston Store like I always did (cos I was always coming from the west, you know), the first proper mall store I'd always see was a Sam Goody. Now vacant.

"My music store's gone," I said to Tony. It wasn't really my music store. In Milwaukee, Atomic Records still holds that title, and even though the only album I think I ever bought at that Sam Goody was A Rush of Blood to the Head (oh, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), there was still a tinge of sadness to see a big, black empty room now standing there.

"Well, that happens to a lot of music stores," Tony retorted.

It's true. And the very reason it's happening, I'm sure is because of pages like these and the rapidfire acquisition of music anyone can have through the internet is killing off the need for the likes of Sam Goodys and FYEs. Really, I don't think I mind... I'll always take the independent stores anyway, but who knows how long those will last too.

In a way, I like what the internet's done. I'd have to, wouldn't I? But with it comes complete lack of surprise. You can hear every step of a song's concoction from earliest demo through final cut by means of an artist's MySpace page, website or any number of blogs. The other day I was reading all the updates for Oasis new album with all the other Oasis fans eagerly awaiting Dig Out Your Soul (bad title and worse cover). I don't think I like knowing track lists months before I have the album. Somehow, it just makes the wait seem impossibly longer.

And while iTunes is all too happy to offer up bonus tracks and digital booklets with new releases, you just don't really get the treats anymore, do you?

Like, for instance...

The Coral
Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker
Deltasonic, 2004

01. Precious Eyes
02. Venom Cable
03. I Forgot My Name
04. Song of the Corn
05. Sorrow or the Song
06. Auntie's Operation
07. Why Does the Sun Come Up?
08. Grey Harpoon
09. Keep Me Company
10. Migraine
11. Lovers Paradise

The best thing about young bands is their appetites and prolificacy. Look at the Arctic Monkeys -- they're just a shade older than this blog, but they've already got two albums under their names, a few EPs, plenty of non-album B-sides and although they didn't put out anything new this year, their frontman did.

Their heroes the Coral were much the same way in their early days. While their self-titled debut in 2002 was about as schizophrenic as rock records come, it was also really really good. They did an about face (or maybe just smoked some weed) the next year and mellowed into folkier tones on 2003's Magic and Medicine, which was also really good.

I still don't know what to constitute Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker as, but I will say that from a marketing and band reputation standpoint, it was a stroke of genius. With a few songs that still needed to get out of their systems, apparently, the Hoylake sextet went to the Welsh country side toward the end of 2003 for a week and a half and just dabbled.

The results weren't a patch on their previous two records, but it's not to say there wasn't some fun in the songs, and what's more, the band's label found itself with another album on its hands. Okay, so maybe this stuff wouldn't go to Q or Mojo and get blanket five-star reviews or "Liverpool's Second Coming" subtitles, but Coral fans could be expected to enjoy a bit more musical whimsy (read: madness) from the boys. They'd been conditioned for it.

So Nightfreak landed in UK shops in January 2004 with a slashed price tag and notice from the label that it was "more of a mini album," or, say, a "stop gap" between Magic and Medicine and the next album proper.


See what that does is it automatically makes you forgive the fact that only about half the tracks on there can be counted as proper songs and it also deflects negative criticism because it builds an innate "Look, they didn't HAVE to do this, but they thought it would be fun for their fans while they wait for the next album" justification.

Clever, huh? Even at 11 tracks (more than suitable album length), the run time didn't top a half hour (but early Beatles albums barely did), but no matter what the content was (and some of it was crap), it was made clear before you even put it on that it shouldn't be taken seriously.

In America, it came as a free bonus with the US release of Magic and Medicine. And I remember walks to class in the early part of 2004 with a walkman (iPods were still too new and expensive) in my bag and CD of choice for the day inside it. This disc got a bit more play than the proper album.

For all it's impunishible faults, Nightfreak actually contains enough good stuff to make you think it was really nice of the Coral to do. With a bit more polish, "Sorrow or the Song" could've easily been a single on any of their albums, and while "Venom Cable" sounds like the simplest little jam on the simplest little riff, it also works out to be incredibly fun. "Lovers Paradise" would make a fine epilogue to any album and "Precious Eyes" too wouldn't seem out of place on other Coral LPs.

The finest moment, however, is "Grey Harpoon" -- a song that was concocted on the spot in the studio and done with enough street-savvy panache to make you half expect Snoop to swoop in and start a "With so much trouble in the LBC" rap when James backs off the mic. Seriously, try putting it on your next party mix and see if anyone bats an eye. I'd bet you if anything, you get head nodding and a few "What is this?" inquiries.

Ultimately, Nightfreak bought the Coral a bit more time to flesh out better ideas that would arrive on The Invisible Invasion in 2005. Since then, the Coral seemed to have backed off a little (they're only releasing albums every OTHER year now, lazy sods...), but you wonder if today, even four years later, they'd be able to pull off a Nightfreak. An unapologetic stop gap made for fans and fans alone. Sure, they could put it up on their MySpace page, but you'd still have the people that swoop in and go "This new album sucks," and the message boards full of "Are we supposed to take this for real?" arguments.

It's the kind of thing that will die with the music store. Because let's face it, there's no feeling quite as nice as picking up something you know one of your favorite bands made for you and their other fans alone. And picking it up at a cut price.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I don't care if you really care.


The Cardigans - Lovefool
From First Band on the Moon

There are bands that will end up stuck in this series even if I do like more than one song by them simply because the song that defines them also defined a point in the 1990s. The Cardigans have a few good songs to their names. Maybe not enough to justify a double disc "Best Of" containing a whopping 46 tracks that was released earlier this year, but certainly more than one or two tunes.

Of course, none of them will ever compare to "Lovefool," and not just because of the tidal wave it brought with it with opportunisitc placement in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet which, we all really remember for the Leonardo DiCaprio tremors that would grow to rapturous earthquakes a few months later with Titanic. Well that and how weird Shakespearean dialogue really seemed set against modern backdrops. I know it was supposed to be artsy, and it still gives high school freshman teachers a good reason to kill an afternoon of class time, but ... admit it. Even with its soundtrack, it's all a bit much, isn't it?

ANYWAY, those that weren't grooving to "Lovefool" during the movie certainly got their opportunity in the following months when the song swamped modern radio, and the video, featuring Nina Persson's ridiculouly blue eyes, became an hourly fixture on MTV and VH1.

It was really enough to make you hate the song -- I was dating my first proper girlfriend at the time, and we were at a roller rink (how cool were we) when the song came on and another friend came up and proclaimed, "THIS IS YOUR SONG!" It wasn't -- we didn't have a song, but there's no way in hell I'd ever let someone else decree what my song with someone else is, let alone have it be a flavor of the month. Call me a snob if you will, but the only reason this other friend made that statement was so she could spin the song four times when we gave her a ride home and justify it by saying, "It's your song! We have to listen to it!"

No effin' way.

But considering that if it were a month before or after, "our song" could've been Savage Garden's "I Want You" or the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" for that very same reason, I guess we were lucky.

Of course, we broke up after a few short weeks and I haven't talked to the girl in years.

But the reason that sentimentality can run high for "Lovefool" is that while it burned white hot in its moment of popularity, that moment didn't last unbearably long (like say "Truly Madly Deeply" 's moment did). And it still sits as the best offering in the Cardigans' catalogue because it's short and sweet and has an unbelievable hook. The fact of the matter is that in the '90s or any era, "Lovefool" is simply a great song.

Besides the knockout chorus, the verses go right for the jugular with a desperate woman pleading (in a lyrically fantastic fashion, no less) over a great guitar hook and a hi-hat and bass drum driven beat you can dance to. Lo and behold, disco ethics worked in 1997. Think about the dance hits that year and all the processed beats that propelled them. Pretty cool when you think this is an acoustic set driving it.

Girls liked it because they could relate to the singer's passion and envision themselves singing it to the cottoned ears of the football team captain, while guys like me who could never PAY for that kind of attention liked to hear that women could be so helplessly ridiculous about a dude. Of course, the joke was we couldn't be noticed by the girls who couldn't be noticed by the football captain. Makes you wonder who, then, I couldn't notice, eh? If by chance you're that very person reading this, accept my apologies. I know it's probably far too late for us now, but I understand your pain.

And even if you take that as cold comfort, we'll always have "Lovefool." Or a mutual friend to remind us that we do.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Give me your hump.

Comin' atcha every Monday with a reason to shake off the "Why must I work?" blues, it's...

As madcap as they were awesome, the Bonzos (or, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) were the definition of alternative in the 1960s -- a ridiculous thumbng of the nose at the popular music of the day in favor of odd lyrics, vaudeville style music, humor that rivalled Monty Python's own just a few years later and albums that merit glorious remastered rereleases to this day. This cut, the lead from 1969's Keynsham actually ditches vaudeville for backbeat rhythm and blues and even though it lacks in length, the substance crammed into its short spin more than makes up for it. Neil Innes (later to become Ron Nasty of the Rutles) pleads for mercy from a girl of ... well, strange proportions. It could make you laugh, it could make you scratch your head, it could make you wonder just who the hell these guys were, but from the second that beat kicks in... you're theirs.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

I'd say someday I'm bound to give my heart away.

And since we're on a nice little little roll all of a sudden, let's follow up one monthly series with another, the Friday Five.

For today's Friday Five we look songs that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote, but handed off to other artists to run and have hits with.

The Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, of course, is arguably the greatest in music history, rivaled only in lasting popularity (maybe) by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein or the Gershwin brothers. And while the songs they wrote for the Beatles have etched a personal spot in the memories of everyone with even the most passing interest in music as a whole (that's saying a hell of a lot, really), such was the height of their powers in the 1960s that seeing the brand name even on other artists' records usually guaranteed a hit too.

And while few would doubt the genius of their collaboration, the strength of the brand might best be summed up when Paul McCartney cooked up "Woman" for Peter & Gordon in 1966. The pair had hits (even a #1) with three other Lennon/McCartney tracks, so it seemed a given that "Woman" would prove to be successful as well. But suspicious that their hits were coming only because his and John's names were attached to the records, McCartney pushed the record to be credited to the pseudonym of Bernard Webb. The thought was, if a song was good enough, it should be a hit regardless of the name(s) of its author. "Woman" may not have been as instantaneous catchy as some other efforts, but it was a rather grandiose piece. But with Webb's name attached, it climbed only as high as #28.

While few would complain about a Top 30 record, the standards set by John and Paul in the 1960s were instantaneously recognizable and such that falling short of the Top 10 was certainly near-worthy of deeming a failure. Now the likes of PJ Proby, the Applejacks, the Strangers, Tommy Quickly and even the Rolling Stones all saw Lennon/McCartney castoffs they tried in fall short of Top 10 status.

Others, however, got to enjoy a little taste of Beatlemania.

The Friday Five

Five Top 10 Lennon/McCartney Singles the Beatles Never Enjoyed

Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas - Bad To Me
Given how instantaneously catchy it is, it's still a mystery to me why the Beatles passed off "Bad To Me" to Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. It's likely it could've been a simple management decision by Brian Epstein, but the song drips with the catchiness that most early Beatle hits became so famous for. Apparently on the original studio tape, Lennon can be heard discussing harmony parts with Billy, but when this single went to press in 1963, there was almost no doubt it was going to be successful, and with another Lennon/McCartney castoff on the B-side, "I'll Be On My Way" (which the Beatles can be heard doing on the Live At the BBC compilation), Kramer and his boys bagged their first #1. While the Dakotas also had a hit with "Do You Want to Know a Secret," two other Lennon/McCartney giveaways, "I'll Keep You Satisfied" and "From a Window" also made it to the Top 10 for them.

Cilla Black - It's For You
Cilla Black had a great voice, but given it was the era that produced the likes of Dusty Springfield and Motown kept pushing out one amazing female talent after another, it's hard to say whether Black would've made it on her voice alone if she wasn't a Liverpool native that found herself in the right place at the right time. Seriously. She was a coat check girl at the Cavern in the early 1960s, when you know who were playing at almost hourly intervals. Brian Epstein signed her to his budding stable and George Martin was on hire to produce her records. Her first single was a 1963 cover of a McCartney-led song, "Love of the Loved" that the Beatles had included on their rehearsal tape for Decca Records. The song didn't impress the people at Decca, and Black's version didn't impress many people either, topping out in the singles charts at #35. While most artists might enjoy that for a first go, having the Beatles name attached should have promised more, and it was viewed in the EMI camp as a colossal failure. Black then recorded two singles by more "professional" writers shot her up the charts. When it came time for the fourth single, McCartney felt bit by the competitive bug and pulled this song from the very best that he'd not held for the Beatles. "It's For You" is an amazingly sophisticated song -- even for the Lennon/McCartney partnership, considering it was 1964 -- and while it wasn't dripping with the pop sensibilities of a "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or "She Loves You," the public recognized it was good enough to get to #7.

The Fourmost - Hello Little Girl
When the first volume of the Beatles Anthology was released in 1995, the world at large got to hear the infamous Decca audition tape that Dick Rowe famously turned down, forever casting himself as "The Man Who Turned Down the Beatles," or, "The Biggest Idiot in the Music Business. Ever." But listening to the tape, or even a healthy sample of it, proves Rowe was justified in his decision. While the performances are fine, they're not great, and the Lennon/McCartney originals included ("Love Me Do" among them) give no real foresight as to what might come. The Lennon-driven "Hello Little Girl" was one of the songs, so it was natural that the Beatles would cast it off, but given the fact that Black had stumbled with another Decca tape cast off, "Love of the Loved," it seemed odd that Brian Epstein and EMI would try to get the song into the mainstream yet with another act in his stable. While Gerry & the Pacemakers took a pass at the song, it was ultimately the Fourmost that went to press with it in 1963, and what do you know, got to #9 in the charts with it. The Beatles were present at the session, but if you didn't see the Lennon/McCartney name on the single (actually note at the time that the billing still went 'McCartney-Lennon'), you'd probably accuse this of being a horrible Beatles knock off. I still do. It's just too bad they wrote it.

Mary Hopkin - Goodbye
After 1966, Lennon and McCartney got a little more tight about giving away their songs. Any number of reasons could be offered -- increased drug use scaling back productivity (if not quality), Epstein taking more of a backseat as the rest of his stable floundered and only the Beatles excelled ... who knows? But following Epstein's death in 1967, the boys were looking for new direction and with the inception of Apple Records in 1968, the Beatles not only had their own playhouse, but also a stable where they could breed talent they saw fit. Lennon did his thing with Yoko, George Harrison took the likes of Jackie Lomax and Billy Preston under his wing and McCartney got behind young songstress Mary Hopkin and a group called the Iveys, which would soon change its name to Badfinger. Commercially, anything at that time that McCartney got involved in was a surefire hit. While Lennon wanted to go in more avant garde territory with songwriting, McCartney had long since cracked the code on how to manufacture pop hits, and its telling that his demo of "Come and Get It" (which can be heard on the Beatles Anthology 3) was taken almost note for note by Badfinger. "Goodbye" was a song McCartney had kicking around since the Beatles' India trip in 1968, and as Macca assumed production duties for Hopkin's first single, "Those Were the Days" and her first album, Postcard -- it's almost natural that he lined himself up for her second single, not only producing it, but giving her something he didn't see fitting on a Beatles album of the time. Abbey Road's loss was Hopkin's gain as "Goodbye" climbed to #2 in 1969. It's interesting that both "Goodbye" and "Come and Get It" both topped the charts in 1969, but only "Goodbye" retains a Lennon/McCartney stamp. The Badfinger tune carried Macca's name alone ...

Peter & Gordon - A World Without Love
Alright, so Peter Asher and Gordon Waller WEREN'T in Epstein's stable at NEMS, but the fact that Paul McCartney was an item with Asher's older sister Jane for the better part of the 1960's gave the aspiring musician a nice in to the recording business. Like "Bad To Me," it's hard to figure out why "A World Without Love" DIDN'T become a Beatles song -- it has all the hallmarks of a Beatles hit, especially a 1964 one at that, but Macca was charitable enough to pass it off to Peter and Gordon, who rode it straight to #1. Considering its lasting success on both sides of the Atlantic, it's arguably the most famous Beatles song the Beatles never did. The duo also got picking at three other Lennon/McCartney tunes, including the aforementioned "Woman," "I Don't Want to See You Again" and "Nobody I Know," the final of which also cracked the Top 10.

Enjoy your weekend, kids.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

This can't look so bad.

It's time again ...

Mixed Messages

Who's confusing us? Bernard Butler
What about? His preference for the muse's presence.

Bernard Butler's career arc undoubtedly deserves a full scale review like I gave to his hero Johnny Marr earlier this year. Perhaps I will yet ... although that's a lot of work ... hmmm ...

Regardless, Butler's found himself back in acclaim for being the main man behind the desk for Duffy on her big-time "you-want-soul-without-the-trips-to-rehab-and-nauseating-Sun-coverage?" debut album, Rockferry. Butler even co-wrote several tracks.

Of course before that, there was the on and off again McAlmont and Butler project, his "arrival" in taking lead guitar duties in Suede, then famously falling out, then reuniting with Brett Anderson in the Tears, working with the likes of Bert Jansch and being a sideman or producer for everyone from Paul Weller to Cajun Dance Party. He even spent a week in the Verve.

And while maybe he found more success in the Britpop heyday with David McAlmont, he also had a none-too-shabby outing on his own with two solo albums in 1998 and 1999. Now, they're not looked back with much reference (and methinks its about time for a rethink of Friends and Lovers), but the good thing about it is, you can swipe them for ridiculous prices at the Amazon marketplace.

It was a single from each of the two albums, People Move On and the aforementioned Friends and Lovers that provide our point of confusion. You need look no further than their titles for glaring contradiction: "Stay" and "You Must Go On."

Both songs appear to be about a girl (though I'm only taking them on the surface here, folks, feel free to write in and surprise me that one of 'em's about Jesus or something and render this whole post irrelevant -- I might not reply), possibly a romantic interest, but even if they're about random friends, it's still confusing.

"Stay" is without question, Bernard's most beautiful song (solo, at least). A slow building plea for someone (what else?) to stick around that makes it from a plaintive acoustic guitar to crashing drums and air guitar-worthy licks, while "You Must Go On" is consistently upbeat and (obviously) forward thinking.

Perhaps the contradiction can most easily be explained in the narrator's apparent state of mind for each song: "Stay" reeks of desperation from a guy caught with someone who implicitly feels the need to keep moving, while "You Must Go On" kind of puts the shoe on the other foot. Here, the narrator is the one saying "get on with it," while the subject can't seem to get over ruminations (and sad ones at that) about experiences already had.

In the latter, Butler urges his muse to look upon the experiences more favorably ("So cherish the days when we searched for caves and paddled our feet in the midday heat -- Your mother would scream if she heard you'd been, well it's just as well we carried on and on and ... "), but in "Stay," he can't seem to get the subject to even think about thinking ("I tried to believe what you say -- that you won't change if you just stay").

Pro-lingering: Bernard Butler - Stay
Anti-lingering: Bernard Butler - You Must Go On

So what does Bernard want?
While I'd like to believe that songwriter's put more heart into things they believe, and as such, since "Stay" is overflowing with emotion, he's more of a reflective guy, the fact of the matter is that Bernard's personal career says otherwise. Look at everything he's done. Sure, "Stay" is still his finest moment, but what's the album it's from called?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

You don't have to worry with me.

I know I have to be sensitive about such matters and try to avoid upsetting people as best I can, but ... damn, dude.

I love Ronnie Wood. I really do, but wasn't this happening just two years ago, too? Now granted, I have no personal history with substance abuse, nor have I ever even seen a rehab facility in person (they tried to make me go, and I said ... sorry), so I can't really make any informed observations or instigate converstation beyond, well, good for him and bless him much for trying.

But then I think about all the biographies I've read about people that battled addictions and came in and out of rehab repeatedly before ultimately ending up in an ugly end. I still think the constant eyes on Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse aren't merited (they've only really got a couple good songs to their names apiece), but it seems to me the more its celebrated, the more you think of a role you have to live up to. Maybe I've read too many of the extreme books, and maybe that "Intervention" show tries to tell me otherwise, but I think once you get to a certain point, it kind of stops working. Does it mean people should stop trying? I suppose not. But at what point do personal choices become other people's business? At what point does inevitable become, for lack of a better of term, inevitable? I don't mean to sound unreasonably cold, but substance abuse-related illness or death for people 40 and under somehow merit the word "waste." What of the elders?

I suppose it can't be easy for a guy like Wood -- you bump into one of the Faces (much less a Rolling Stone) in a social situation and you're going to want to buy him a drink, aren't you? But something about a 61-year old guitarist taking spins in the revolving door saddens me. Or maybe it's just that it's news at all saddens me. It can't be easy to have to keep fighting at that age, much less have to do it with widespread public knowledge. Personal will can be a funny thing, but it's also still personal. Is it fair for me to criticize a 61-year old alcoholic? Not at all. But, then, if its afforded international news space, it is our talking point, is it not? What, at this point, does Ronnie Wood owe us? If, as it's been reported, it's his desire to "run off with an 18-year-old cocktail waitress," who are we, at this or any point, to criticize? If your last name isn't Wood, don't reply.


Ron Wood - Cancel Everything
If I were to criticize Wood for anything in a direct manner, it might be the decision to sing lead on a record these days. His voice ain't what it used to be, but that doesn't mean there's not some gold in the vaults. This shambolic little cut from 1974's I've Got My Own Album To Do features him and Keef practicing "the ancient art of weaving" before even joining the Stones. It's kind of a propos, and regardless of (possibly) losing a wife, falling off the wagon and doing it all for a waitress well ... it doesn't change the fact that he's got some great stuff behind him. Hell, people still talk about Michael Jackson's old music with reverence, right?


Monday, July 14, 2008

If you don't leave the world behind.

The Get You Goin' Track

Weezer - Keep Fishin'

Spent the weekend at the family cottage oop north, put my iPod on shuffle and hooked up some speakers to keep the vibes good while (and when) the sun shone down. This cut came on and caught the ears of one of my young cousins, who quickly recommended it would make for a good "Get You Goin' Track" today. Someday I plan on writing a big post about Weezer and why I don't understand their continuing appeal, nor Rivers Cuomo's apparent "genius." But I do admit they do have flashes of simplisitic brilliance and this is one of them, from 2002's Maladroit. Someday I'll sit down with my cousin (who wasn't even born when the Blue Album rather undeservedly cemented its authors in music history's hallowed halls) and discuss music at great length with him. We'll talk about Rivers and his shortcomings. But for a few short minutes this weekend, this song was able to rev up a kid that still hasn't refined his taste in music (although, impressively, he knows all the words to the Beatles' "Help!"). Whatever your prejudices may be, this song should get you goin'. Even if you refuse to admit it to your friends and colleagues.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

I hop right into that car of mine and drive around the world.

Well I put this up now because I'll be working from Milwaukee Friday, and thus, unable to provide a good proper, week ending post.

I always have mixed feelings about going back to Milwaukee. I'm often asked if I could ever live there again. I don't know. And it's not a knock on the city -- indeed, I go back many times a year if not for work-related activities, then for Marquette basketball games, to catch up with old friends, concerts, etc. etc.

It's just that I kind of feel like the Milwaukee chapter of my life is over.

Not that it was a bad run. When I first arrived there in the summer of 2001, it was a little daunting. I was about to start college, living in a fairly big city on my own for the first time in my life, and while I had family nearby to call upon, I still kind of felt like I was in an urban jungle. The fact that Marquette stands in one of the city's less affluent neighborhoods certainly didn't put a suburban, middle class raised boy at the greatest of ease.

Of course, I learned to love it and am actually glad that I ended up living in rougher areas -- there's a lot to be said for how it changes your perception of life in general.

But seven summers ago, I was a bit scared. First off, movies like "Animal House" and "Dead Man on Campus" scared the living piss out of me before I arrived. I seriously thought college was a place where you thumbed your nose at academics for the greater good of getting drunk and hooking up with random girls and then had to deal with consequences like... having to find a suicidal roommate/or potentially killing off your roommate so you could pass a semester on sympathy vote.

Suffice to say, I learned quickly it wasn't like that and am now able to enjoy both movies now.

But the other thing that weirded me out straight away was walking back to my dorm building the first day after orientation to see a rather portly individual standing in the middle of 18th Street, puffing on a cigarette and singing Dion's "The Wanderer" at the top of his lungs for anyone that would listen. I mean, the visual humor of a man of his stature loudly and proudly proclaiming that he'll "Kiss 'em and love 'em 'cos to me they're all the same" was good enough, but he actually went the extra mile and pantomimed actions like tearing open his shirt to show the name of Rosie on his chest.

But you know... you can't point and laugh in that situation. The dude was three times my size. He could've obliterated me in one fell swoop. So you think "Oh my God" to yourself, run inside to your dorm room, laugh safely behind closed doors and then tell others what you saw.

When I told my friend Kyle he said, "Oh yeah. He was out there singing yesterday. I thought 'F*ck it' and went right over and joined him."

Kyle adapted quickly. It took me at least another three days.

But now whenever I hear that Dion cut, my mind drifts back to my first moments fending for myself in Milwaukee. And as I'll be drifting to Milwaukee Friday, I think it's only proper that this song gets some play.

And when she asks me which one I love the best...

Dion - The Wanderer
For as great as late 1950s and early 1960s rock and roll is, my common critique is production values and the fact that many songs never quite got the punch they deserved. Seriously, listen to a lot of Elvis' early stuff. It's great, but how much better would "Teddy Bear" have been with a stronger backbeat? I can't complain about Dion's stuff though. This and really the rest of his 1961 Runaround Sue album packed a real wallop. Listen to that drumbeat. And listen to how much stronger it makes Dion's egotistical little proclamations sound.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

But if you want it, here it is.

So I know as the year unfolds, I'm quite privy to say I'm excited about this, I'm excited about that, and there will be this in November to look forward to.

But then when these moments actually occur, I'm rather tight lipped. The main reason for this is because I usually horde new music over the course of the year to prepare my annual "15 of the Best" series in December and give thoughts, opinions and second degrees on the biggest surprises of the year (and let downs from bands I'd had high hopes for).

This summer's been a little difficult in me trying to deal with the fact that Alejandro Escovedo now has management bent on making him the celebrity he deserves to be. I've been a staunch Escovedo backer for a few years now and would be the first to say that I can't really think of anyone more deserving to be as celebrated in the pantheon of greats. But I also admit its a little strange to see him opening for Dave Matthews and sharing stages with Bruce Springsteen (and let's not pretend for a moment that this isn't just a little heartbreaking). The new album, of course, is typically glorious. But I just pray the days of those intimate performances at Shank Hall or the High Noon Saloon don't morph into annual stops at Alpine Valley. The clubs never were going to make him as rich as he deserves to be, but the love inside those walls was pretty grand. I hope it's not lost.

On the other hand, I've no reservations about the success that the Old 97's are getting on the back of their latest, Blame it on Gravity. The record's quite astounding if you've not heard it yet, actually one of the most solid top-to-bottom offerings I've heard thus far this year. Maybe my cynicism of their own celebrity-club status was tempered by the band's appearance in the Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn vehicle The Break-Up a couple years ago, but whatever glad hands, photo ops and celebrity blog exposure comes for the boys this time around, I'm all for it. Even if the video is a little silly.


Then again, maybe I'm also safe in the knowledge that however great the album is, New West Records is never going to have the power to navigate an all out assault that would mean week-long stints on the Sunset Strip or a live Today show performance. Sure, they can show up on the Good Morning Texas, and that's fine. But they're also probably not gonna make the jump out of the clubs anytime to soon. Which is fine -- it's where it is best, after all. Can you imagine them in a stadium? Oh, never mind.

The great thing about the 97's new record and really the 97's in general is that while they dabble in a plethora of different styles, they've always stayed orbiting around a rock-pop meets proper country center (read: proper country, not that CMT business).

Maybe the twang's straightened out a little, but aside from production value, I find little that separates the Old 97's of 1995 from the Old 97's of 2008. Critics are likely to bemoan such a fact, but I doubt I'm alone when I say I really appreciate it.

To illustrate my point:

Old 97's - Garage Sale
This is a cut pulled from a strange little 10-inch EP released in 1995 that featured the 97's on one side, and Funland (later to become Melt, later to become immortalized in the Old 97's "Melt Show" on Too Far To Care) on the other, but both performing the same two songs (one of each's). Here's the 97's take on the Funland song, which I actually find preferable to their own offering, "Stoned." You put a bit more polish on, raise the bass and, really, this wouldn't sound out of place on Blame it on Gravity. Say what you will about progress, but I know a whole bunch of people that will talk instead about devotion.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Did I leave your mind when I was gone?

Today I have a pretty cool find for you.

British soulster Carleen Anderson has found her way onto many of Paul Weller's records, perhaps most notably as the second lead vocal on "Wings of Speed," the ethereal track that closed the landmark 1995 Stanley Road album, but you'll find her voice peppered over many of the man's solo recordings, so it's kind of fitting that the Modfather would eventually return the favor.

Weller lent his voice to a fantastic duet of "Wanna Be Where You Are," a great old soul cut made most famous by a very young Michael Jackson on his Got To Be There album. The cut was pulled as a single in the UK, but it never got much play and even though it slid onto Anderson's 2006 album Soul Providence, the relative obscurity of that album too meant that even though this track is but two years old, it's already something of a rare commodity.

Carleen Anderson (feat. Paul Weller) - Wanna Be Where You Are
First off, let's not kid ourselves -- the track doesn't come anywhere near the energy or spirit of Jacko's take on it back in 1972, but the modern soul groove is nice touch, and Weller's voice still blends quite nicely with Anderson's. I kind of wish they'd at least kept the tempo of the Michael Jackson version, I think it loses something in being slowed down to a more sultry pace. But for what it loses, it also gains bucketloads of maturity.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

No football hero or smooth Don Juan.

It was barely past noon today when my buddy Umaar said this:

"Dude, I'm gonna need a good Get You Goin' Track today. I'm struggling to keep my eyes open."

For him and all the rest of you totally unpsyched to be back to the grind following a long weekend, here ye be.

The Get You Goin' Track

While the argument that Jack Black began in High Fidelity about Stevie Wonder's 1980s-and-beyond crimes rages to this day, it is completely without merit to disavow anything he did up to about 1976, and certainly during his mid-1960s heyday at Motown. Besides penning many of the hits that would forever become label signatures, the energy and enthusiasm he brought to his own early recordings was unmatched by most soulsters of the day, and makes me long for days of Mod clubs that I never knew in the first place. Sure it's Monday, but the second that backbeat kicks in, it's Saturday night and you wanna be out on the dance floor in a sharp new suit. Indisputably one of the greatest "poor boy falling for a rich girl" songs ever. "But it's alright if my clothes aren't new -- out of sight, because my heart is true." Damn straight. From his 1966 album of the same name.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

The end of an empire is messy at best.

Happy 4th of July everybody.

I know I've been an absentee blogger this week -- trust me when I say it has to do more with being under the weather (found out it was heat exhaustion, hooray) than anything else.

So I'm spending my three-day weekend recovering, and I was thinking of doing an ironic-style 4th of July post -- you know, songs by people that look at America and say "Well... it's not all THAT great, you know..."

But you know what? I'm not a big patriot flag waver, but I'm also not gonna knock my home. In a strange way, it's kind of disheartening to spend time abroad going, "I'm American, but ... I didn't vote for him,  you know. A lot of us don't like him either ..." It makes me feel like Alec Baldwin. And no one should have to feel like that.

Unsurprisingly, Randy Newman summed it up best. He's got a new album coming out in August with a full-fleshed studio version of this song, but if I was gonna do a 4th of July post, it kind of came down to this and this alone:


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What am I supposed to do?

Happy July everybody.

I'd have had a post yesterday, but I spent the majority of it sprawled over my couch in a comatose position (Tylenol Nighttime in the daytime does that to you), wondering why the hell my salivary glands were working over time and if I might ever be able to swallow something again without feeling like knives were going down my throat.

I feel an itsy bit better today (well enough to post at least), and since now we're already ankle deep in a new month, it seems now's as a good a time as any to reset the monthly series.

Plus I'm in a fighting mood. Vs.!

It's always nice when artists do a song by their heroes as opposed to a song they just kind of like, because it always seems there's a bit more reverence involved. For instance, Paul Weller once did a heartfelt cover of William Bell's "My Whole World is Falling Down" for a BBC session (which ended up on the B-side of the "You Do Something to Me" single), and Bell actually got word back to the Wella fella that he'd quite enjoyed it. It meant enough to Paul to relay the story in the liner notes to the Fly on the Wall boxset, and if you go back and listen to the track, you can tell he's doing it with a lot of love... not feeling his way around (and wondering which route to take) like he did on his cover of "I'd Rather Go Blind."

A hero to many groups of the British invasion was the great Arthur Alexander, an Alabama-born singer that found success in music in the early 1960s and quickly put a young John Lennon under his spell. While his songs would be covered by both the Beatles and Rolling Stones amongst many others, Alexander felt he was getting a raw deal in the business and walked away. He spent almost the rest of his life driving a bus until a bunch of his old friends and backing musicians dragged him out of retirement for one more album in the early 1990s. He died shortly thereafter.

Alexander never had the pipes to match with his soul contemporaries, and many of his arrangements (perhaps having to do with an Alabama upbringing as opposed to a Chicago or Memphis one), seemed to have a little more of a country feel to them than a tight pocket R&B one.

I've always figured his greatest song to be "Soldier of Love," which was covered by the Beatles for a BBC session (later released, along with Alexander's "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues," on 1994's Live at the BBC) and then brought to much more popularity by Pearl Jam, who covered it on the No Boundaries benefit album. But a close second is his lovelorn parting message to a girl that's found another dude, "Anna (Go To Him)."

Featuring a thick soul (and almost over-the-top) back drop, Alexander calmly and coolly agrees to let Anna go for another guy, even though this seems to be a continuing pattern for him. You have to wonder which girl is gonna get the "For Christ's sake! No! You said you loved me, dammit, why won't you stick around?!" treatment. It's kind of like Bill Pullman's Walter character in "Sleepless in Seattle." Of course you're rooting for Tom Hanks. But I'm sure most guys still kind of feel bad for Pullman (or at least his character ... because Bill Pullman kind of sucks in general), who gutlessly lets the woman he's about to marry run off to the Empire State Building to meet a guy she's only had the most fleeting of contact with over the past year. It's like ... WTF?

Alexander's single was put out in 1962 and tacked on to his album You Better Move On, which was also released that year. It gave the Beatles little time to learn it, but considering Lennon's reverence for the man, it's unsurprising they did and put it into the 3-hole on their debut album Please Please Me in 1963.

Vocally, Lennon gets a few more points for really letting the inherent frustration of the situation fly: (seriously, listen to him wail "Every girl I've ever had breaks my heart and leaves me sad"). Unfortunately, the music back drop doesn't carry the same punch as Alexander's. Now granted, a thousand apologies could be made for the Beatles here -- the whole of their first album was recorded in 585 minutes, they've admitted to being nervous in the studio, and the album was done in a rather slapdash manner to try to cash in on their quickly mounting popularity, but George's guitar just doesn't create the effect that the piano does on Alexander's version. And Ringo's drums just ain't as deep. And so whereas Alexander's voice may not reach to the pained depths that Lennon does, the music goes way deeper.

I gotta give Arthur the edge here. You?

Arthur Alexander vs. the Beatles
"Anna (Go To Him)"

Arthur Alexander - Anna (Go To Him)

The Beatles - Anna (Go To Him)

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