Thursday, August 28, 2008

Arson on my mind.

Here's a fun pairing for you.

Bandit Records has just released Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets, a collection of duets George Jones has recorded over the years with the likes of everyone from Tammy Wynette to Leon Russell.

While it's kind of a headscratcher of a release (all the recorded duets had previously been left off other George Jones albums because apparently they weren't up to snuff, so essentially what we have here is a bottom-scraping collection ... for a guy who's still alive ... er ...), the album actually does have a few interesting moments. And from a guy who likes the brand of country music that Jones is best for about as much as he likes dentists, that says a lot.

Sure, Jones lived the rock and roll lifestyle when it came to drinking, but you're probably not going to hear "He Stopped Loving Her Today" or "(I Was Country) When Country Wasn't Cool" the next time you come around to my place.

Still, Jones wrote "Burn Your Playhouse Down" which was covered amazingly on the Proclaimers' debut album, This is the Story, so ... that gets some major coolness points in my book.

And what does this collection hold? Why, a version of that song with none other than Keef sharing the mic with George!

George Jones & Keith Richards - Burn Your Playhouse Down
This was actually recorded back in 1994 and why it never made it out until 14 years later is kind of beyond me ... it's kind of ragged sounding, but anything with Keith's vocals usually is, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Gotta love Keith's slipshod guitar solo before the sharper pedal steel work comes in... the old studio pros weren't going to let this go TOO "alt country" now, were they? Actually the charm of these two substance survivors swapping rather scary threats to a runaround who done 'em wrong sounds about as hardcore old school as you can get, and aside from the eye-rollingly obligatory "Thank you, Keith," "Thank you, George!" at the end, this is probably one of the best versions of the song out there.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Slide one.

First, an update on why posts haven't been as frequent as of late:

Lots of travel. Splitting time between the job's Madison and Milwaukee offices, and a road trip to Omaha this past weekend have not allowed me a whole lot of time to write up some good music posts for you dear readers. To you, I apologize. I do try to update as regularly as I can, but hey hey, I watch the days roll away...

I also apologize to anyone who's driven to Omaha through the whole east-to-west length of Iowa. Jesus Christ...

Now, back to the music.

The end of August is already upon us, and I have yet to get to this month's Fantastic 45.

Well, problem solved.

We've featured 45's on here before that had the good fortune of a song's B-side becoming the beast that made the single as successful as it was, but arguably the most famous case of a B-side not only moving a few copies of a 45 RPM, but also defining a career has to go to Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps.

While it was "Be Bop a Lula" that effectively got the rockabilly pioneer signed to Capitol Records, the label somewhat mystifyingly left the song off Vincent's debut album for the label and also chose not to release it as a standalone single. But Vincent's publisher, Bill Lowery, who signed Vincent to a publishing deal based on the strenght of the song, got Capitol to promise to put the song on the flipside of Vincent's "Woman Love" single, released in 1956.

Getting a leg-up on the label itself, Lowery had a bunch of promotional copies pressed highlighting the song's B-side and sent them out to radio stations across the country. So when Capitol finally released the single, it was one of those rare instances where the singles-buying public paid incredibly little mind to the song on the A-side.

As it goes, "Woman Love" isn't a BAD song -- God knows Capitol Records has made some questionable moves in its history (one can't help but think of their calls to Brian Wilson in 1966 and 1967 demanding more surfing songs), but they're also not the kind of company that's going to knowingly release pure crap. Well, maybe nowadays (hello, Yellowcard), but not back then.

Compared to a song that even three-year-olds can sing, though, how could it win?

The Fantastic 45's

Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps
"Woman Love" b/w "Be Bop a Lula"
Capitol, 1956

Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps - Woman Love
There's nothing terrible about this song -- indeed it's the same formula that made pretty much of all Vincent's 1950s output popular. Few simple chords, that breathing/singing combo that no one before or since has really done quite as effectively (basically an Elvis impression so good it became paradoxically original) and a steady enough beat that it could be danced to romantically or in a more care-free manner. Thing about it is, the coolest thing about the song is when he calls out "Slide one!" before the first guitar solo. It's a fine enough song, but it's not one that really seems to stick in your head after listening. Considering this was the latter half of the 1950s, when the singles market ruled and labels looked for stuff that would leave lasting impressions, it makes Capitol's insistance to give this "A" billing all that more of a head scratcher...

Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps - Be Bop a Lula
I have a theory about this song. As I've met a lot of people in my life that know music on all different levels, from barely anything to psychiatric-ward worthly levels of obsession, I've never come across a person that doesn't know this song. And the weird thing is, even if it's not this original version, people still know the song through some outlet. I think the version I've heard more than any other is the one Paul McCartney did to open his "MTV Unplugged" show, but even before I heard that, I knew this song. I want to say I heard it on oldies radio in my youth, but I can't pinpoint the first time I heard it or when it stuck. It's this song that you just seem to inherently KNOW. I think children born into the world after 1956 came out of womb with this song in their heads. God knows how it got there... maybe it'd been there before 1956, and Gene Vincent was just the first person to take a guitar to this idiotic little phrase stuck in his mind. But for whatever reason... rock and roll and popular music is still forever in its debt.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

I don't wanna scream out loud and wake up on my own.

So, the new Oasis single is hitting US airwaves, and the video has leaked online. I'm quite pleased with it, but then... I'm an Oasis fan, so I go into it with my own prejudices.

Plus, it's the latest in that trend started by "Go Let it Out" in 2000 of "comeback" singles after nearly 2-year long droughts, so fans always rush toward it like a literal oasis in the desert, and critics sharpen their teeth and start deciding how best to again turn the phrase, "same sh*t, different day."

Hotpress quickly dismissed it, although their reviewer lost severe points for trying to look well versed in the band's back catalogue but being unable to distiguish the 1994 "Fade Away" from the Be Here Now track "Fade In/Out." Sure, the titular similarities are there, but when you're talking about one song's merits using the other one's title... you look really stupid.

Anyway, the review closed with this potshot at the Oasis comeback singles of the decade thus far:

"It should sound good live, but it's not a good song. As far as Oasis comeback singles go it's up there with 'The Hindu Times'. Indeed this could be their worst comeback single yet....nah, 'The Hindu Times' was pretty poor wasn't it? (I digress, I must have blocked out 'Go Let It Out')."

I always thought "The Hindu Times" was a decent enough song, although I also think it would've been better had it retained the drum loop that anchored the song's demo. But worst comeback single?

Them's big words, because Oasis singles (maybe to a lesser extent this decade) have always been pretty special affairs in terms of quality B-sides. By the looks of it, "The Shock of the Lightning" actually looks to be the worst Oasis single ever. One B-side. And they've crossed the rubicon -- it's a f*cking remix. Le sigh.

Thoughts on "The Hindu Times" aside, the fact of the matter is the single's two B-sides were both pretty great songs, and showed a side of Noel that he hadn't (up until that point) really touched before.

Oasis - Just Getting Older
An almost identical demo of the song had trickled out to Oasis fans and bootleg hoarders when the pile of demos for songs that constituted 2000's Standing on the Shoulder of Giants found their way out of the vaults. Noel's reflective, post drugs side really came into blossom on that album and it's B-sides -- "Gas Panic!," "Where Did it All Go Wrong?," "One Way Road," "Carry Us All" etc. But to hear the guy who wrote lyrics to "Rock and Roll Star" and "Cigarettes and Alcohol" drop a line like "Staying in / I can't be bothered / Making conversation / With the friends that I don't know" less than a decade later was still kind of jarring. Nevertheless, it's still a pretty song and bucks standby references like the Beatles and Paul Weller in favor of a little more celestial Pink Floyd vibe.

Oasis - Idler's Dream
People always take potshots at Noel's lyrical ability and while inane couplets run rampant in Oasis back catalogue, too few are willing to concede that once inwhile, Noel can write a really beautiful lyric, and if you go back to "Hey Now!" or even further to "Slide Away," you know he's been able to do it for awhile. I've always felt that "Idler's Dream" is one of the most severely underappreciated things ever released by Oasis, and I also wonder if it'd been released in their mid 1990s heyday, it'd be just as legendary a B-side as something like "The Masterplan." Sure, it's just a slow ballad, but listen. No guitars, beautiful harmonies, a light touch of orchestration. It's almost Oasis doing the Smiths' "Asleep." Just a little less suicidal. I think...

And considering these two self reflective moments, backed THIS song... it's hard to say "The Hindu Times" package was bullheaded or one-dimensional, isn't it?

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Too late I finally see.

Maybe I was too young (or... not even around) for "Happy Days" during its heyday and maybe I didn't have any interest when Nick at Nite picked it up on reruns, but I can appreciate nostalgia.

And in Milwaukee, nostalgia for it runs pretty rampant. People want to know where Leon's Frozen Custard is and what the connection is. Morrissey namechecked the show and "Laverne in Shirley" during his Milwaukee stop in 2004. It's about as synonymous with the city as Miller beers or racing sausages.

But doesn't anybody find it funny how crazy it is that it's all related to a FICTIONAL goddamned TV show? I mean, I've read articles about the tourists that flock to the original Brady Bunch home and I'm sure there are Seinfeld themed tours throughout New York, but do they have statues of Mike Brady in California? Of Cosmo Kramer in New York?

Well they have a statue of the Fonz in Milwaukee now.

Hey, as far as tourism goes and everything else, bada bing. I'm sure I'll stop and laugh at the thing next time I'm in the city. But aren't statues supposed to be of relatively important historical figures, particularly pertinent to the area upon which their statue is located? The fact that the show was shot in Los Angeles and Henry Winkler is from Manhattan doesn't bother anyone around here?

Well, c'est la vie.

Ayyyy... etc. etc.

God knows the Brett Favre statues might not come as soon as we all thought (and thank God for that).

Rod Stewart - What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)
Alright, alright... it's about booze, I know, but it seems a propos. And I also know it's Rod Stewart and not Jerry Lee Lewis, but I actually prefer Rod's version. Plus this is the time when he was splitting duties with the Faces, so it's still that era when it was acceptable to like him. This ended up as B-side to the "Angel" single, but it can now be found on any amount of compilations, including Reason to Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Exist to cease.

The Get You Goin' Track

Primal Scream - Detroit

Between 1997's Vanishing Point and 2002's Evil Heat, Primal Scream pretty much blew away the blissed out psychedelia and early 1970's Stones-fuelled rock and roll that had propelled their popularity to that point, instead turning to more distortion, aggression and an industrial feel that pretty much anchored three albums. While critics applauded the band's forward thinking (and now lament the fact that they've reverted into the rock and pop ways ... hooks?! gasp! ...), there's no arguing that while Vanishing Point, XTRMNTR and Evil Heat all were exciting, dangerous and progressive, they all were kind of like lasting headaches too. It's not to say there weren't pangs of brilliance, but an hour's worth of pseudo-metallic clanging just doesn't produce the same pleasure as Screamadelica once did. For an instantaneous rev-up or call to arms, however, look no further. This 3-minute slice from Evil Heat sounds like a slightly malfunctioning factory line, alludes to Communism, violence and sex, and also employs the vocals of the Jesus and Mary Chain's Jim Reid. Four minutes might've been too much, but as it stands... it should pump you up for the week ahead.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Something you'll remember.

The recent news that the Coral are about to release a "singles collection" (read: best of) kind of pissed me off.

First off, this is a band that's still young and while they're productivity may have slowed down a little bit, it seems a bit premature to do a singles collection. Their first album was released six years ago... shouldn't there be like a 10-year limit before you go ahead releasing singles collections?

And of course, while most Coral fans will likely sigh at the news and say they'd prefer something new, the record label still will try to dupe us into buying the disc with the promise of a new track, which, sadly, sounds like a B-side from five years ago.

Never have schemes been hatched on fans that are worse than the greatest hits with one or two new tracks. The completisits among us spitefully shell out full price for one song, and more often than not, it sounds like it was written and recorded under the premise of, "Hey I know you guys are on break and all, but we have the hits album coming in November and it'd be nice to have a new track to tack on to that."

The failures exist and exist at almost every corner: Blur's "Music is My Radar" sounds like a depressing afterthought after 17 other generally fantastic singles, people might argue the Stones' "Don't Stop" isn't SO bad, but sandwiched between "Beast of Burden" and "Happy" on 40 Licks, it sounds dreadfully out of place... and I believe I've already committed enough bile to "All You Need is Me" and "That's How People Grow Up" to Mr. Morrissey's latest hits package in previous posts.

Then there are the artists who you wonder why they even have greatest hits... Lisa Loeb's could be 11 new songs around "Stay" for all I know, and even though you only know one song by the Crash Test Dummies, they have a greatest hits package with 13 other songs they consider just as valid.

But, of course, once in a great while, artists reach deep down and find the strength to write a song for a hits set that's just as potent and awesome as the other chart toppers it shares space with. For this month's Friday Five, we celebrate five such instances.

The Friday Five

Among the Greatest: *New* songs for hits packages that were quantifiably fantastic in their own right

Crowded House - Instinct
The recent Crowdies reunion might make you forget for a minute there that there actually was a decade that they didn't exist and Neil Finn was putting out fine albums under his own name and with his brother. When Crowded House first split in 1996, they didn't do so under the acrimonius terms other successful bands do, and actually gave their following a bunch of nice parting gifts, from a bigass farewell concert at the Sydney Opera House to the retrospective Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House, which not only offered up the must-haves like "Don't Dream It's Over," "Something So Strong," and "Weather With You" -- it also offered up three solid new tracks. This was the first single pulled from the album and while it didn't have the same worldwide appeal as "Don't Dream It's Over" did 10 years prior, it did prove to be the boys' most certifiable chart showing since "Weather With You." Plus it's a very cool song.

Earth, Wind & Fire - September
This might just win the award for best new song ever added to a greatest hits set ever. With EWF putting out The Best of Earth, Wind and Fire Vol. 1 in 1978, the soulsters tacked this track on for everyone who already had all their other stuff, and in a day and age before MP3s and instant new song availability, it helped move a hell of a lot of copies. "September" went on to become the group's most substantial hit, and not only is it pretty much a prerequisite for every wedding reception you might ever go to, it's placement in Old Navy ads will almost certainly have you thinking performance fleece and fairly priced T-shirts upon listening. Plus it's a very, VERY cool song.

OutKast - The Whole World
While OutKast's popularity gained strength with each album they put out in the 1990s, it was 2000's Stankonia that really blew the duo to astronomic heights on the back of "Ms. Jackson," "So Fresh So Clean" and "B.O.B." To put out a greatest hits set the following year was an obvious marketing ploy and considering it'd be another two years still before "The Way You Move" and "Hey Ya!," rather ballsy too. But Big Boi and Dre Present... OutKast provided three great new cuts, and this track not only proved a certifiable hit, but also snatched the boys a Grammy.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Mary Jane's Last Dance
This cut and cover of Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air" were the two new cuts used to round out 1993's Greatest Hits, and with a catalogue as stacked as the Heartbreakers', it wasn't necessarily easy going to create something that would play nicely alongside "American Girl," "Refugee," "The Waiting," "Free Fallin'," and "Learning to Fly," but this cut still proves to be one of Tom's most enduring songs... and not just among potheads and Indiana residents, either.

U2 - Sweetest Thing
I suppose it's kind of strange that this perennial college favorite would include a "new" song on a chronicle of their best 1980s work, but then again, the fact that it was just a reworked version of a song from that era justifies it. As it turns out, this is really the only U2 song I actually have time for and even though it shares space on record with "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," this was the only track I saved to my computer before I dropped the damn disc off at an exchange. There's something very genuine, unpretentious and not preachy here that's almost impossible to find in every other U2 song.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

But I should have known better, and I should have seen sooner.

I know it's nothing new, but it seems like within the last couple of years, someone flipped a switch that called the hipsters' attention back to the Zombies.

It's fine by me, really -- they were a great band and probably were unappreciated in way that was similar to the Kinks (i.e. a body of solid work, but only two or three songs that the collective world population can identify). But it's the recent revisionism for the Zombies' 1968 opus/swansong Odessey and Oracle that has me particularly flummoxed of late.

Sure it's a great album -- "Care of Cell 44," "A Rose for Emily," "This Will Be Our Year" and "Time of the Season" all occupy space within the record's grooves, but at what point does it stop becoming an "underappreciated gem"? Certainly if the authors are parading around the world performing the album in its entirety, that moment's passed ... hasn't it?

And it's fine if it has -- Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone deserve the kudos. I'm not sure it merits a Pet Sounds or SMiLE style airing, nor am I saying it's less deserving than lesser albums that have also seen live in-its-entirety airings (Hello, If You're Feeling Sinister).

But if it's the case that we're now going to officially take it out of that "lost classic" category it's inhabited for years with the likes of The Village Green Preservation Society (which, rereleases aside, STILL isn't near as popular as you'd like to believe) and put it into the pantheon of The White Album and Beggars Banquet (if not Revolver and Exile on Main Street) ... can we all stop pretending we're so very hip for recognizing its genius?

After all, there's a related lost classic out there that you still might not know about.

Colin Blunstone
One Year
Epic, 1971

01. She Loves the Way They Love Her
02. Misty Roses
03. Smokey Day
04. Caroline Goodbye
05. Though You Are Far Away
06. Mary Won't You Warm My Bed
07. Her Song
08. I Can't Live Without You
09. Let Me Come Closer To You
10. Say You Don't Mind

While Rod Argent didn't really have to worry about what to do after the Zombies split in 1968, the rest of the band that didn't posess his songwriting gifts kind of were going adrift (well except Chris White, who hung around with Rod in the ensuing months and years).

But despite having some of the most regal pipes to come out of the British Invasion (especially on the Mod -- whether they were or not -- circuit), Colin Blunstone opted not to jump right into solo territory and instead took a desk job. Unsurprising that a man who'd pretty much experienced the buzz of the 1960s from the front of the stage didn't find it satisfying for that long and rang up his old friends after a few months.

While One Year features Chris and Rod in parts, it's kind of a two-faced album. One face recalls the music he'd made with the Zombies -- simple but effective pop songs like "Mary Won't You Warm My Bed" and "She Loves the Way They Love Her" which would be pretty standard in almost anyone's hands, but gained some kind of authority with Blunstone's vocal bestowed upon them.

The other face was orchestrational meditations or covers of songs by folk troubadours like Tim Harden. And surprisingly, it's this facet that actually dominates the record. In the same way that it's very hard to compare this (or anything) to Nick Drake, it's very hard for me to listen to this album and at least not think musically about Drake's debut, Five Leaves Left. It's an autumnal, heavily orchestrated and decidedly solemn affair.

That said, just because there's no "She's Not There" or "Tell Her No" in sight, it doesn't mean it's not entirely grey, nor is it uninspired.

While the majority of the record is comprised of songs that Blunstone merely interprets, he does steal a writing credit on "Caroline Goodbye," which, incidentally, is far and away the album's most stunning moment. Written about the end of his relationship with model Caroline Munro, the song proves both lyrically exquisite and musically as deep and solid as anything the Zombies ever did. This song alone sells the album. The rest, really, is just bonus.

But, the rest is quite good too. And it's still not immediately avaiable to the masses, either. While One Year can be found on sale on import-only basis around the internet, and iTunes cobbled together some of the songs with other early 1970s Blunstone efforts and outtakes for a "partial album" (I f*cking hate those) offering, "One Year" still awaits the proper rerelease that would merit a bunch of shows in its honor.

Maybe it's time. Next time you see the Zombs, why not call out for "Caroline Goodbye"?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You say potato, I say potato.

I don't usually like writing on this topic, because I always end up sounding like the very individuals I'm criticizing, but ... (deep breath) ... here goes.

Writers are assh*les.

Ah, that felt good. Now, I know what you're thinking: "But Paul, aren't you gainfully employed as one? Does not your business card read 'Staff Writer' as your title under your name?"

Yes it does, and yes, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing-Intensive English from Marquette. And it was while sitting through the (perceived to be easy) workshops on different styles of writing, ranging from fiction to poetry to business, thatI feel I really earned my degree.

Because there is no room as stuffy as the one filled with individuals who think they're no less than God's handpicked scribe for the world. And workshops never go less than two hours.

That's God's light guiding my pen, you know...

I've had editors tell me I sometimes fail to write with a sense of inherent authority (probably because I don't always write about the Small Faces or Kula Shaker), and I can see the problem there in writing for a publication that's trying to define an authoratative voice for itself.

There's room for improvement in my work. There always will be. I recognize that. I look through my past articles and grimace at some and beam at others. I think I'm passable -- good, even -- but I wouldn't delude myself into believing I'm the best. A lot of writers do. And a lot of writers find a mountaintop, however small it may be, from which to proclaim their thoughts and beliefs.

Well-travelled writer/musician/editor/web-designer/what-have-you John Mendels(s)ohn recently ascended one such mountaintop to bid adieu to my locale. In doing so, he ruffled a few residents' feathers (really, the post-story commentary is probably more entertaining and works to prove a lot of the points he was making that pissed so many people off in the first place).

Now, there are places I've visited in this country that have not rubbed me well, but outside of friendly conversation, I usually don't go into it because of the weight it carries with it. For instance, there's a particular baseball team and neighborhood I frequented several years ago in St. Louis that get right up my nose. Is it fair for me to say, "I hate St. Louis"? No. It's quicker, sure, but it's not fair. The point being that I met decent people in St. Louis and saw some nice areas. But if I come on here and talk about what a hole it is and lump a city's collective personality into impressions made on me by a few pricks, people are right to lash out.

It's why Mendel(s)sohn's caveat that "I made some friends in Madison with whom it would give me pleasure to stay in touch for however many years I may have left, people as sweet and generous as any I’ve known" buried in the midst of his two-fingered parting shot to the city doesn't really justify things. Because it doesn't read like, "Among the idiots and unprofessionalism, there ARE decent people there," it reads like, "Among the idiots and unprofessionalism, there are decent people there?" It's the classic, "I'm not racist! I have a friend who's (insert race/denomination under question here)!"

People are going to get angry when someone points out something that maybe should be talked about when it isn't. But the trick of it is doing it in a fashion that doesn't imply that you're looking right down your nose at everyone. Because this is really a society that, more than ever, asks, "And who the f*ck are you?!"

And as fair as it is for Mendels(s)ohn to point out a city's shortcomings, it's also just as fair for that city's residents to turn around and ask him just who he thinks he is.

And I think a lot of writers need to ask themselves that question.

But then again, I'm not about to let you point out to me that in criticizing writers who seem to demand others to be like them, I'm actually saying, "Hey, be like me."

So there.

Mel Tormé - Let's Call the Whole Thing Off
Oh, right, this is a music blog ... This classic cut from 1956's Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire seems more than a propos after my little rant, and I think it buries hatchets nicely. This song can be pretty annoying, but Mel really taps into the charm of it. It's hard not to smile at this one.


Monday, August 11, 2008

My moon's a naked, cold star.

The Get You Goin' Track

I just received an advance of the new Stills album, Oceans Will Rise, due out later this month. I've only listened to it once, and it sounds good -- seems like Tim Fletcher's taken back a bit of the songwriting helm, which was relinquished to Dave Hamelin big time on their last outing, Without Feathers. A lot of fans got a bug up their collective butt about Without Feathers, figuratively crying "Judas!" as the Canucks traded in the loud, expansive sound of Logic Will Break Your Heart for a bit more of a retro feel (even though I still don't know where the original Joy Division comparisons for Logic came from...). I quite liked Without Feathers and will fight tooth and nail for it and most of Hamelin's songs on it, but Fletcher's two main contributions to the record, "Halo the Harpoons" and this incessant little builder, were without a doubt the record's best moments. The Stills are touring the US over the coming weeks, so if they swing by your locale, check 'em out. They're great live, and this song is pretty badass in concert, too.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Gonna dance on the floor in the round.

I was working on a story earlier this week and my editor told me to bring the person I'd quoted at the top of the story back to the end too. Apparently it's a nice way of rounding things out.

I'd known this of course, and ususally I do that anyway, but I had my iTunes on shuffle last night and some Ian Brown came on.

We used Ian to kick off this week, and while I usually have personal rules about using an artist too frequently unless its part of a series, the fact that it can incorporate another of this week's subjects in the mix too seems kind of serendipitous.

For B-sides to singles pulled from his Golden Greats album in 2000, King Monkey covered two of the King of Pop's most popular tracks from almost 20 years earlier in his own inimitable way.

Brown's readings of "Thriller" and "Billie Jean" are interesting in that while their covers of iconic songs by a Manc that can't really sing, they still somehow seem to work. "Billie Jean" works a bit better than "Thriller" -- I've always kind of thought Brown had a go at "Billie Jean" and it worked and gave everyone in the studio a giggle, so they tried another one and the joke just wasn't quite as funny anymore. It's not that it's horrible, it just doesn't quite have the same effectiveness.

Ian Brown - Billie Jean

Ian Brown - Thriller

I don't think anyone ever got Jacko's opinion on it... or John Squire's... too bad.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

And after all ...

Check your watches, kids, it's time again for Vs.!

This month we look at a song that essentially defined Britpop and still winds up in college dorm rooms across the country by poorly late teens and early twenty-something faux troubadors trying desperately to get the cool girl from the other dorm to spend the night.

You all know it -- Oasis' "Wonderwall."

The popularity of the song is certainly enough to justify a "Confessions of a 90s Survivor" post -- perfectly released as the world prepared for Beatles reunion and turned their minds back to the music stylings of 30 years prior. Oasis had unapogetically pronounced their Beatle leanings on their debut album Definitely Maybe a year prior, but it was with the December 1994 single "Whatever" and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? that they actually started really sounding like the Fabs. Go on, tell me "Wonderwall" doesn't sound like a Rubber Soul-era outtake. Or "She's Electric" for that matter...

Amazingly, the song never managed to make its way to the top of the pop charts in the US or UK despite its rabid popularity, but that really didn't seem to matter so much as its mother album opened the floodgates for Britpop on both sides of the Atlantic.

Such was the height of Gallaghers & Co.'s fame in 1995 that a bootlegged recording of Noel and Liam arguing for 19-odd minutes charted and anything even loosely associated to the boys found rabid popularity (he's always been great, but don't think for a second that Paul Weller would've experienced the renaissance he did in the 1990s without the promotion of Noel Gallagher).

More astonishingly, even piss takes of Oasis garnered unprecedented popularity, and that's where the Mike Flowers Pops steps in. Commissioned by a BBC Radio 1 DJ to do lounge-style send ups of popular songs of the year, the group's first project was the aforementioned Oasis hit.

With vinyl pops and cracks added for good measure, the recording had the BBC staff in stitches, and they even started claiming it was "the original" version of the song. Despite the obvious joke, the suggestion still got Oasis' lawyers (who'd already heard from the likes of the Coca-Cola Company and Stevie Wonder's men in the course of one short year) understandably nervous, and they called Noel for reassurance that he hadn't perhaps, subconsciously stolen a whole set of lyrics from an old lounge song buried in his subconscious.

Given Noel's love of Burt Bacharach, it wasn't a far-fetched worry, but Noel and the rest of Oasis were bemused enough by the cover to let it be released as a single, despite their stance not to allow parodies of their songs to surface.

Maybe unbelievably, the Mike Flowers Pops version of "Wonderwall" made it just as high in the UK singles charts as Oasis' version had -- #2. And if you don't think this is a particularly odd occurrence, I ask you: if a lounge parody of "Soulja Boy" had been released earlier this year, do you think it would've found any popularity on actual charts? Think about that for a second. That's the kind of weight Oasis pulled in 1995.

And I don't think you can argue that Oasis version is, and forever will be, the best version of the song (yes, I'm talking to you too, Ryan Adams). But for style and being as interesting as it is laughable, Mike Flowers Pops gets some big points here.

Oasis Vs. The Mike Flowers Pops

Oasis - Wonderwall

The Mike Flowers Pops - Wonderwall

Your thoughts?

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I'm livin' lonely, baby.

Distressing news out of England today as Michael Jackson is set to release another album.

Another Greatest Hits album.

The twist this time is that he's going to let British fans pick the tracklisting, which I'm sure will mean it won't end up far off from the first disc of the History set, the Number Ones compilation, The Ultimate Collection or The Essential Michael Jackson. And this from a guy who hasn't put a new album out in seven years.

Look, I'm all for looking back with reverence to the pre-molestation/let's make as many jokes about him being a white woman/is he still friends with Macaulay Culkin days of Off the Wall, Thriller (to a lesser degree, of course) and the untouchable Jackson 5. But when you put out five (probably more than that) career retrospectives out in the course of a decade, you have some serious personal issues you have to deal with.

And I think it runs deeper than the creepy share-your-bed-with-kids thing.

Oh, christ...

Because after all, why do we look back on everything prior to 1993 with such reverence? It's because aside from the circus that spun out of control after Thriller (pet monkeys and Brooke Shields dating included), and the fact that he decided to stage one off concerts every five years in locales like Budapest, Michael Jackson was always a great songwriter.

The operative word is "was." Things started slipping drastically with that first hits set, History, when dude tried to run out a new album on the second of a two-disc set. Funnily enough, when the album was rereleased as a one-disc retrospective, only the first half of the set survived. And while "Scream" was formidably popular, I don't think anyone held any thoughts that it was of the same ilk as "Billie Jean" or "Rock With You."

Things got even more crushing with 2001's Invincible when "You Rock My World" came out and teased us all into believing that despite becoming more than a bit of a freak and all around disturbing to look at, much less envision shacking up with minors, he might have found the fire again. But a stupid spoken word exchage with Chris Tucker on the track's intro and the inherent debate that hung over the believability that Michael could be so brazen as to march over and pick up the "bangin'" muse in question kind of put out its temporary fire. And let's not kid ourselves -- Marlon Brando and all, the video sucked. So did the rest of the album. On the plus side, it set the stage for arguably the greatest album review ever.

It could easily be the effects of aging -- few artists are able to capture the same fire they had in their 20s, Paul Weller and Alejandro Escovedo aside (and Escovedo gets a pass, cos he only really started when he was almost 30). But even Paul McCartney, who's sixty-friggin-six now can still be counted on for a couple decent tunes on his new albums.

And is requesting another "Billie Jean" or "Rock With You" too much to ask? Most times I would say yes. But with Michael I say no. Here's why.

Michael Jackson - Stranger in Moscow
This is a beautiful f*cking song. It's also a complete waste of my time and yours. Michael had a fantastic melody and idea here, but he got lazy with the lyrics, receded into his "just let me be" bunker, and foresaked all notions of musical sanity by approving whatever the hell that processed beat is to be the song's backbone. I'm a firm believer that song's cores can cut through horrible production, dated styles and several degrees of kitsch. How else would you explain my knowledge of Hall & Oates back catalogue? But when you have a million dollar idea, and just let it go to waste like this, you're doing every passing fan of music a disservice. There are songwriters out there who would kill to have that melody as a template. And the fans that unapologetically stand up for you no matter what? "Kremlin's shadow belittlin' me / Stalin's tomb won't let me be." Er... wtf, dude?

The problem is we request another "Billie Jean" and "Rock With You" and all Michael understands is, "Repackage 'Billie Jean' and 'Rock With You.'"

I've already got the remastered Off the Wall, thanks.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Don't squeeze too tight.

The Get You Goin' Track

Ian Brown - Sister Rose

Aside from the overlong orchestrational intro (a byproduct of being placed on a themed-if-not-conceptual album of sorts), when this track finally kicks into gear, King Monkey's back to business. Last year's The World is Yours certainly wasn't Brown's finest moment on record, but it did have a couple solid moments, and this one -- which cashes in on the same simple couplets/no unnecessary attempts to sing formula that made the likes of "Dolphins Were Monkeys" and "F.E.A.R." successful -- is probably the best of those few. There are few British artists that bend nicely toward the hip hop genre and maintain a cool about them, and Brown's certainly one of them. That doesn't make chances of a Stone Roses reunion seem any more likely, but while all of us might keep our fingers crossed regardless, you gotta respect a guy who stays true to his conviction to move forward. Now if he could just figure out the concept of an all around solid album ...

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