Friday, December 29, 2006

The Third Testament, 1969, Godz

The Third Testament

As a warning, I would be skeptical of anyone who actually professed any affinity whatsoever for The Godz. Be as mindful of bullshit, as you would be when discussing Captain Beefheart’s, Troutmask Replica, or any song by the Shaggs, with self-professed fans; these are the hallmarks of those who are determined to become the architect of their own tastes. That being said, be on your guard, because I like them, well, I half-like them. Also, there is a very frustrating aspect of both researching this band, and downloading their songs—another band that is also named The Godz with a z, but they can only be described as butt-rock to the max, so there should be no confusion among them and the New York-based, ESP-Disk, avant-folk group I am presently reviewing, but they make things messy. Beware.

Now that I let the avant-folk term out of the bag, I should probably start by defining the term and by extension, The Godz, by what they are not. Usually, before reviewing an album, I type the bands name in to google, and inevitably end up reading the wikipedia entry on them. I would never say that wikipedia is ahistorical— half of it is copy and pasted from the online Encyclopedia Britannica (make of that, what you will)—but when it comes to something, as marginalized as a weirdo sixties band with a fascination with atonality, things can become problematic. First, the person called them a garage band, which, without going into the untidy nature of that classification, I want to make it clear that The Godz are not a garage band. Second, the person laid out an extremely vague argument hinged upon the conceit that The Godz were more influential to “late punk” than the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, thus making them a proto-punk band. Proto-punk is a fine term, it is self-explanatory but musically undescriptive; the term late punk however is completely unclear. Anyhow, the point is that the entry fully muddled the question of classification as it relates to The Godz; mainly because the terms garage band, and proto-punk inspire crisp albeit reductive visions of something quite different than what The Godz are; perhaps visions of beat-based guitar rock, you know, with a drummer. That is not the case, so I have attached the avant-folk label to them, which may or may not give one a quick and easy touchstone of what The Godz sound like. So I’ll try and explain.

First off, The Godz do not, in any way, inspire trust; they sound as if their whole existence was an elaborate con, a trick, a rotten deception. At their core is the total rejection of pop music, and possibly a total rejection of the idea that music is something to be enjoyed by the listener. To them, it is not intended to engender the type of reflexive good feeling that most popular music is designed to do. The music they produced varies between the moderately unlistenable to the totally unlistenable. There are obvious undertones of sixties counter-culture posturing—the desire for excessive chaos in an increasingly chaotic world, but that is a political judgment that may or may not hold; they were clearly however, rock deconstructionists, a folk, and by extension, less menacing version of Pussy Galore 15 years earlier, sans the scuzz. Despite all these misgivings though, there is a visceral quality that comes out in the harsh decadence of their atonal squalor. The trick is though, knowing whether there is something distinctive about their atonality, or if it is just that atonality in general is the burdensome desire of a crooked mind.

The Third Testament, the third offering of The Godz is a schizophrenic affair split between two templates. On the one hand there are songs like "Eeh Ooh," that are unseemly and incoherent affairs of messy noise and faux Eastern chants, and on the other there are simple folk-blues numbers that compositionally, could be described as childlike, if not lyrically. The album’s opener is the unremittingly discordant "Ruby Red", an example of the latter template; a song that seems, to be written about a woman called upon in a state of lonely despair. Lyrically, the song, like many others, is a mystery of tangled ideas, half-thoughts and the usual trite myths of co-dependence. This one though, is accompanied by the most ploddingly played and significantly out of tune guitar ever to be put on tape. There are others like this, "Down By the River," "Neet Street," and "Walking Guitar Blues" among them. These, last three are played on a guitar that sounds somewhat more in tune, but come off like subtle rebukes of the wandering-folkie ideal, perhaps the easy shot, Donovan, or perhaps even the moving target, Dylan.

I suppose I have not fully defined avant-folk. Some may prefer the term psych-folk, and that would probably work in this context also, but psych-folk does not describe the urge to irritate that marks The Third Testament. There are folk trademarks to The Godz' music, most explicitly, the presence of an acoustic guitar, a relative lack of percussion instruments, reliance on eastern sounding musical devices and American blues elements; and implicitly, an adherence to the poetic. These aspects are mostly superficial. The overarching framework is built upon the twin avant-garde impulses to both push barriers and to chronically annoy the audience, particularly those of conservative musical mentalities—those most invested in the structural soundness of American songwriting. The Godz though, being perhaps con artists, may have reduced the avant-garde nature of their music to the level of superficiality by making a joke of it, making this album, in a way, worthless, but in another way, an elaborate reproach of the myth of the difficult nature of the artistic. My guess is though, that they took their noise quite seriously.


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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Pictorial Jackson Review, 1988, Felt

The Pictorial Jackson Review

I first heard of Felt, in the spring of 1995, when as I was reading, maybe the Trouser Press Record Guide, I came across a review of a favorite band of mine at the time. The reviewer—and I can’t remember if they were referring to the band’s debut E.P. or the band in general—referred to them as sounding like Unsane covering Felt. I was simple then, and ran to the local record shop and bought an Unsane record (which I absolutely hated, not to mention it had a blood-strewn front grill of a car on the cover), but never could find anything by Felt. In hindsight, the reference was wholly inappropriate but it stuck in my mind long enough until, one day, I finally came across something by Felt, (Poem of the River, 1987), and I liked it enough to get excited, when at Jerry’s Records, I was faced with the prospect of purchasing the album in question—The Pictorial Jackson Review—for four dollars. I let it sit amongst all the other gold, silt and garbage that I found at Jerry’s until we moved back west and I rediscovered it about three years ago. It has been a staple since, so long as the turntable has been in working order; which is not always.

To start, I must confess one over-arching prejudice I have against this album: if your name is neither Jimmy Smith, nor James Taylor (The Prisoners), you ought not make a Hammond B3 organ your weapon of choice. It is not that Martin Duffy is not a very proficient organist, it is just that the instrument is unsubtle and too overpowering for this type of music—so much so that it oftentimes becomes the focal point, which is not what I imagine the band had intended. That being said, this record has a beautifully realized Side 1, that is a quick study in how enjoyable British music used to be before the Nineties Britpop revolution poisoned much of the tiny island’s well. (Side 2-is devoted to two Martin Duffy organ-studies, one of which is over-long and corny in a bad jazz kind of way, reminding me of how David Bowie let Brian Eno run roughshod over Side 2 of Low). The first side however, is comprised of 8 tracks that owe much, much more to Lou Reed, The Velvets, Booker T. Jones, and perhaps Robert Zimmerman, than to the group’s supposed namesake, Thomas Miller, who himself took his nom-de-plume from the French poet, Paul Verlaine.

With all that muscle-flexing behind me, I’d like to start by skipping over the appealing opener and getting right to the second song, Ivory Past, with it’s brief introduction of dueling down-tempo and meandering California-style guitars that abruptly give way to the more forceful and sophisticated verse, colored feverish with Duffy’s swirling organ and vocalist Lawrence Hayward’s studied Lou Reed (Dylanesque?) pungent, nasal monotone (a point I can't help but belabor). Hayward’s delivery though, is a small part of a greater and contiguous whole. Perhaps one of the most comforting aspects of this album is the way in which each song is similar, and has analogous aspects; sounding as if they were conceived, written, recorded, and mixed in a short and intense burst. This is not to be meant as a slight, the songs are configured as part of a greater whole, but they are composed to be different. The distinction lies in the sound, not the structure of each individual composition.

For the most part, each song is constructed on a lean and oftentimes, busy bass line (depending on the mood, obviously); plucked guitar figures; Martin Duffy’s aforementioned feverish organ; Hayward’s interlocking Bob Dylan-Lou Reed vocal delivery, and the kind of beautiful, bare-bones and minimal production (by Joe Foster, “quickly” on eight track) that eschews all the musical ephemera, frills, effects, and studio-gadgetry, that would conspire to kill music in the following decade. It is marked by a certain amount of sixties revivalism that colors much of British Music after 1990, it does not however, slavishly adhere to the template of the Beatles-Stones-Kinks-Who oligarchy of rock royalty influences, in fact, those influences are absent (in so far as any British pop group could distance themselves from the Beatles). The sum total is something to be celebrated, something that, though not perfect or wholly original, is a late-period, moody, rock masterwork; a study in sound and technique that was, in hindsight, like a dying musical ethos that soon would be swept away to the extreme musical fringes where it would be revived a short-time later by bands as widely dispersed as late-era Unrest, Air Miami, Henry's Dress, (and possibly the whole of the Slumberland Records catalogue), the lesser-twee moments of Heavenly, the Field Mice (ditto for Sarah Records) and most notably (and surely not on the musical fringe), Belle and Sebastian.

In the end because of my habit of overstatement, I have not given due credit to the other standout songs—Until the Fools get Wise, How Spook Got her Man, and, (I have to mention it) the Street Hassle-era Lou Reedesque-titled, Don’t Die on my Doorstep.


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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 100 (Songs 100-91)


I think, for the time being, I would like to abandon genre distinctions and garage-this and garage-that, and would like to embark on an ambitious journey through this past year. All of the end-of-the-year best of lists that I’ve been looking at in the local free weeklies, (The Guardian, The SF Weekly, and inexplicably, The Onion), have made me nostalgic for the time when I actually had something salient to say about contemporary music, and in turn, was able to rank all the new albums from best to tenth-best, or fiftieth-best, or one-hundredth best. I purchased only one record that came out this year—Yo La Tengo; and I have most of the Strokes album on my computer, which has a nifty nod to Barry Manilow’s, Mandy, and the new Belle and Sebastian album, which is good. But instead of ranking those albums, I have compiled my top songs from this year, 98 of them were recorded before this year though. The majority of them I had heard before 2006, but failed to “get into” them or worse, just didn’t like them, or just didn’t pay close attention to them. In some cases though, they are on albums that I purchased this year or are songs that I had never heard prior to this year. Nevertheless, they make up the core of what I have been listening to over the course of this year. I’ve alphabetized the songs and then inverted them, because ranking one hundred songs in some qualitative way is a much too subtle and taxing task. Here are the first (or is it last) ten. I will disperse them in groups of ten over the next couple of months.
100. Young Turks (5:00)-Rod Stewart, Tonight I’m Yours (1981)-This really is an amazing song, driven by a slick, percolating, brand-spanking new synth-pop beat, that fully characterized an artist who was never going to be comfortable in the dust-bin of history. Though, to be sure, Rod the Mod had never been on the vanguard—despite a career that stretched back to 1964, and included seminal moments, including such nuggets as, Stay With Me, Maggie May, You Wear it Well, Handbags and Gladrags, and perhaps his greatest moment, Reason to Believe—Stewart seemed to always lag behind better known British acts such as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. By 1981, all of the above had shown their age, and were desperate to hang on, rearranging their styles, which was a tactic that often left the music stale and hopeless sounding (and let’s face it, it was time even then for them to tend the garden on their estates). Stewart though, managed a mini-masterpiece of modern-era precision and narrative brilliance. Unfortunately, the album as a whole, fails to rise up to the quality of its popular single.
  • Watch the video.

  • 99. You’ll Know Why (3:08)-Miracle Workers, Inside Out (1985)-As a preface, I should explain that many of the songs on this list were found on The Children of Nuggets box set. I have tried to list each song in context of its album to place it in its right year. If I were ranking songs, this would be one of my easy favorites. With it’s short, crisp and brittle guitar lines, extra dose of reverb, tambourine over-indulgence, and bruised hearted, finger-pointing anger, it is an understated neo-garage tour de force, fit snugly inside the punk framework. When I first heard it, I kind of immediately connected it to Guided By Voices’ She Wants to Know, which has the same type of disjointed and fractured guitar figure.

    98. (You're) Safe In Your Sleep (From This Girl) (2:31)-My Bloody Valentine, Ecstasy & Wine (1989)-It has been a long time since a friend of mine spent what seemed like an obscene amount of money on this record in an eBay auction. Though I was a fan of Loveless (I had a tape of it in, maybe1995) I was not prepared to, after becoming a literate music fan, accept them as the producers of one of the best albums ever recorded. Anyway, I think I always have had an aversion to them, perhaps it’s the over-eagerness of their acolytes, fans and writers alike, to overdo Kevin Shields’ guitar thing, but when I finally got around to listening to this album, I realized that it was a kind of minor jangle-pop miracle, all thin and trebly, and much more palatable for me these days, than the overdone and mushy, guitar histrionics that Shields displayed on their final two albums.

    97. You Must Have Crossed My Mind (2:50)-The Toms, The Toms (1979)-A kind of quirky and interesting power-pop moment that went fairly unnoticed in a long and well-chronicled history. Basically one guy named Tom Marolda, recorded all the instruments and vocals on this 1979 album of sweet, mid-tempo dumb-guy-seems-to-fall-for-every-girl- kind of pop. Not terribly literate or adventurous, but in the case of this standout track, Marolda manages the kind of infectiousness so central to the genre.

    96. You Cheated, You Lied (2:09)-Ronnie Hawkins, Mr. Dynamo (1960)-This is an interesting down-tempo entry from the man known as Mr. Dynamo, for being a kind of intense rockabilly wild-man. He made his name in Canada, but got his start in his native Arkansas, moving North after failing to garner a spot on the Sun Records label. His original backing band, the Hawks, went on to back up Bob Dylan and become The Band. This is basically a standard bare bones, slow-dance, hand-on-the-ass, Elvis/Roy Orbison knock-off, with some nice touches, including some appealing Jordanaires-style bah-bah-bahs, twangy and supple guitar work and Joe Meek-like otherworldly organ.

    95. Yeah Yeah Yeah (1:19)-The Vibrators, Pure Mania (1977)-The shortest entry on my list, the song consists, basically, of a chorus in which singer, Ian Carnochan, shouts throatily—yeah, yeah, yeah, with some attempt at verses. Along with garage, and surf, punk was the genre that I especially clung to this year, and though I had collected my share of bands in the past, I finally went a bit deeper this year and discovered a fair amount of new ones, including, The Lurkers, The Partisans, The Cockney Rejects, and The U.K. Subs. A friend described the Vibrators to me, as like The Undertones, which isn’t really quite right, because The Undertones are mainly semi-literate in a razor-sharp British sitcom sort of way, while the Vibrators are more like a nuts and bolts, dumbed-down version of Pink Flag-era Wire.

    94. Wrong Side of the Moon (2:25)-Squeeze, Argy Bargy (1980)-This is another one of my new favorite tracks from this year, and possibly one of the most intensely infectious songs that I have ever heard. I had heard Squeeze as a kid—Tempted, Black Coffee in Bed, Pulling Mussels from the Shell; my stepfather had a greatest hits, but they always seemed kind of boring and hyper-adult. Early this year though, I got a copy of Argy Bargy for cheap on a trip to Monterey and listened to it to death. Top to bottom, the album is superb, but Wrong Side of the Moon is truly a pure-pop masterpiece.

    93. Wild Weekend (2:13)-The Lively Ones, Surf Drums (1963)-Surf-music was a high priority this year, mainly because my girlfriend introduced me to a Japanese guitarist called Takeshi Terauchi, whom I will discuss later. The Lively Ones are a very standard band in the surf canon, along with Dick Dale and the Ventures. I never really paid any attention to the genre, except for maybe a fleeting interest when Pulp Fiction came out which had all that surf stuff on its soundtrack. Wild Weekend is a sort of mid-tempo, frat rock style instrumental in the vein of the Champs’ Tequila. Very standard and nice meticulous reverbed-out guitar solos alternating with just slightly dirty sounding sax solos.

    92. What's Your Sign Girl (4:38)-Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction (1985)-Alex Chilton is quite possibly the only musical hero that I have. I am a Big Star junkie, but I also think Like Flies on Sherbert might be one of the greatest albums ever recorded; and I know I’m in the minority; and I am not being contrarian. There is a kind of logic to the album, especially in light of the third Big Star record; the difference being though, that one sounds fun, while the other can be rather depressing. All of that is neither here nor there though. I actually heard this song about 5 years ago at the Club Café in Pittsburgh, when my girlfriend and I lived there and we saw Alex Chilton, which was the—bar none—best show that I have ever seen. I’m not crazy about this album, but What’s Your Sign Girl is a pitch-perfect neo-Chilton entry, filled with all the interesting and angular, jazzy guitar lines he’s so fond of now, and seventies style lyrical foolishness. I’ve never heard the original that was first recorded by Barry White protégé, Danny Pearson in 1978.

    91. Vanishing Girl (2:30)-The Dukes Of Stratosphear, Psonic Psunspot (1987)-I have never been one of those people who adore XTC. I think it is because as a fifteen year old, I was riding around in a car going somewhere and the song Dear God came on the radio, and even then I knew it was just too sincere. Now though, I know it was a bit cruel too. I could care less for evangelical types, and I’m not sticking up for the true believers, or the false ones, Catholics or Christians, which I am none of. But strictly taking in to account the hierarchy of the big issues—by 1986, hadn’t the enlightenment hashed this all out, and if not the enlightenment hadn’t Nietzsche, and if not Nietzsche, Sartre? And if not Sartre, hadn’t the secularization of the vast majority of western culture been enough, that you don’t, in 1986, have to kick poor god around? It is just a bad song, but one ought not judge a band by one bad song. What if I judged the Beatles, based on The Long and Winding Road? But even more to the point, what if I judged XTC based on their alter egos—The Dukes of Stratosphear—much better.

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    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    The Shadows of Knight, Pebbles, et al.


    Various Artists
    Pebbles—Volume 2

    I think possibly, my last entry was a bit too contextual and not musically descriptive enough. I focused on a garage aspect of the Rolling Stones, or rather, a strangling of that aspect by their own musical evolution, and then their eventual downfall (which had nothing whatsoever to do with garage).

    Now I’d like to focus on some of the other bands from that period that possibly exemplify the genre a little better than the scatter-shot and pop-sensible Rolling Stones. I’d also like to preface the following by noting that there are about a million people who have written eloquently and not so eloquently on the subject of garage. There are also about a million more connoisseurs, collectors and sick, rabid fans whose spend-thriftiness is legend in terms of procuring rare garage records and singles—I am not one of those people. I have a very good working knowledge of the standard bands and if the truth be told, I probably would rather listen to the neo-garage revivalist groups of the late seventies and early eighties (The Barracudas, The Lyres, The Chesterfield Kings) who embraced garage through a seventies punk filter, instead of through the standard Chicago-style blues filter that informed countless sixties garage bands including British monsters like The Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Kinks. So that being said, ladies and gentlemen…The Shadows of Knight.
    The Shadows of Knight, probably more than any other American band typify that garage by Chicago blues filter I mentioned earlier. First, they were from Chicago, but were hot for British R&B-style acts like the Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Irish hard-core R&B masters, Them, led by a young and puerile Van Morrison. Secondly, in Brian Hogg’s liner-notes, they said as much themselves, putting it this way: “The Stones, Animals and Yardbirds took the Chicago Blues and gave it an English interpretation. We’ve taken the English version of the blues and re-added a Chicago touch.”

    Once you drop the needle on the record and listen to Jim Sohns vocal on the opener, the Morrison-penned Gloria, one can’t help but wonder just why this version has spawned such a mythic quality. Where Morrison’s staccato, over-sexed snarl pulses menacingly throughout the original, Sohns’ thin and high-pitched voice sounds less like a mannish boy and more like a whitish one (which, I know, he is). The truth is though, that Them’s version, which was dripping with sex, was shelved stateside because, well, it was dripping with sex. Sohn and company were urged to record the banned song—sans the provocative line “she comes up to my room” with the line “she calls out my name” in it’s stead—by their manager, a bit Chicago music player named Bill Traut. Even though, it’s been said that the group did not like this “clean” change, they did not protest the relative, perhaps regional fame of having a smash hit in the top ten Billboard national chart.

    The flipside of The Shadows’ initial single of Gloria was the originally-penned and brief, Dark Side, which made it on their subsequent album and prefigures a Hendrix-by-way-of-the-Byrds-like languidity without the guitar histrionics. The standout track though, is Bad Little Woman—a cover, written by another Irish band, Belfast’s The Wheels. The Shadows’ version eschews the short, quick, clipped guitar and quick-pulsed freakbeat style of The Wheels’ version, for a more raw and fuzzy punk style. Sohns’ vocal is reduced to a lower more confident and arresting rasp that fits the song’s explicit nature perfectly. Whereas on Gloria, the Shadows had to clean up Van Morrison’s libidinous songwriting, they play it up on Bad Little Woman (the title alone nixes the idea of any Bill Traut-inspired subterfuge), slowly cow belling their way into the sonic lull of the first verse, before launching into a quicker-tempoed chorus and then with a moan, climaxing into a perfectly controlled cacophony before coming back down into the second verse; then repeating the process. Bad Little Woman more than makes up for the PG rating they put on Van Morrison’s masterpiece, Gloria.
    There are countless other Garage Bands, from the famous (13th Floor Elevators, The Chocolate Watch Band, The Remains), to the not so famous (The Dovers, The Choir, Randy Alvey and Green Fuz), the latter of which are collected on Volume 2 of the original Pebbles collection, a kind of lesser known cousin of the ubiquitous Nuggets. There is some crossover to be sure: the Dovers’, What Am I Going to Do, and the Choir’s, It’s Cold Outside. These two tracks stand out, but neither of them are what one would call garage punk. Which brings me, rather late in the game, to defining my terms.

    There is garage, garage-rock, and garage-punk. I don’t think I need to get embroiled in the etymological beginnings concerning cheap Montgomery Ward guitars and suburban garages, but there are some subtle differences within this stratified genre. Garage and garage-rock are kind of similar umbrella terms that take into account a host of initial sixties bands whose aesthetic is generally marked by a degree of amateurish production, especially when compared with more popular groups. (This conceit is mainly an American one. Simply put, because of the relative smallness of the United Kingdom and it’s cultural fertility, their garage-style bands generally recorded on top of the line equipment and in nice studios. In America though, you hear stories of storefronts and a producer recording on a single microphone, which is pointed at a band as it plays). So within this garage umbrella you have bands that wrote primarily pop songs, like The Choir, The Dovers, and The Knickerbockers, and then there are bands that exemplify the idea of garage-punk—a subgenre that is marked by a certain rawness, which exposes itself both lyrically (sexuality, nihilism) and musically (fuzzy, guitar driven, sometimes quick tempoed, sometimes slow and sexual). The band that is probably most associated with garage-punk, is the Sonics, a band that was recorded about as poorly as anyone this side of Hasil Adkins, but still managed to become supremely influential.

    I have went on way too long, but I’d like to highlight some standout tracks on Volume 2 of the Pebbles collection, one of which is The Road’s, frenetic and fuzz guitar-driven, You Rub Me The Wrong Way—which is built on a shameless rip-off of The Contours Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance). Another song of note is the strange and creepy Green Fuz by Randy Alvey and Green Fuz, which sounds eerily like Kurt Cobain, a hopelessly out of tune guitar and maybe a percussionist working on the bottom of a trash can, where, as it were, it sounds like the song was recorded. But if you, like me have an affinity for terrible and rotten amateur home recording, it will surely satisfy.
    Go to this link to get a look at the Shadows of Knight ca. sometime in the recent past:


    Garage (proto and otherwise)-side
    1. The Shadows of Knight-Bad Little Woman
    2. Them-Gloria
    3. Charlie Feathers-Rain
    4. Eddie Cochrane-She’s Something Else
    5. The Flamin’ Groovies-Jumpin’ in the Night
    6. The Rumors-Hold Me Now
    7. The Sonics-Have Love Will Travel
    8. The Gants-Wonder
    9. The Remains-But I Ain’t Got You
    10. The Road-You Rub Me the Wrong Way
    11. The Barracudas-I Can’t Pretend
    12. The Lyres-She Pays the Rent
    13. The Chesterfield Kings-Stop
    14. The Droogs-Ahead of My Time
    15. The Gories-Thunderbird ESQ
    16. Alex Chilton-She’s the One That’s Got it
    17. The Monarchs-Hit That Bitch
    18. Holly Golightly-For All This
    19. Thee Headcoats-Darling Let’s Have Another Baby
    20. Spacemen 3-Hey Man

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    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    december's children (and everybody's), 1965, The Rolling Stones

    The Rolling Stones
    december’s children (and everybody’s)

    The Rolling Stones’ fourth entry of 1965 is perhaps the best of their early oeuvre, though most would, while making a good case, argue for the following year’s Aftermath. I’ve just always thought it was overrated—it has its good bits though, but it lacks the benzedrine-fast chaos that’s on display in december’s opener, a cover of Larry Williams’ She Said Yeah. It is this habit of sort of sloppily racing through certain types of songs that helped to, not only, define the Rolling Stones’ early period, and mark the major artistic rift between them and the meticulous Beatles, but also helped to define the garage-punk revolution that began to stew in the mid to late sixties that would mutate into the more smooth and reductive form of punk that arose little more than a decade later. Not that december’s children is bursting with the type of snarl displayed on that opening track, in fact the serene outweighs the punk (which is represented solely by She Said Yeah) but it’s a raw example of the nervous energy that marked the sixties garage-punk ethos. Sadly, it is probably the last manifestation of this ethos by the Rolling Stones, for the rest of the album, though mostly brilliant in it’s own regard, is a parade of mid-tempo and half-sad songs in that wistful Jaggeresque way. On Aftermath and in to the future, the Rolling Stones’ sinister energy would reveal itself in a less chaotic musical way and be displayed in more lyrical forms (Paint it Black, Sympathy for the Devil, and Brown Sugar), with of course, certain exceptions. The era of the Stones being a garage band would be forever left to the past by 1966.

    I would grade four more tracks as 4’s (on a scale of 1-4): The Singer Not The Song; it’s main hit, the ubiquitous Get Off Of My Cloud, the quasi-symphonic, As Tears Go By, and the relatively unknown Blue Turns to Grey. The middle tracks, most listeners of the radio, particularly Rolling Stones fans, should be quite familiar with, the others are less well known. In fact I came to both of them through other sources. In the case of The Singer Not The Song, I heard it on a rather over-priced re-issued Alex Chilton double-seven inch, about seven years ago. Though Alex Chilton does a good job of butchering it (even the Stones’ version can be a tough listen for a vocal purist), the song is, however, the kind of crisp, semi-morbid pop song that you wish Paul Simon could manage without letting his addiction for over-wrought literary imagery get in the way. In the case of Blue Turns to Grey-which until about a year ago, I was convinced was a Flamin’ Groovies original because I downloaded it and had no liner notes to consult-is marked by the same type of boy-girl wistfulness that I mentioned earlier. (I should footnote that it had been quite some time since I have been in to the Stones early period, and what re-kindled all this interest in these old records was a silly Stones versus Beatles argument I had with a friend and since then I have listened to this album to death, particularly these 4 songs mentioned in this paragraph-hence the Rolling Stones/Flamin' Groovies confusion as of about a year ago).

    It is important, I think, to stress the Rolling Stones as a band that should be separated into epochs. It is a popular practice to demarcate the Rolling Stones epochs by dint of who was the lead guitarist, a la the Brian Jones-era, the Mick Taylor-era, and the Ron Wood-era. I don’t think this is very helpful though, because Mick Taylor plays on so few albums, he does however, play on some of their best. Though I would argue that the demarcation lines should not be fixed, there are certain albums that mark turning points. These albums would be Aftermath, Beggars Banquet, and Sticky Fingers; then after a desultory period which followed Exile on Main Street they launched a rather brilliant three year, last-gasp period of quality work, which includes their last three albums of note: Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The eighties and nineties work is spotty at best, and at worst trivial, embarrassing, greedy, revulsion inspiring, meaningless.
    The reason I think december’s children, is such an important album is that it marked the end of the Rolling Stones first incarnation—the bluesy dilettantes who wore leather pants; when they were Brian Jones, unafraid to play a cheap-o Harmony Rocket instead of a Thunderbird or, even worse, a sitar; Keith, looking boyishly innocent, and still like a human. They were all still boys, at least they seemed to be in hindsight; they had yet to become greasy and bloated with the pomp of fame; they had yet to become Brian, wrinkle-faced and foreboding, slowly pissing away No Expectations and his life at that lame Rock and Roll Circus; they had yet to inspire strange and prurient rumors of mars bars; they had yet to become the quixotic, irresponsible rock gods who inspired the bedlam at Altamont; they had yet to become Mick strutting in that most peculiar and silly way; they had yet to become the savage icons that, while producing some of the most important music ever to enter the rock canon, seemed to be revolting people that would one day become everything that is wrong with rock and roll, so long after-as young men-being everything that was right about it.

    The present state of the Rolling Stones proves more than anything else that rock is truly dead.


    1. The Rolling Stones-She Said Yeah
    2. Magic Sam-Days in Jail
    3. Ike and Tina Turner-I can’t Believe What You Say
    4. The Blues Magoos-She’s Coming Home
    5. The Chocolate Watch Band-Let’s Talk About Girls
    6. The Poets-That’s the Way It’s Got To Be
    7. The Wheels-Bad Little Woman
    8. Them-Here Comes The Night
    9. Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs-Little Red Riding Hood
    10. Holly Golightly-Run Cold
    11. Irma Thomas-Wish Someone Would Care
    12. Marianne Faithful-As Tears Go By
    13. Johnny Thunders-Play with Fire
    14. The New York Dolls-Personality Crisis
    15. The Stooges-Loose
    16. T. Rex-The Motivator
    17. The Sorrows-You’ve Got What I Want
    18. My Rival-Alex Chilton
    19. Guitar Slim-The Things That I Used To Do
    20. Larry Williams-She Said Yeah

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