Saturday, March 24, 2007

No Guitars in '77-The Beach Boys Dreamy Love You, The Yin to the Yang of Suicide’s Nightmarish Debut


1977 saw the release of debuts by The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Wire, Talking Heads, Richard Hell, Television, Chic, and Cheap Trick. Paul McCartney hid behind the strange guise of Percy Thrillington, David Bowie released both Low and Heroes, The Ramones left home, Jonathan Richman whimsically turned his back on punk, Kraftwerk gave us Trans-Europe Express, and Pink Floyd released Animals.

In a year that was a veritable groundswell for rock and roll’s off-kilter byproducts, nothing could quite match the left field, polar, and incongruent-nature of the year’s two most minimal synth pop entries—The Beach Boys Love You, and Suicide, by Suicide.

The Seventies were an unkind decade to America’s greatest pop group. They opened the decade with Sunflower and Surf’s Up, two—not perfect—but very good albums. But then the bottom fell out—Carl and the Passions-So Tough, Holland, and 15 Big Ones; all, save for the latter, barely utilized the Beach Boys’ resident genius, Brian Wilson whose tenuous grasp on sanity had been slipping.

For the most part, the Beach Boys spent the decade sinking into a warm and comfortable bath-like rehashing of their Sixties glory, marked by steady touring and the commercial success of their repackaged greatest hits effort Endless Summer.

Though 15 Big Ones was marketed as the Beach Boys’ comeback effort replete with a sad appearance on Saturday Night Live that saw Brian Wilson in a sand box, the Beach Boys did not truly re-emerge until the next year with The Beach Boys Love You, a remarkable effort that in one breath looked back to the Beach Boys heady past, and in the other to the minimal synth-pop of the future. Love You was a striking return to form.

Far away from The Beach Boys’ sunny home base in Southern California, on the lower east side of Manhattan, two complicated and confrontational artists spent the first part of the decade honing a minimal and spare punk sound that was almost dystopic in its sparseness and cavalier in its disuse of punk’s tools of trade: the guitar, the bass, and the drum kit. The nascent genre had barely been established and Suicide were already blazing new and adroit inroads.

In a way though, it seems slightly disingenuous to label Suicide a punk band. They evolved slightly on the outside of that milieu, even though there are many touchstones in their history that would suggest otherwise. It seemed as though the sounds they made came from a different place, partly rooted somewhere in the distant fifties, but also in a bizarre electronic future that had yet to be fully explored. This is perhaps not the best place to make that argument, so suffice it to say, Suicide did come of musical age along with many of New York’s finest arbiters of punk.

Suicide was formed in 1970 by a sculptor named Alan Vega (nee Bermowitz), and an electric jazz pianist called Martin Rev (nee—the particularly apt—Reverby). There were others who wielded more germane rock and roll instruments, but they drifted away from the project. The core remained intact, but it was not until Rev found a used drum machine that Suicide really began to take familiar shape.

Suicide recorded their debut album in 4 hours for former New York Dolls manager Marty Thau’s Red Star Label, effectively giving us two things to thank him for. Craig Leon and Thau helmed the short session lending an amazingly dense and reverb-heavy quality to the instrumentally Spartan album. It is not clear if the actors realized the gravity of their accomplishment.

Meanwhile on the shores of the vast Pacific Ocean, the Beach Boys were also most likely unaware of the triumph that they achieved with the overwhelmingly minimalist Love You. It remains a strange echo of Beach Boydom, for it eschewed the usual vocal/musical sophistication that had marked their records since the transcendent Pet Sounds. Even the middling Seventies entries, though muddily recorded, relied on sophistication and virtuosity. Love You though, was almost crude in its use of, oftentimes ragged sounding voices and deceptively simple synth-driven melodies.

It seems as if the critics too were a bit confused on how to approach the strange album. The famous Village Voice critic Robert Christgau had these backhanded and yet weirdly hyperbolic words to say about their (though his critique is explicitly of Brian Wilson) effort:

“Painfully crackpot and painfully sung, but also inspired, not least because it calls forth forbidden emotions. For a surrogate teenager to bare his growing pains so guilelessly was exciting, or at least charming; for an avowed adult to expose an almost childish naiveté is embarrassing, but also cathartic; and for a rock and roll hero to compose a verbally and musically irresistible paean to Johnny Carson is an act of shamanism pure and simple.”

Christgau’s review though, seems to adequately and articulately sum up the ambiguity that this album continues to elicit.

Critics in general seemed to have gravitated toward the bizarre “Johnny Carson,” a song about the famous comedian and talk show host that, during the mid seventies was at the height of his powers. It is far from being the stand out track on the record though. "Johnny Carson" does however, neatly encapsulate the album’s strengths and weaknesses in one fell swoop—it is a microcosm of their ability to reconfigure, in a timely way, the Beach Boys, but at the same time be a bit of a generational joke.

Thirty years later the album is still odd, and I don’t think that it has found its rightful place in the canon of American music. The Beach Boys Love You is, for the most part, a departure from what the Beach Boys had done, but at the same time it is still wholly reminiscent of what they had always done.

The choice—the departure—was in instrumentation, not the naïve lyrics, which is what critics have doggedly focused on. The real hook of this album is that in their weird way, while trying to reclaim some lost pop terrain, they stumbled upon a new world and it reaffirmed their genius, no matter how kooky or straight sounding they were.

Christgau, the self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics” who was almost deferential to the Beach Boys legend, even at their most manic, became ultra-serious and downright cranky in the face of Suicide’s threatening and “lurid” debut:

“A friend who loves this record offers the attractive theoretical defense that it unites the two strains of "new wave" rock minimalism--neoclassy synthesizer and three-chord barrage. So maybe it will prove popular among theoreticians. For the rest of us, though, there are little problems like lyrics that reduce serious politics to rhetoric, singing that makes rhetoric sound lurid...”

The comment about the seriousness of Suicide’s lyrics in a rhetorical/political sense may revolve around the album’s centerpiece—the disturbing tale of “Frankie Teardrop.” Or possibly, Christgau was irritated with Suicide’s treatment of Che Guevara in the song “Che”: “He’s wearin’ a red star, he’s smokin’ a cigar, when he died, the whole world lied, said he was a saint, but I know he ain’t.” That somehow, does not seem right either.

For the most part though, the album has been considered a minimalist classic that staked out a peculiar middle ground that lay somewhere between sneering fifties rock and roll and synth-heavy punk nihilism. Their songs were built around Martin Rev’s pulsing, reverb-heavy and rigidly structured farfisa and drum machine figures that depended heavily on repetition and echo, almost to a point of monotony. Rev’s synthesizer arrangements were augmented by singer and lyricist, Alan Vega’s vocal blasts and sprays of impressionistic and malevolent yowls. Their strengths were perfectly matched.

Whereas the critics clung to the Beach Boys’ “Johnny Carson,” in the case of Suicide they gravitated toward the bleak, depressing, and overlong “Frankie Teardrop.” There is no other song on the record that is as boring as their ten and a half minute opus to infanticide, among other things.

Their gift though was in matching Vega’s sometimes Gene Vincent styled, hiccupping vocals with likeminded themes and their futuristic musical analogues like the bubbly “Johnny” and the comic book inspired synth-punk classic “Ghost Rider.”

Suicide was a triumph and an inspiration to generations of synth-heavy pop and punk. Their threads lead to such bands as Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, and Metal Urbain among countless others.

Most famously the album was an influence on Bruce Springsteen’s mindset while recording Nebraska; perhaps as influential as the misadventures of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. The album’s impact is still being felt in the many and sometimes-redundant electro-clash bands that keep surfacing.

These two albums—The Beach Boys Love You and Suicide—are a funny match, but their similarities are undeniable. That they came from two such unlikely sources only proves the strange and serendipitous nature of music. The Beach Boys were at a strange commercial apex—based largely on their past legend—but they produced a document that, at times, sounded like the past electronically regurgitated. In reality though, it was perfectly placed and wonderfully nuanced; prefiguring bands like Stereolab and The High Llamas.

Neither Suicide nor The Beach Boys invented synth-pop, but in their own differing ways, they did much to advance the agenda in the age of punk, disco, and guitar-based rock. These records are two curiosities that depict the shift and evolutionary quality of music, particularly rock and roll in it’s new age.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Notes From Underground—Skeeter Davis, Left Banke, The Nerves, The Feelies and Spaceman 3


1. “Let Me Get Close To You”-Skeeter Davis, Let Me Get Close To You, (1964)-Born Mary Penick, Skeeter Davis started out as half of a country vocal duo with Betty Jack Davis called The Davis Sisters. Davis had a career that would mostly be considered country, but for a while in the Sixties she released some pop albums with a fair amount of help from Brill Building heavyweights Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who penned Davis hits “Let Me Get Close to You” and “I Can’t Stay Mad at You,” the latter of which sounds suspiciously like Neil Sedaka’s 1962 hit “Breaking up is Hard to Do.” Alex Chilton did a faithful rendition of “Let Me Get Close to You” on his 1987 High Priest album.

2. “She May Call You up Tonight”-The Left Banke, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, (1967)-This song fits a weird musical archetype that I use to group some different artists, I call it Linus and Lucy Pop after the great Vince Guaraldi song. Belle and Sebastian are the strongest latter day proponents of this style, which is typified by “Seeing Other People.” The songs are usually of the smart, crisp, mid-tempo piano pop variety.

3. “When You Find Out”-The Nerves, The Nerves EP, (1976)-One of the best bands to have never “made it,” and by that I mean to, at the very least, record a proper album. Though, as I mentioned in an earlier post, when they broke up, Paul Collins formed The Beat, Peter Case formed The Plimsouls, and Jack Lee recorded a solo album called Jack Lee’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1, so, in a sense, they made it, just not together. The Nerves EP has 4 great songs, the best of which were “Hangin’ on the Telephone” covered famously by Blondie and “When You Find Out” which is lean, angular power pop that is both jittery and truculent. Neither here nor there, but this song always seemed to remind me of early solo Van Morrison.

4. “The High Road”-The Feelies, The Good Earth, (1986)- The Feelies are a bit of a mystery to me. I like Crazy Rhythms, but not as much as most. I think their real crowning achievement is The Good Earth—a mature pop album with a unity of purpose that embraces both the jangle of power pop and the discipline of minimalism. And if you are predisposed to do so, it is infectious enough that dancing to it would not be out of the realm of possibility. I read somewhere that The Feelies sounded “as if the Velvets had begotten a Grateful Dead,” which is way off the mark. The Velvets part: true. The Dead: no way. I see what the author was getting at, and that is that The Feelies had a propensity for guitar solos, but the soloing the Feelies did is not even in the same universe as The Dead, and lest there be confusion, that is a good thing. The Feelies solos were very smart and discreet, and the interplay was wonderfully simple, that is to say: no wanking.

5. “Call the Doctor”-Spacemen 3, The Perfect Prescription, (1987)-Yet another band whose existence was dependant on Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Like the Feelies, Spacemen 3 used a Velvets-inspired minimal framework to display their revivalist tendencies. Where The Feelies embraced the jangle of power pop, Spacemen 3 instead mined the rich territory of sixties-style psychedelia. It works because a lot of sixties psychedelia was inclined to be loose and unfurled, tending to lose the listener in a haze of noodling guitars and swirling organs. Some may argue that the repetition they utilized made their brand of psychedelia more boring, I would disagree, but the crowds did not flock to the store or the concert halls for Spacemen 3; they did though, to a higher degree, for J. Spaceman’s more exciting project, Spiritualized. Lyrically “Call the Doctor” is a kind of “Street Hassle” inspired bit of novelistic drug nonsense, but the music is the reason to listen to Spacemen 3. Use headphones.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Thoughts on Rock and Roll in the Seventies-Punk and Power Pop (Part II), My Holy Trinity of Power Pop

The Flamin' Groovies in
their velvet suits


One was from San Francisco, another came from Memphis, Tennessee, and the other was from Cleveland, Ohio. And by the time the late sixties drew to a dark and foreboding close, they had very little in common aside from an affinity for rock and roll, and a revulsion to it’s widening array of structures, sounds, and forms.

They were all, in a term, rock-classicists, and in their own varying ways practitioners of a dying art form. Though they all lovingly looked toward the past, they would be no mere copyists and not yet revivalists. In fact all three were innovators whose narrow path would soon widen but by that time neither would be on it anymore.

When the following decade came to yet another worrisome close, two of the bands were miserably shattered, and the other was mounting a slow descent into the shadows. For a while in the seventies however, they were all three blazing one of the last trails for guitar-based pop and represented a musical high water mark in American Music. Most of it though, fell on the deaf and unknowing ears of a listening populace in the throes of a cultural recession.

The Flamin’ Groovies, Big Star and The Raspberries were directly rooted in the fertile soil of American rock and roll in the sixties. The Flamin’ Groovies—power pop’s elder statesmen—had been a famously unwelcome fixture in San Francisco throughout the mid to late sixties. In 1968, while the boho-hippies were eating acid and noodling endlessly on their guitars, The Groovies released a backward looking roots-rock record Supersnazz.

Alex Chilton, guitarist, vocalist and co-founder of Memphis’ Big Star, had been the babyish singer for blue-eyed soul bubble-gummers The Boxtops, and the whole of The Raspberries, aside from lead singer Eric Carmen (who was in a group called Cyrus Erie) had played in a legendary Cleveland garage group called The Choir.

By the time the seventies were in its dark twilight, these iconoclasts had barely scratched the surface and were on the fade. Though American power pop would soon have its day on the charts (Cheap Trick, The Knack, The Romantics), in the early to mid seventies these three bands made very few commercial ripples aside from the relatively small blast of billboard love The Raspberries conjured for their first single, “Go All the Way.” (The Raspberries charted 7 singles, but only “Go All the Way” climbed higher than 16 on the Billboard Chart). They still though, in my eyes, remain the holy trinity of Power Pop.

The Flamin’ Groovies chronologically came together first as a band, but the truth is a bit murkier. The Groovies in their early incarnation were for the most part a rootsy, bluesy proto-punk band under the auspicious leadership of Roy Loney. Once he left to pursue a solo career, The Groovies wandered and drifted for years, before regrouping across the Atlantic under the tutelage of ex-Love Sculpture and future Rockpile guitarist Dave Edmunds.

After a handful of years of fine-tuning their signature new sound—that nodded toward the garage-rock revivalism that would soon be in full bloom, while at the same time, incorporating swaths of luminous Beatlesque harmonic structures and guitar-punk ferocity—The Flamin’ Groovies, under the helm of producer Dave Edmunds released the classic Shake Some Action LP in 1976 on Sire Records. The same label that signed The Ramones.

Though the Flamin’ Groovies place in the power pop triumvirate may be disputed by jealous and majoritarian Badfinger fans—who, incidentally think that four good songs (“Come and Get It,” “No Matter What,” “Without You,” and “Day After Day”) a great career make—they certainly could not dispute the validity of a Memphis quartet who turned rock on its head in the early seventies; only to find that no one was listening.

While The Flamin’ Groovies were a workingman’s band that happened to be remarkable and voluminous songwriters, Big Star were technicians who sweated out a rock and roll transformation in the studio, groping for the perfect sound, while hardly ever touring.

In 1970, an increasingly precocious Alex Chilton became frustrated with his stultifying role in The Box Tops and quit the band to record a clutch of demos at Ardent studios in Memphis, Tennessee that he intended as a solo album.

Though Chilton’s hoped for solo record never came to proper fruition, (Ardent Records eventually released these recordings in 1996 under the title 1970) Chilton became acquainted with future band mate, songwriting and sparring partner, who hung out in a state of pseudo apprenticeship at the studio: Chris Bell.

Over the late winter of 1971, and early 1972, Big Star recorded the phenomenally influential #1 Record at Ardent; a classic that effortlessly combined Beatlesque pop, Memphis soul, youthful restlessness and country melancholia but was a spectacular commercial failure.

By the end of the year, terribly depressed and upset over both the failure of his record to sell, and the insalubrious business practices of Stax Records (Ardent’s parent company), not to mention creeping frustration over the extra attention the extroverted Alex Chilton received, Bell left the band in a state of suicidal despair.

Northeast of Memphis, in Cleveland, Ohio, a decidedly blue-collar town on the shores of Lake Erie, The Raspberries emerged just as the portentousness of the seventies began to become palpable.

Out of the ashes of two of Cleveland’s favorite local rock bands—the aforementioned Choir, and lead singer Eric Carmen’s outfit, Cyrus Erie—rose The Raspberries, a bunch of oversexed boys in flashy white suits, who were one part Who-power, one part angelic Beach Boys harmonic structure, and one part lascivious, high-kicking theatrics. A potent combo—they were power pop indeed.

The Raspberries were surprisingly virtuosic, and could pleasantly shift sounds, evidenced by the Latin-tinged “Come Around and See Me,” and the mid-tempo pop ballad “Last Dance” that morphs strange and effortlessly into country hoedown mode, before quickly turning back. They were strongest though at visceral and plaintively sexual songs like “Go All the Way” and the spine-tingling “Tonight.”

In April of 1975 The Raspberries broke up, and Lead singer Eric Carmen pursued a solo career that could be characterized as either syrupy or vomit inducing. Like almost every band that felt they did not receive their just deserts, the Raspberries reformed as old men. The results were unspectacular and Eric Carmen wisely declined.

After recording a handful of songs in Europe, Chris Bell returned to Memphis, Tennessee to help manage his father’s fast food chain. Two days after Christmas 1978, Chris Bell’s Triumph slammed into a light pole, killing him instantly. His solo recordings are collected on the majestic I Am The Cosmos.

Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens recorded a second Big Star record, the brilliant and more muscular Radio City. Then Chilton and Stephens along with a host of Memphis players recorded a weirdly sad and strange third Big Star album. This third effort is spotty at times, but Third/Sister Lovers remains a cult masterpiece nonetheless.

Chilton has gone on to an odd and sometimes baffling career as a sometimes rock deconstructionist, and at other times a pop-fluff interpreter. He broke my heart and put an inferior version of Big Star together after seeming like the last guy on earth who would do such a thing.

The Flamin’ Groovies released two more power pop albums before the seventies closed and then began to slide into obscurity. They continued to work and released a record in 1992 with frightening cover art but a few pop gems. It had the unfortunate title of Rock Juice.

I know it may seem hypocritical to accept the latter-day work of The Groovies while rejecting the others, but in a way it seems different. They were a working band from a different era, and they didn’t continually insult their own work the way Alex Chilton did in reference to his Big Star material.


On July 4, 1976—the two hundred year anniversary of America's declaration of independence from the British and the subsequent militaristic British invasion—another invasion was occurring in reverse. At the Roundhouse in London, two American rock and roll bands were planting the seeds of future revolt. John Lydon, Michael Jones, and Paul Simonon were all in attendance, but The Clash and Sex Pistols had yet to form. That night The Ramones opened for label mates The Flamin’ Groovies.

The rest is history.

A frighteningly skinny Joey Ramone outside the Roundhouse Theater


Notes From Underground-Zimmerman, Yo La Tengo, Declan MacManus, Robert Wyatt, and Any Trouble

I am in the midst of putting the finishing touches on my bit about power pop. But in the meantime, here are more notes.


1. “I Threw it All Away”-Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline (1969)-Though I’m not a fan of the frog voice, this is a surprisingly remorseful and stately song from the characteristically prickly Dylan, who six years before released the unremittingly spiteful “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Not to say that a songwriter cannot sway from pole to pole, especially given the six year swing, but sometimes it seems as if Dylan would grow out of the grumpiness that characterized songs like his wounded-pride classic “Positively 4th Street.” Perhaps he did not need to “grow out” of such angry brilliance? I suppose though for all the grown-up literary gravitas of “Tangled up in Blue” he could still summon the angry meanness for a crabby entry like “Idiot Wind.”

2. “The Whole of the Law”-Yo La Tengo, Painful, (1993)-Yo La Tengo did a wonderful cover of the aforementioned Dylan song, so I thought that I would revisit another one of their fine covers, this one of an Only Ones song. Yes, them again. For one, Yo La Tengo ditched the sax, which incidentally, is a lesson I wish all rock bands would have learned since after, say, 1957: The Saxophone is intrusive! OK, The Coasters can do it, but please David Bowie, you should have put the saxophone down, it does not sound good. For some very strange reason the punk generation brought the horn back into pop music and for that, among other reasons, they should be spanked.

3. “I Want You”-Elvis Costello, Blood and Chocolate, (1986)-One of the most uncomfortable and brutally sad songs ever recorded. If anyone could write wounded pride better than Zimmerman it was MacManus. I once was drinking and listening to records with a dear friend and we were trying to outdo each other—who could play the saddest song. A silly game that appeals only to the sad and the lame I know, but we attempted it. I played this song and thought that I won. Then he played “Mother” by John Lennon…the bastard.

4. “Sea Song”-Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom, (1974)-The covers are bedeviling me. Robert Wyatt did a stunning, shall I say, better, version of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding,” but I’d rather focus on this bit of Canterbury weirdness that to me, sounds strangely like the Television Personalities on a Schoenberg kick. And though I go back and forth over the importance of context in music criticism—this is the first record Wyatt recorded after falling from a fifth story window, which paralyzed him.

5. “Yesterday's Love”-Any Trouble, Where Are All the Nice Girls?, (1980)-Back to Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus and Stiff Records. So first, let me get it out: this band is "heavily indebted" to Elvis Costello. The glasses, the Fender Jazzmaster? With that being said, this is a frighteningly good song, but it still is a rip. Next on the chopping block: The Jags.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Top 100 (20-11)



20. "Come Dancing" (3:57)-The Kinks, State of Confusion, (1983)-I fell in love with this song as I was buying beer and whisky at the local Rite Aid drug store on the corner of Bush and Larkin streets in San Francisco. The song is a total incongruence of nostalgia and calypso shot through with a blissful and gone-too-fast moment of punk guitars. Brilliant, even if it came so damn late.

19. "Close" (4:46)-The Bevis Frond, The Auntie Winnie Album, (1988)-The Bevis Frond were a band that I had always read about, and always assumed that they would be psyche-guitar face-melters which many writers make them out to be. Instead, they are more like a stripped-down Guided By Voices, a Dylanesque guitar-pop band, replete with the overbearing simplicity of early folk-rock.

18. "Chivalry" (4:03)-The Mekons, Fear and Whisky, (1985)-Utterly regardless of their standing within the punk, rock, alt-country categories, "Fear and Whisky" is an amazing accomplishment of, I don't know, I guess...songwriting. There is a fair amount of violin, synthesizers, narrative, testosterone and vocal embellishment. In a way, it is so much, that it’s identity is stretched out, but never the less, it is a masterful entry.

17. "Certainly All" (1:58)-Guitar Slim, B-Side to the Feeling Sad Single on the Jim Bullet Label, (1952)-I used to work in a book store in Berkeley and there was a compact disc of Guitar Slim that we would listen to. I was an instant convert. I would not call my self a blues enthusiast, but it obviously has its place. I think what I like so much about him is his endearingly sloppy and visceral guitar leads.

16. "California" (3:13)-The Aislers Set, Terrible Things Happen, (1998)-When I was eighteen or nineteen I used to like a band called Henry’s Dress. They were a trio with two singers, one male and one female. When the guy would sing and play guitar, the girl played drums and vice versa. I thought that was a pretty neat trick for some reason. They broke up like all bands do, save for the Rolling Stones, and this is/was the girl’s new band. I felt like I kind of outgrew that stuff, but last year I rediscovered it. The song is very delicate and reverb-surfy, very pleasing if you like sixties music, particularly girl groups.

15. "But I Ain't Got You" (2:12)-The Remains, The Remains, (1965)-They could have been huge. They opened for The Beatles at Shea Stadium. The Beatles! This is not their best song, but it is a well-written bit of downbeat bluesy rock that I listened to compulsively last year.

14. "Both Sides Now" (3:13)-Judy Collins, Wildflowers, (1967)-Folk pop to the max. The lyrics are a bit too much, just look at the first verse: “Rows and floes of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air, and feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.” I just assume leave lyrics about ice cream castles on the cutting room floor, but I suppose I should blame Joni Mitchell, she wrote it. Judy Collins seems to be the less thoughtful, more pop-oriented version of Mitchell, but she is deadly with a melody. Her voice gives me chills and I just can’t help it.

13. "Billy is a Runaway" (2:27)-Iggy Pop, New Values, (1979)-Clearly not the best of James Osterberg, but not as bad as you think.

12. “Better Off Dead” (2:07)-The Wipers, Better Off Dead Single on Trap Records, (1979)-For the most part, I have never been a fan of west coast punk. No Black Flag, no Weirdos, no Germs, no Avengers, no Flipper. Not even Bad Religion or NOFX, or Green Day. But I kept reading and reading about Portland’s Wipers and finally listened to them and they are fine at moments, a bit heavy handed at others, and on “Better Off Dead” they are close to perfect.

11. "Besame Mucho" (2:10)-The Ventures-This was hard to research. I found a compact disc that came out in 1995 with this version on it, but it was probably recorded before 1965. I have always liked guitar instrumentals and probably no one does them as good as The Ventures. “Perfidia” is nice, but so is this. Maybe you will like the “Batman Theme.” The Ventures are full of surprises, some totally expected, some not.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Notes From Underground-The Vibrators, The Only Ones, The Homosexuals, Tav Falco & The Beat

Here's one more. I was bored today.

1. “Whips & Furs,”-The Vibrators, Pure Mania, (1977)-I don’t want to point the finger here, but “Whips and Furs” and “Another Girl, Another Planet” sound practically identical. The record Pure Mania was released in 1977, The Only Ones in 1978. “Another Girl” is the better song, being almost perfect, but The Vibrators are more concise, with less guitar theatrics. A mystery.

2. “Baby’s Got a Gun”-The Only Ones, Remains (1984)-Another album of odds, ends, demos, scraps and unfinished bits. I have tried to put these songs in a kind of chronological order, but I am unsure of when many of these songs were actually recorded. It makes sense though to put this song next, because in the last I mentioned The Only Ones. “Baby’s Got a Gun” is too great of a song to be stuck on some odds and sods album, but the story of The Only Ones is one of true musical inequality. It just is not fair. Strangely, their last album shares a title with this song, but the song does not appear on the record.

3. “Snapshots Of Nairobi,”-The Homosexuals, The Homosexuals' Record (1984, recorded in 1978)-Possibly my favorite band name. A band of contrarians that purposely avoided success (not that they would have found it if they sought it); The Homosexuals were one of the more challenging of the dissonant punk noise groups, drawing similarities to bands like The Pop Group and The Birthday Party, without the self-conscious disco beat-orientation of the former or the monster movie eclecticism of the latter.

4. “Snake Drive”-Tav Falco's Panther Burns, Behind The Magnolia Curtain (1981)-Three minutes of loose, creeping, deconstructed, reverb-drenched instrumental boogie blues from Guatavo Falco’s Memphis blues and rock revivalist group that featured Alex Chilton on guitar and drums.

5. “I Will Say No”-The Beat, The Kids Are the Same (1981)-Besides writing one of the greatest songs, despite getting very little credit (“Hangin’ On The Telephone”), Boston’s The Nerves splintered and produced two of the better L.A. power pop bands: The Plimsouls and Paul Collins’ Beat. Though The Kids are the Same does not match the pure and concise ferocity of The Beat’s debut LP, it still has infectiously hip-shaking songs like “I Will Say No.”


Notes From Underground-The Denims, Anne Briggs, The Flamin Groovies, Roky Erickson & The Heartbreakers

This is a new weekly column that I will attempt to do, chronicling songs that are not overexposed, or exposed at all for that matter. It will be similar to the Top 100, but with only five songs instead of ten.

Here are the first five:

1. “I'm Your Man,” The Denims, Essential Pebbles Volume 2 (Mid to Late Sixties)-Basically a Queens, New York version of The Zombies. They are collected with a score of other bands that are, for the most part completely unknown, on The Essential Pebbles Collection Volume Two, which collects bands even more obscure than Volume One. The good news is that this double disc is cheap and has 55 tracks; some of which are recorded straight from the old forty-fives, so there are some scratches and pops. I don’t mind it, but most people would.

2. “Willie O'Winsbury”-Anne Briggs, Anne Briggs, 1971-Along with Vashti Bunyan and Sandy Denny, Anne Briggs was one of the most angelic of Britain’s female folk singers. With a beatific and nigh perfect voice and a style that virtually launched the female traditional folk movement, the anxious Briggs hated the sound of her recorded voice and retired at the age of 27.

3. “Have You Seen My Baby?”-The Flamin' Groovies, Teenage Head (1971)-Before Cyril Jordan would take the reins and reinvent The Flamin’ Groovies as the greatest power pop band ever; Roy Loney drove this hard rocking proto-punk band. If you ever wanted to hear a song written by Randy Newman sound like it was recorded by The Stooges, here’s your chance.

4. “I Have Always Been Here Before,” Roky Erickson, Gremlins Have Pictures (1986)-The former leader of Texas’ influential psychedelic band The 13th Floor Elevators famously underwent shock treatment and a regiment of the antipsychotic drug thorazine after pleading insanity to possession of marijuana; and it shows in his solo material. Gremlins Have Pictures is a collection of musical scraps that the king of underworld rock and folk recorded between 1975 and 1982. “I Have Always Been Here Before” is a direct antecedent of Robert Pollard’s fried-brain folk style and a bittersweet lament on a man’s wasted life.

5. “One Track Mind”-Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, L.A.M.F Revisited (1984, Recorded in 1977)-Written by Walter Lure and Jerry Nolan, “One Track Mind” perfectly illustrates the evolution of the slapdash, loose and languid proto-punk of Thunders’ first band, The New York Dolls, to his second, the quicker-paced, but just as unruly (pure-punk) Heartbreakers.

Music Blogs - Blog Top Sites Directory of Music Blogs
Music Blogs
Music Blogs