Sunday, December 14, 2014

Singing Chords: Polyphonic Singing

Watch Anna-Maria Hefele demonstrate polyphonic singing. It's nothing less than amazing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My My, Cross the Line

Three things about this video:

1) It was shot in Venice, CA, two blocks from where I lived for 15 years.

2) It was shot on an iPhone using the 8mm app.

3) Lili, who apparently wasn't familiar with David Essex's Rock On, was informed of My My, Cross the Line's similarities to the '73 hit and offered Essex half songwriting credit.

Bonus: 4) Ms. Haydn is hot af.

The girl can play the violin. Hear her shred the horse hair on a cover of Maggot Brain.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Music That Matters, Pt 24

242) Dengue Fever, Sni Bong, Lost in LaosEthanopium: Two California brothers infatuated with '70s Cambodian rock, scour clubs in Long Beach's Little Phnem Penh for a vocalist to sing the music in its native Khmer. Serendipity brings them to the recently immigrated (and coincidently gorgeous) Chhom Nimoi.

Further down the road, the band would expand its sound and include English language originals into the mix but I prefer their take on the Khmer. Their sound is constructed from a spy movie small combo owing more to John Barry than Southeast Asia. While there are heavy dollops of surf guitar, sci-fi keyboards, and lounge-y saxophone, the sound is much more than cocktails and retrophilia. Listen to Sni Bong below and note how the sum can be much more than mere fawning tribute (though, they can do that too) and unsubtle irony – a characteristic that handicapped much of the '90s Lounge fad. They succeed because they approach their source material with the sincerity of dedicated musicologists rather than with the fatuousness of winking hipsters or cultural tourists: Global Lounge Music for the post-ironic.

Lost In Laos by Dengue Fever on Grooveshark Ethanopium by Dengue Fever on Grooveshark
243) Black Orpheus OST: Released in 1959 during the height of a global Bossa Nova craze, this soundtrack included what would become three iconic standards of the form. Whether you're familiar with the album or movie, you no doubt know the melodies. Once, I was smitten with a girl who had this album. She was an adorable little thing with a cool record collection, dark wavy hair, and a hot temper. She left her CD copy at my apartment after a visit and then broke up with me. I always thought I'd hear from her again, bleating plaintively over how much she missed me, but – alas, when she called it was only to get her disc back. She told me I could mail it to her. "Get yo' mama to mail it to you" was what I should of said. I thought of sending it to her with the disk broken in half. But, I didn't. In the end, even though my brain knew we could never work, my heart was left in the magician's blade box and forgot to duck. Needless to say, the music oozes memories for me. But you, you're fortunate: You can listen to it ooze-free.

 244) Tim Buckley, Starsailor: Buckley's recording career spanned nine studio albums. Recording his first album when he was 19, he offered a noir-ish take on modern folk, serviceable but unexceptional: By the time he reached six albums in, Buckley had become another creature entirely. Eschewing the generic folk for an avant jazziness, singing with more passion and improvisation, his songs taking flight over exotic meters, dissonant chords, and lycanthropic vocal sounds all set between stabs of eery beauty. But this Starsailor persona, which had evolved slowly through his previous albums, was all but abandoned by its follow-up. From there, his later albums would sound like he was more focused on chasing commercial prospects. Like a parabolic peak, Starsailor stands as his culmination and masterpiece. Other erstwhile folkies of the time also spawned their experiments with jazziness – Ellen McIlwaine, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison. But none of them took to their voice to the places that Buckley did: going hard bop and treating his voice like Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy would treat a saxophone, pitching wildly and going feral. Recorded in 1970, Starsailor still stands as a grand experiment and a unwithering classic.

245) Vivabeat, Working for William: A synth band with guitar and drums like the way they used to do ca. '79. Man from China was their moment of glory but I prefer Working for William for its more oblique and melancholy vibe. The band had Roxy Music, Bowie, and early Sparks running in its veins and Peter Gabriel at their back (he helped to get them signed) but it was their ability to hammer out deep hooks that have abided so well. The Caribbean accents were a nice touch.

246) Cream, Dance the Night Away, As You Said, Doing that Scrapyard Thing: It's said The Yardbirds weren't blues enough for Clapton and that may explain the short and illustrious life of Cream as well. While Cream owned a few blues covers, and produced an album's worth of great singles, the further the band got away from the blues is where the true radiance of their genius lived. Jack Bruce stands today as a woefully underrated composer and at least part of that success goes to his lyricist, poet Peter Brown. As these songs show, Cream was startlingly versatile, eclectic, and literate. Even with all of their legend and platinum sales its hard to overemphasize their golden "it"-ness. In Cream's aftermath, Jack Bruce would follow up with a couple of laudable solo albums but nothing that compared to his work here. I imagine the combined torsion of their three uneasy personalities had something to do with it. (Apparently, Ginger and Jack didn't get along so well.) Like lovers capable of great sex who only make each other unhappy, there was art in their dysfunction. Shame they couldn't find more tolerance for the tension once the boots were pulled back on. As You Said still amazes me every time.

 247) The Decemberists, The Wanting Comes in Waves – Repaid: The band claims influences from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Morrissey, and the 60s British folk revival. No mere nostalgists, The Decembrists bring some new meat to the musical abattoir. The arrangement adds blues riffery, punk noise, and spunky energy with generous vocal assistance from Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). Altogether it adds up to a sweet and jagged slice of pie.

248) Trilogue, Trilogue: Albert Mangelsdorff was a German trombonist who blew chords. And not just chords, but a polyphonic sound that churns like a church organ. In 1976 he recorded an album with the rhythm section from Hell in the persons of Alphonse Mouzon and Jaco Pastorious. The tunes are all Mangelsdorff's and the even though the rhythm makers are there for support, they can't help themselves: Mouzon's sticks strut like fairy flamenco dancers on nitromethane while "World's Greatest Bass Player" Pastorious inflicts calisthenic squiggling, bending and sliding sounds through treacherous angles, all held earthbound by his bass's lead-dense chords and tar-like harmonics. Like a pimp that just got paid, Pastorious's bass lines don't walk, they swag. Elsewhere, the trombone and bass bounce off of each other like choruses of brontosaurian farting, weaving grooves together with Celtic knots of intricacy. These cats can rage, taking Carl Stalling interludes and mewing like elephants and whales. Trilogue is a swinging kind of cosmic funk that sweeps jazz into new and transcendent triangulations.

249) Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger: The early Bond films were nearly as much about the theme song as they were the Ian Fleming's plots. The James Bond vamp is probably one of the best things to ever happen to pop music. In this iteration, a quintessential John Barry melody props up a classic Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse lyric, brassed up with those amazing horn blasts, and all given the proper cinematic push with the considerable capacity of Welsh-born Shirley Bassey's voice. With lungs like a leaf blower, Dame Bassey seems to sing only in 72-point exclamation points. Match this with the ecstatic pneumatics of a vibrato with the horsepower of four Judy Garlands in a paint shaker. A voice that provides the ultimate foil for a Bond villain squeezed here into the ultimate Bond theme song.

250) Wire, Pink Flag: For me, punk was a brilliant flash. Before it's value quickly disintegrated into a spewing sea of mediocrity, there were but a handful of towering classics: Never Mind the Bollocks, Ramones, Funhouse, New York Dolls and maybe a couple of others that escape me now. Add this one to the heap: Since its release in 1977, Pink Flag album has enjoyed drooling gallons of hyperbolic praise. Its sound is characterized by extraordinary confidence and an aesthetic so minimalist that it pushes toward asceticism. Pink Flag uses many of the sonics and tools of the first Ramones album yet adds much more color, tension, and subtlety. If there was such a thing as punk evangelism then the Ramones were its street corner preachers and Wire its temple monks. Much of the music of the '80s that followed would attempt to defy this type of taut minimalism and that may explain why so much of it is so hard to listen to now.

251) Flamin' Groovies, Shake Some Action: You'd have thought their sound came up from along the gray waters of the Mersey – just in case you missed it, they advertise their Anglophilia on the album cover – but no: they were from San Francisco. A critics darling band whose albums too quickly ended up in the cut-out bins (remember those?). I picked all of mine up for next to nothing. Didn't listen to them much as I remember. But then this: Shake Some Action. A beautifully sculpted monster.

252) Anthony Newley, The Man Who Makes You Laugh: Cabaret singer extraordinaire and seminal influence on young David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, Anthony Newley was the epitome of the "song stylist." Not one to simply gesticulate and mug for emphasis, Anthony Newley staged every beat of his performances and wrung every nuance out of a song from glee to pathos and and back again. You have to credit those fuzzy bustling hedgerows of his eyebrows for doing half the work. But the real magic is when he does that thing with his voice where he mouth gapes open wide, his pitch defenestrates like a greased bandit making an escape, and his vibrato breaks into storm-sized swells. Besides being a major pop singer in England in the late 50s and early 60s, Newley is the cowriter (mostly lyrics) of many a classic including What Kind of Fool Am I, GoldfingerThe Joker, the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack as well as writing a couple of successful musicals with partner Leslie Bricusse. While all of that is impressive enough, it's his genius as a stylist of his own songs that gives him immortality. The Man Who Makes You Laugh is the perfect Newley storm and a song that only he could sing.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Give the Drummer Some

This is the legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield (even his name sounds like a drum pattern) trying to explain whatever the magic he does on those iconic James Brown records. Stubblefield is the architect of the most famous and oversampled 20 seconds of skin flapping ever: Funky Drummer. Stubblefield breaks it down but like any true illusionist, he reveals none of the magic. That sorcery will remain as ineffable and uncanny as ever – improvised off rhythms, syncopations, and ghost notes are the words he gives it. Electricity, devilry, and sleight of hands and feet is what it is.

Humbly, he says "it's just a simple beat" but there's a lot of shit going on there.

Hear for yourself:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dylan Testifies

Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain" or "I Saw the Light"—that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs. 
Taken from the Wiki page.

Destiny is a feeling you have that you know something about yourself nobody else does. The picture you have in your own mind of what you're about will come true. It's a kind of a thing you kind of have to keep to your own self, because it's a fragile feeling, and you put it out there, then someone will kill it. It's best to keep that all inside.  
The Bob Dylan Scrapbook: 1956-1966

A poem is a naked person...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

He May Not Be So Rotten After All

While on the subject of Sex Pistols alumni (see below):

The once hard stool of the former Mr. Rotten's reputation gets a serious softening in this recent BBC interview. Given for the occasion of promoting his new autobiography, Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored, the former Sex Pistol even manages a little dew to the eyes.

And just in case you missed the intended message of his music, he puts it thusly:
Really my message from my music is really learn to love each other properly, because you only get one go at it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Did Sid Do It?

It's long been assumed that Sid Vicious (nee John Ritchie) killed girlfriend Nancy Spungeon, if accidentally (as suggested in the Alex Cox movie).

England's The Mail claims "explosive" new evidence indicates that someone else may've been involved. A new documentary by Brit Alan G. Parker, who's been researching the project for 24 years, attempts to make Sid's case.

If you're interested, the movie is called Who Killed Nancy?

This just in: You can now see it on YouTube here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Guitar Riff Song of the Ages"

And that riff would be the one belonging to Train Kept a Rollin'.

In its original fingerpoppin' incarnation, the riffing was all piano and scat ba-doo-days. The groove is undergirded with a lyrical bouquet of postwar hipsterisms. This Train also offers up what is probably the greatest double entendre chorus ever written: The train kept a rollin' all night long and I still wouldn't let her go.

The song owes some debt to Cow-Cow Boogie.

Composer Tiny Bradshaw shuffles it along in 1951:

Johnny Burnette recognizes the song's carnal potential and sculpts it with a minor key slink in 1956. The result is a scorching, jungly vibe:

The Yardbirds bring the monumental riff of all rock guitar riffs in 1965. Behind the proto-metal figures, this version returns some residual swing and strips it of Burnette's jungly ambience. Keith Relf's double overlayed vocals are like a brain wrestling with good and evil:

The band rerecorded Train for the movie Blow Up. The producers couldn't get licensing clearance for the original so they changed the lyrics to Stroll On and electrocuted the riff, the fuzz-toned duel leads blowing from Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Many have argued that this is the moment where metal began. Whatever: it's friggin' hot.

Lemmy sludges it up and takes it back to the garage:

Jimmy Page brings it to early Led Zeppelin, 1969:

For most people, the reason they know of the song at all is for Aerosmith. The band released it as a single in 1974. It failed to chart at the time:

Live on television from 1974 on what may be the world's smallest stage:

Imelda May and "good ol' rockabilly":

While I was composing this piece I ran across a post for the Hard Rock Cafe's blog that had the same idea.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, Again

So, Miley Cyrus covers Led Zeppelin's version of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and it's a joke, right?

Well, no, actually.

You've got to hear it to believe it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sex Pistols Live in 1978

So this is the filth and the fury: I must say, it's pretty impressive. (That is, everyone but Sid.) 

Worth a listen. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Albums by Blonde Redhead, Tricky, and Interpol

Blonde Redhead's new album is available for streaming at NPR.

You can also download a free track at Soundcloud.

Hear Interpol's El Pintor and Tricky's Adrian Thaws.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bowie Outtakes from 1977

Two instrumental tracks left in the can from David Bowie and Brian Eno ca. 1977, from the fertile Low/Heros period.

They sound amazingly fresh. Listen:

From Dangerous Minds

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sexy Robot

The song for the most part is a basic ProTools-sausage electronica recipe – though, better than most. Aside from the club beats, it has a kind of Todd Rundgren-ish sound. It's usually not the sort of thing we feature here on Jellyroll. 

Except that this video has a twerking robot:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Afghan Whigs: Matamoros

Here's a blistering recent Letterman performance – Greg Dulli's voice is still going where it needs to go:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Music that Matters, Pt 23

232) Vladimir CosmaDiva Soundtrack: Romanian composer Cosma was born into a family tree fruity with starched-collar music folk. He may be a bit of a starched collar himself as his forays into rock and pop have the sound of being approached with an academic's forceps, but his tastes and sonic instincts are sound. Keep in mind this is 1981, a time when digital sounds and gated drums were nearly as exotic as throat singing. Both are used to impressive effect on Ground Swell. Dead End sounds a little like The Buggles channeling Peter Gabriel but the unaccompanied piano piece Sentimental Walk  is a minor masterpiece. The choice of the La Wally aria (ca. 1892) with its searing high notes and juicy operatic histrionics tosses a capital "M" musical IED into the bulls-eye.

233) Ethyl Meatplow, Close to You: Back in the day they were criticized by peers like Kim Gordon for their processed live sound and nude female dancers. By today's standards Ethyl Meatplow's sound is practically organic. Featuring a pre-Geraldine Fibbers Carla Bozulich heaving an indelicate vocal performance that hits its notes with a hammer. Helped along to great effect by ex-Magazine Barry Adamson, the latex-tight arrangement all but strangles the last vestiges of Burt Bacharach and The Carpenters out of it.

234) Choir Invisible, Choir Invisible: Theirs was a kind of caffeinated proto-shoegaze sound that earned its pretentions. Their tight and florid rhythm section – an anomaly in new wave of the time – was propped up on the lead boots of their songwriting. Released on the tiny indie So CA label Frontier Records in 1981, the album was destined for obscurity and that was a shame. By the early 80s their kind of Bauhaus/Cure/Siouxsie guitar theatrics were sweeping the suburbs – with its flange and delay heavy atmospherics – a trick that allowed even marginal players to blow out effects-laden clouds of etherium. Call it Prog-punk. Or, a poor man's version of Bauhaus – I think they're actually better. They're miles spunkier than The Cure of the time. A few more drafts on the lyric sheet might've helped them deforest some of the inscrutability from their lyrics, though they were probably no worse than many of their peers. And the band's chops were leagues better.

Download and judge for yourself:
Choir Invisible, The Distance From...
Choir Invisible, Playing Cards

235) Ruth BrownHe Treats Your Daughter Mean: Raw in the way that only the 50s could be (released in 1953) from this so called Queen of R&B. You have to love the way her voice squeaks up at the end of "mean." It's a voice that's sweet-girly at its center that ruffles tough at the edges. It's a rasp well-worn from a young woman's want of hard loving. The song itself isn't much more than a trite confection but the devil is always in the details and Brown brings the details like a Von Dutch paint job.

236) Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die: By the time this album was released in 1970, Stevie Winwood – having already tendered time with Spencer Davis, Traffic 1.0, and Blind Faith – was merely aged 22. Regardless, this album is an astonishingly accomplished and mature work. Every song is a jewel. The album is considered an early entry into the genre of "jazz-rock," a form not much explored by 1970 – ironic given rock's roots in jazz (but that's another discussion). As ever, Winwood's voice is as brilliantly garbled and nearly indecipherable. As good as Traffic was, their every album before and after Barleycorn was only a means to this: A masterpiece.

John Barleycorn by Traffic on Grooveshark

Freedom Rider by Traffic on Grooveshark

237) Rammstein, Ich Will: Admittedly, this is slicked-over teenage rage at its most rudimentary and I'm way too old for it. But Rammstein (pronounced Ram STINE) is just so goddam infectious I can't help myself. I won't pretend this is anything but basic dumbbell metal – everything is on the metronome click, cliches spew like chunks at a frat house party, harmonies are of the strict basic power five-chord kind, and the lyrics (the English ones anyway, I don't speak German) are pure pablum. Pitchfork describes them as "Marilyn Manson with early '80s production techniques" and "style over substance."  The songwriting chops are pure early period Ramones with half the melodic content, but the Ramones blown through a jet engine. When the vocals are kept at a low technocratic growl things are fine. When they're sung, on the other hand, they come off like an "r"-rolling Robert Goulet. I can think of a hundred other reasons why I shouldn't like Rammstein and yet I do. Not all of it, mind you, but there's enough bratwurst amongst the tripe to make it blast-worthy for the car. And that's all I'm looking for.

Ich Will by Rammstein on Grooveshark

238) Jandek: Let's say there are two kinds of music makers in the world: those who want to make music that sounds like the music they love, and those who don't. This Don't category is exceptionally small. Jandek is a Don't. It may not be that Jandek doesn't want to sound like someone else, he probably couldn't if he tried. His muses won't let him. Often called an "outsider" musician, there does seem to be a strain of madness in his work, whether it's actual or a coy imitation it's hard to know. His muses seem to be transmitting from Neptune. His technique can bounce from child-like to childish and at times his ear seems to be pure tin. The songs have an improvised off-the-top-of-the-head quality and at times it brings to mind the music of The Shaggs. You have to give Jandek, nee Sterling Richard Smith, his rightful due. Anyone with a pretty voice can find an appreciative audience. It takes real courage to get up in front of people and make these kinds of sounds.

Tell Me When by Jandek on Grooveshark

239) Clifford Brown, Yesterdays: Brownie, as he was called, jumped this coil at the tender age of 25 and left behind only 4 years of recordings. Considered a major influence on the many trumpeters to follow and one of the three greats of the modern jazz age (along with Miles and Diz), he was easily the most melodic. Probably best remembered for standing sweetly before a string section, Brownie could blow it hard when he wanted to. Probably one of the best instrumental renditions of Yesterdays ever recorded.

Yesterdays by Clifford Brown on Grooveshark

240) Al Green, You Ought to Be with Me: Sure, Al Green is great. Undoubtedly. Who else stands his class? Marvin Gaye, maybe? That aside, imagine how disappointed I was to learn of Green's history as a wife beater. (Admitted, without contrition, by Al himself in court.) Because Reverand Al is an asshole in his personal life shouldn't change his standing as a singer or his deep catalog of great 70s era work. He had the whole package – passion, great songwriting, the ultimate sex groove of a band, and great production. Al never oversings or resorts to musclely histrionics. He just doesn't seem capable of singing a fake note. Only wish he wasn't such an asshole.

You Ought to Be With Me by Al Green on Grooveshark

241) Three Thirds: Buffalo Skinner: Clearly, Three Thirds were Jandek fans. Woody never sounded so abstracted.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Siouxsie Spellbinding

Before she became Siouxsie Sioux, Susan Janet Ballion was best known as one of the Bromley Contingent, a rag tag group of revelers who were looking for an alternative to pop culture that came together through early Sex Pistols performances. It was the young Susan who stood behind the couch as The Pistols gave their infamous interview to Bill Grundy on the British Today program(me).

These humble fangirl beginnings gave no indication of erstwhile Susan's future greatness. As someone who grew up in The Banshee's era, I know firsthand the power Siouxsie held for women of her generation (a period best represented as '77-'87). Her robust and throaty tone (with more than a hint of testosterone), her self-assuredness, her proto-goth sartorial style and her expressionist kabuki like make-up (one critic described her as "her own Warhol portrait") made her nearly ideal for those on the margins of a Reagan-Thatcher world. She was a leader, and unlike Patti Smith, she was a fashion forward one. While the musical wave of Siouxsie's era included more of a quantity of women than previous decades, there were few of the period who would live to stand the test of time (Chrissie Hynde, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Annie Lennox being a few exceptions). Siouxsie's voice nearly always transcended her material – which could be spotty at times – but when the material – and the guitar player – were worthy of the singer, both could soar.

As seen below – with her now deep into her fifth decade – the old girl still has much creative spunk in her yet.

(If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had any real cred, she'd be in it.)

"Their greatest line-up" live from Rockplast 1981:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: It Ain't Nirvana

Fifteen years ago, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established by a group of record execs and attorneys. While legendary Atlantic Records producer and impresario Ahmet Ertegun and Rolling Stone publisher Jan Wenner had some involvement, the Hall of Fame does come off rather like an outfit run by suits. In fact, its present CEO – Joel Pressman, has had no previous music industry experience whatsoever. KISS's Paul Stanley had this to say about him:
Why not look at Joel Peresman’s credentials? What has he done to qualify him to run the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? What did he do? He worked at Madison Square Garden as a Vice President. Well, as far as I’m concerned, delivering newspapers doesn’t qualify you as an expert on literature. 
Every year its list of inductees favors the big sellers while consistently skipping over many of the true innovators (e.g. Tom Petty, yes; Captain Beefheart, no). According to their website, their mission is to "recognize the people who have created this music which has become the most popular music of our time." Well then, mission accomplished.

Looking at the roster of inductees you'll note it isn't nearly as black and blues oriented as it should be. Ostensibly, The Hall of Fame's purpose is archival, tributary, and non-profit. Realistically, it also brings in oodles of money. (To offer some perspective, pro football teams are also considered non-profit.) Interestingly, artists who're honored are required to buy tickets for their guests and reserving tables can go for tens of thousands of dollars (see here for Johnny Rotten's ideas on that).

Anyway, this year they honored Nirvana. One might quibble with the band's choices for vocal replacements but the concept of featuring all female singers – both young and old – turned out to be a good one. The band's survivors and their guests comported themselves proudly. It was the young kiwi singer Lorde who provided the evening's highlight giving All Apologies an appropriately restrained twist. Saint Vincent offered her a toned down but decent Lithium but the other two guests – Joan Jett and Kim Gordon – despite gallant and courageous attempts, were asked to write checks too large for their voices to cash. (Really, who could sing Smells Like Teen Spirit?) As for the band's part, Dave Grohl is still one of the best bangers available and Krist Novoselic's bass lines were much improved over the dumbbell ones played on the records. (His accordion was a nice touch.) Sideman Pat Smear gave the proceedings the proper gusto.

Here's the full performance: skip to Lorde at 32:10:

Of course, the producers had the video taken down. Instead, here's a crappy camera phone version:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Banned Music in the USSR

A blacklist of banned bands in the USSR as created by Komsomol, the Communist Party’s Youth Wing (date unknown).  “This information is recommended for the purpose of intensifying control over the activities of discotheques...”

Sex Pistols and Judas Priest, sure, but The B-52s and The Village People?

Thanks to Nerdcore.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Spinal Tap on the Rocks

The song opens with shrieks delivered in a vocal register capable of recoiling the ball sacks of singers a quarter of his age. The boulder-sized riffs are pure Kiss-meets-Spinal Tap and the beats are of the thunderously bombastic variety – no one slams the lead boot shuffle better than Jason Bonham. And even if articulations of teen lust by way of a 62 year old coffin-dodger make you want to dry heave a little, the sleaze factor only gives the song more texture.

Introducing California Breed.

Led by the true Dorian Gray of Rock 'n' Roll (a mantle originally bestowed on Kim Fowley), Glenn Hughes, the band also features another seasoned veteran in the person of the aforementioned Bonham, and an adorable 23 year-old guitar nooby named Andrew Watt. Hughes's impressive rock CV includes high profile roles with both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath as well as a stint with guitarist Gary Moore. He's played professionally since the age of 15 (released singles at 17), and now at age 62 – after a 46 year career and a recent heart surgery – he's still shrieking and slapping with the stamina of a vampire and the physique of a marathon runner. While this latest joint may not blaze any trails or set the world aflame we have to give props to the man for his indefatigable, Viagra-fueled passion.

Praise to Hughes, a true zen master of persistence: we should all be so resilient.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, 1968

By 1968 Hard Rock had barely crawled itself out of the primordial bluesy ooze: Led Zeppelin I was a year away, Clapton was still string-wanking in Cream, Deep Purple was banging out covers, and Tommy's seeds had only just begun to swim around Pete Townsend's egghead. Two years before, after being voted #1 Lead Guitarist by the British magazine Beat Instrumental, Jeff Beck left The Yardbirds (and Jimmy Page) at their peak and went solo. After charting a couple singles he went on to form the classic Jeff Beck Group with Ron Wood and a baby-faced 23 year-old Rod Stewart. (As you'll note below, Stewart has been working the pineapple head haircut for at least 46 years.)

As would be seen over and over again, self-sabotage was the leitmotif of much of Beck's career. Following the release of the band's first album Truth, now considered a "seminal work of heavy metal," Beck flaked on a chance to play at Woodstock. (Stewart says Beck never bothered to inform the rest of the band they wouldn't be playing.) Through the bent filter of Beck's psychology at the time, he'd soon come to see the group as a wholly unoriginal endeavor and a waste of his time (he'd fire original drummer MIcky Waller before the second album and Ron Wood before a tour). By the time the band completed its second album, Beck-Ola, Beck's anorexic passion for the project would eventually lead him to fire everyone.

After, Beck would return with another line-up and record two more albums to generally good reviews. Fortunately, Beck's spiritual wiring did improve with age – he'd create more classic work (Blow by Blow), and continue on as the rare Rock and Roll elder still capable of buffing up the glittering nugget when he wants to.

Here's a choppily edited snippet from what I'd presume to be German television ca. '67-'68, revealing a perky Rod and a glum Jeff as they interact with their producer-of-note Mickie Most.

The music starts at 2:15:

The Truth band live in an amazing performance from '68 off an apparent bootleg. Another sad reminder of the greatness Beck squandered.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Solid Potato Salad" May Be a Veiled Sexual Reference

You see this? It's apparently been circulating for a while:

The Ross Sisters, active from 1942 to 1948, performing Solid Potato Salad from the 1944 MGM musical Broadway Rhythm. Their singing skills were considered middling but it's what they do at the 1:00 mark that is certifiable genius. 

If you never heard of them then you're in for a surprise.

After marrying in 1950, the three retired from performing. The last of them passed away in 2002 at the age of 75.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


From 2012, a David Lynch musical joint with eyesome singer/artist/model Chrysta Bell that is rather reminiscent of his earlier work with Julee Cruise, etc: Lynchinan, in a word. Directed by Lynch fanboy Chel White (he did the video for Thom Yorke's Harrowdown Hill) as a personal projectBird of Flames has a strong Blue Velvety vibe with a high creep quotient and lotsa effects.

It's worth five minutes of your time.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sex Pistols Jacked Up!

Imagine a Sex Pistols album that was even rawer, louder, and pissier than the official Never Mind the Bollocks. Well, there was one and it was called Spunk. Spunk was the demo rendition of Bollocks recorded with producer Dave Goodman and original member Glen Matlock. (There seems to be some dispute as to what Matlock's exact role was on Bollocks.) Eventually, the songs would be rerecorded for Bollocks and the rest was history. 

Spunk would be strategically "leaked" in the UK at the same time of Bollocks's release (October of 1977) – though Malcom McClaren would later deny any involvement it does sound awfully très McLarenian, no? While Bollocks was clearly the slicker (if that's even the right word) and more presentable product, arguments have been made for Spunk's superiority. It does have more of that saliva-in-the-veins essence of the Pistols. (The early version of Anarchy in the UK – then called Nookie – is miles more snarly than the official version.) Some of the songs seemed fatigued (e.g. EMI), some would later be relegated as single b-sides (though, No Fun is a blistering stand out), and of course there's no Holidays in the Sun, one of Bollocks's masterpieces.

Is it better than Bollocks? You decide.

YouTube disabled the embedding but you can go here to hear it. (There's also more info on the recording at the link.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Music That Matters, Pt 22

221) Lene LovichLucky Number, Bird Song: Remember New Wave? – a designation often having more to do with hairstyles than music: Generally, it was pop melodies flowering from punk roots – one part 5th Dimension and three parts Ramones – some shallow references to experimental and electronic music, and much attention paid to trendy gear. In that sense, Lene Lovich was totally Wavy, though she brought her own bent to it – the male background voices, and (at the time) untrendy Hammond organ. Her voice was a flexible powerhouse, colorfully tonal and distinctive. She had chops and range (dig her harmonic Uh-ooh-ah-oohs on Lucky Number and the whistle tones in Bird Song), she had the songs, and not the least of which she was a hot redhead. (I crushed on her.) If there was any justice in the world she would've been much bigger than she was. A couple of albums later her sound would focus on digital sounds and programming and her best work would be behind her. Still, it was a good run.  

Lucky Number by Lene Lovich on Grooveshark

Bird Song by Lene Lovich on Grooveshark

222) Creedence Clearwater, Pendulum: Studebaker famously introduced the Avanti in 1963 as a sleek and aerodynamic alternative to the trend of ponderous chrome hulks that littered the highways at the time. A few years later, Creedence would do the same for rock and roll with their characteristic sinewy and stripped down lead/rhythm guitar sound. Then, after five albums and a smashing worldwide success, John Fogerty eschewed all of that for Pendulum's modestly jazzier Hammond organ and saxophone sound which left many contemporary critics gobsmacked. It wasn't the janglier Creedence of the three minute AM radio single, though the album had a few of those too, but a band with a more mature and nuanced approach that may've been Fogerty's version of Rubber Soul. In any case, surrounding his Soul was a skeletal superstructure of great songs that stand up extremely well despite their hoary age. Though I may be one of the few that thinks so, it remains as one of the band's best.

(Wish I Could) Hideaway by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Grooveshark

It's Just a Thought by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Grooveshark

Born To Move by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Grooveshark

223) Sparks, Equator: Russell Mael was an absurdly underrated singer. He along with his brother Ron's quirky and vocally athletic songs would take Sparks into territories few others could follow. As an instrument, Russell's voice was amazingly disciplined and supple and no one short of a world class castrato could hope to match his falsetto. Equator's version of cracker-soul-sung-by-a-cartoon-character mashed with drawing room opera as played by The Spiders from Mars – down to Bowie's weekend bar mitzvah band style saxophone – is an inspired experiment. Sparks' lyrics where more often sung for yuks than sweaty intensity but Equator is one of the rare exceptions: A miniature masterpiece.

Equator by Sparks on Grooveshark

224) BPeople, You at Eight, The Thing: Not much is googleable about the obscure BPeople – they hailed from Pasadena California, existed ca. 1979 - 1981, and their leader Alex Gibson would go on to a lucrative career in film music supervision. As a band they rendered a kind of garagier David Bowie cum New Wave made all the more with their mixture of Bowiesque saxophone and blunt and chunky guitarisms. Elsewhere (they recorded two albums) they experimented with funkier grooves and artful noise but those joints are, alas, long out of print. One of LA's best bands of the New Wave era.

For those interested, here's a taste: Download: BPeople - The Thing

225) Jefferson AirplaneMilk Train: Entendre jacked up to the near pornographic, a violin hook solid enough to hang bowling balls from, and a four-barrel Grace Slick vocal. I make my case for Milk Train and a download here.

Milk Train by Jefferson Airplane on Grooveshark

226) Marlena Deitrich, Just a Gigolo: Her voice is the sound of someone who's screwed her way through the limits of her desire and found it wanting. It's a sound as brisk as a Black Forest night and as taut as her cheekbones. The fact that it bleeds Teutonic insouciance all over the place makes it very begehrenswert (sexy, in other words). Dietrich's ambiguousness sexually and otherwise only makes her reading of Gigolo all the more intriguing and the fact that she rendered this version at the age of 77 only makes it all the more amazing: A fräulein looks back and makes no apologies. Gigolo proves that under the best circumstances, presence transcends voice.

227) Ramones, Judy Is a Punk: This was the template and ground zero for endless generic punk to follow. In 1976 this was the album that Creem Magazine and others would go apoplectic over. In retrospect, their crude, raspy walls of Barre-chorded guitar, cardboard-box-in-a-closet drum sound, extreme garage aesthetic, Anglophilia via Forest Hills Queens vocals, and utterly anorexic production values may've been somewhat oversold. Sound-wise, it's the Kingsman dumbed down a few clicks; content-wise, the album practically heaves with pathological violence, self-loathing, destructiveness – even genocide – points all made for joke value. More generally, though, their lyrics are brilliant displays of poetic understatement, exploiting the negative spaces as efficiently as their soundtrack. All told, it's still a powerful motherf**ker of an album and a switchblade thrust to the chest of the lumbering dinosaur that was rock and roll of their time. No subsequent Ramones album ever came close in power to this drossy radioactive nugget.

Judy is A Punk by Ramones on Grooveshark

228) Theoretical Girls, You Got Me: Only slightly more info available on Theoretical Girls than the BPeople: Based in New York, existed from 1977 - 1981 and were leading edge purveyors of No Wave featuring the Grand Guignol guitar assaults of the always interesting Glen Barranca. The two sides of the seven inch of You Got Me represents the entirety of Theoretical Girls recorded output. Their sound has been described as sparse, confrontationalabrasive, and art-punk. Proto-industrial and presaging the chunky guitar style of Gang of 4's Andy Gill and the tortured voicings of Robert Quine and Sonic Youth might be another description. In any event, it's a shame they didn't carry on.

229) The Pixies, Doolittle: One of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands and an important transition from late
70s punk to early 90s alternative, which to my mind simply means punk bending more towards major keys and with many of the cruder edges rounded off. Musically, they were made for college radio unlike, say, the less refined Ramones. Pixies were also multi-polar and a song like Debaser is a perfect example: Starting with a kind of grungy bubblegum riff that's both cotton smooth and hessian coarse and yet airy with space inbetween, Kim Deal's counterbalancing vocals, and without the guitar wall of buzzsaw a la the Ramones. No mere shrieker, singer Black Francis screeches with strategic purpose that gives his often inscrutable lyrics much more substance.

Debaser by Pixies on Grooveshark

Gouge Away by Pixies on Grooveshark

230) Girl Talk: Bobby Troup: television star of the '70s, husband to Julie London, and composer of Route 66 and co-writer of this little gem. The music is by Neal Hefti and it utilizes more chords in two bars than the entirety of the Ramones canon. The lyrics are ridiculously sexist (though I suspect its tongue is somewhat in cheek) and imagines an improbable time when lecherous bosses chased their secretaries around desks. That aside, it's a great melody and nearly every turn in the phrase is accompanied by its own chord (they don't write 'em like that anymore) and only rarely lands on something so mundane as a triad tone.

And Julie's version:

231) Curlew, St. Croix: Not much to be found on these guys either. At various times their ranks included Bill Laswell, Anton Fier, Wayne Horovitz, and Fred Frith and over their history recorded a near buttload of albums. According to their record label website, they were one of the bands that defined The Knitting Factory sound and their classic period (mid-80s to early 90s) pastiche of whammy-barred guitar, sax, cello, and jazzy, angular beats and downtown noise was proof enough.

Go here to hear more.