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.

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