Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Black Sheep Songs--Where Did That Song Come From?

This installment celebrates those songs that make you say, "something about this just doesn't SOUND like (the artist in question)".

Sometimes, it's the song you want to play for that person who DESPISES an artist you like, and you feel this may make a connection.

Sometimes it's the song you want to forget exists, because it just soils your hero's otherwise spotless catalog.

Sometimes it's neither or both. Like all things. Neither or both.

Or a bit of one and slightly more of the other.

Or none of one and only a little bit of...you know. I know you know.

Well, check this song. It's a lovely song by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Organ driven, somewhat drone-y, some fancy drumming, and philosophical lyrics, I think. Who can really understand "The Fogue"?

CCR--"It's Just a Thought"

The Association. Easy, breezy sometimes cheesey. Delightful in moderate doses.
But this song? Tell me it doesn't sound like mid 90's white boy hip hop trip pop.
Main points:
1) Sounds like nothing by the Association
2) Sounds like nothing from 1967
3) Sounds like BECK went back in time (Beck in time?) from 1994 to 1967 and joined The Association for one song. Dig it:

The Association--"Wantin' Ain't Gettin'"

Probably the strangest song in The Monkees catalog is Mike Nesmith's "Writing Wrongs".
See if you can come up with a genre for this extra terrestrial of a song. If you don't like the first part, listen for the crazy middle section. if i made a video for this tune, it'd have a person having a crazy drug induced delusion that he was being chased around city blocks by a robot alien.

The Monkees--"Writing Wrongs"

Lastly, for today,  and along the same lines as the Monkees song is The Velvet Underground's "Ferryboat Bill", recorded for "the lost third album", most (all?) of which ended up on either VU or Another View
It seems to come from the same amphetamine/sci fi planet as the middle part of "Writing Wrongs". It's got only 2 lines that are repeated over and over, but they're so weird that you don't get sick of hearing them.
(note: this video is artsy and difficult to watch)

The Velvet Underground--"Ferryboat Bill"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dylan Just Wants to Have Fun: Why I Love LIVE AT BUDOKAN

I'm not trying to be ironic and contrary when I say that I love (much of) Bob Dylan Live at Budokan, recorded in the late winter of 1978. When the double album was released, it was pretty much universally panned. People had no idea what this was. Dylan, like most of his generation, was in a no-win situation. The new guard (punk) was in charge, lines were (stupidly) being drawn (mostly by journalists and posers) and the old guard was standing fast with their own, or just losing interest and growing up and out of it. But here was the conundrum that Dylan was facing. After this, you'll see why Budokan, intentionally or not, was a work of absolute genius.

Journalists: "Dylan is a dinosaur and a rich, clueless has-been who was cool when he was young and angry but now he's lame and old and this album proves it. He probably can't even name all four members of The Clash. Oi!!"

Dylan fans: "Bobby is once again going down the wrong road. He was back on the right road a couple years ago, in 73-75, but now he's totally confused and we don't like him having fun and disrespecting  OUR songs. Or wearing eyeliner and glittery suits. It's really hard to feel alienated and smarter than everyone else when listening to this record."

Well...the test of time has shown that this album is pretty fucking classic. Judging from fan reviews, I need not, but  I want to trumpet my love for the sake of two parties:

1) Dylan haters--you just may have found the Dylan album you can dig.
2) Dylan lovers who have been scared to be seen with this album because of its legacy.

I'm very heartened to see that people have grown to love this album.
Let me just give a handful of examples of why this album is great (clicking on the song titles will link to samples):

1) Mr. Tambourine Man--begins like a Television or Talking Heads song, and becomes a joyous rocker, driven by Hammond organ and RECORDER.

2) Love Minus Zero/No Limit--begins just like Elvis' "Burnin' Love", and becomes a joyous romp, powered by congas and RECORDER.

(see what I mean? this is a fun album. he's not here to have his lyrics deconstructed. he makes up new ones on many of these performances anyway. and he's singing quite well).

3) Ballad of a Thin Man--someone's been listening to Bowie's "Station to Station", no? It sure sounds like that to me. But as it builds.... who's chewing out Mr. Jones here? Dylan AND A CHORUS OF FEMALE BACKUP SINGERS.

4) Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.--straight up Jah. A slow skank WITH FLUTE.

(people called this album "Vegas Dylan". If so, that's a pretty punk-ass move if you ask me. I read somewhere that he'd even contacted Neil Diamond's management around this time, after having gone to see Neil perform, and decided felt he wanted some of that MOR fan base. Delusional, yes. But his going Born Again the following year was just as alienating)

5) Oh Sister--this beats the hell out of the DESIRE VERSION, which makes me want to go back in time and TEACH THAT DRUMMER ANOTHER GODDAMN FILL! Really, I can't listen to that song purely because of the drumming. This version is sexy and sleazy. Tom Waits meets Nina Simone--and you KNOW that's a good time.

6) Simple Twist of Fate-- "Here's a simple love story, that happened to me". Whether he's lying or not, it's pretty awesome and "un-Dylan" to introduce a song like this. This is a great song, no matter what. Coincidentally, I've been turned on to a few amazing Jerry Garcia Band versions of this song from this same time period (early 1978).

Here's a hypothesis: Dylan gets weirdest just before he gets into a sober-minded place. Ten years before this, he was writing some goofy--and amazing--songs that ended up on The Basement Tapes, just before writing the dry, serious John Wesley Harding album. And Budokan, as I said before, came just before Dylan went Christian. It's like the week long bender before going into the service.

7) I Want You--you all know the jaunty pop original, yes? The one that sounds a bit like Simon and Garfunkle's "Leaves That Are Green" or "Flowers Never Bend"? Well, here's a serious and slow DIRGE, accompanied only by sparse electric guitar and swelling organ chords. And some emotive singing by Bob.

8) All I Really Want to Do--maybe my favorite thing on the album. I can't help but imagine Dylan performing this surrounded by a dozen Muppets bobbing up and down along to the happy bouncy beat. There's some sax, yes, but not too offensive.

It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding--to me, this song is where I kind of side with the Dylan faithful. I mean, there's no topping the original. The Budokan arrangement is not unlike a 7 minute chase scene from your average 70's cop show. I just can't do it.

And that's all I feel is worth covering at the moment. But I will close in saying that this is probably the Dylan album that levels the playing field--and we all know that that is what I'm here to do. Knock those off their high horses and come to the aid who've been trampled by those horses.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yesterday Was National Record Store Day...And a 10 Year Musical Marriage Anniversary

 photo of Turn It Up, Northampton, MA by Julian Parker-Burns (http://julianparkerburns.com)

...and I was asked to be on the air (93.9 FM Northampton, MA) with Joan Holliday to play ten songs from my personal collection of vinyl. We only got around to nine of them. It was fun, and good to see that I'm not the only one who has become a stranger to the ways of vinyl. The turntable in the studio was a novelty. How quickly we forget! Joan's a veteran DJ (see photo at bottom) and even she made "college DJ" gaffes such as forgetting to put the setting back to 33-1/3 after a 45 rpm tune; or putting the needle down on the wrong track. But it was all part of the fun. Much more real than scrolling and shuffling etc etc. Perfection will kill us all! There's no fun in perfect. Exactitude is necessary in many fields. DJ-ing doesn't have to be one of them.

I used to have many more records, but a few (5?) years ago, a fire destroyed half my vinyl;
and a cash-strapped period last year found me selling back about 20-30 records for a few bucks. I do regret that, even though at the time, I told myself my vinyl days were over and I owned it all digitally anyway.

So, what did I play?

1) Don't Let Me Wait Too Long--George Harrison
2) I'd Love Just Once to See You--The Beach Boys
3) Dirty Back Road--B-52s
4) You're The One Lee--Miracle Legion
5) Cream Puff War--Grateful Dead
6) American Squirm--Nick Lowe
7) Wax Minute--Michael Nesmith
8) Wantin' Ain't Gettin'--The Association
9) Heaven Is Paved With Broken Glass--XTC


10) This Man He Weeps Tonight--The Kinks

Here's a photo of me (foreground) with Lord Russ (of The Aloha Steamtrain) and Joan Holliday, when we were interviewed on WWUH, Oct 24, 2001. 

Then, last night, came School For The Dead's Tenth Anniversary Show....

I have played with dozens of bands over the years, but School For the Dead is the longest musical (or personal, for that matter...so far!) relationship that I've ever consistently been involved in. There are bands that started before (The Figments, The Aloha Steamtrain) who probably will play gigs in the future, but they are rare and momentous occasions. School For The Dead, while not a touring band these days (I think we've toured twice) always has a gig coming up. Henning Ohlenbusch, the singer/songwriter always has a new song to teach us...it's a great band. Great fun. And last night was further proof to me that we're a pretty great band. Henning's songs are always top notch. Max on bass is attentive to my quirks and tendency to change things up ever so slightly. Tony and  Henning share a certain musical bond that is very hard to place. And Ken is always a blast. When Ken and I are both feeling loose, and can hear each other, I end up laughing several times a show when I hear what he's doing at the keyboard. I always feel physically and mentally satisfied after SFTD shows.
The room (the famous Montague Bookmill) was filled to capacity, and the happy vibes and heat made it feel almost otherworldly.                                            

Here's to another 10. No reason to stop now. No sir, none at all. 

Here's a clip of the FIRST School For the Dead show.  
We're covering Robyn Hitchcock's classic "Egyptian Cream".
For this "one off" show,  Mark Schwaber was our lead guitar player. At the time, Mark and I played together in LoFine.
Now Mark plays with Lloyd Cole.  

Lloyd Cole was there the night I played with Robyn Hitchcock. But that's another story.

Really? You want to hear the Robyn Hitchcock story? 
Ok, just briefly....A few years later, Henning and I got to play with Robyn H.                               

Henning had opened for him earlier that evening, then we all went across the street to an open mic. Robyn called me up (never having heard me play) to play some covers. Then Henning, along with Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne) came up to sing some backup. Lloyd Cole was there but didn't take part. 
(photo by Debbie Way)

Finally, here's a nice photo by Dennis Crommett (normally known for his songwriting and guitar playing), taken at last night's 10th Anniversary gig. Thanks Dennis! And to everyone who's come to see School For The Dead over the years. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Two more unlikely Garcia/Hunter covers, both by veterens from the UK punk/new wave scene.

Robyn Hitchcock, who, you remember, had HIS song "Chinese Bones" covered by Suzanne Vega, backed by the Grateful Dead. A very nice version of "Candyman" here. 

And Graham Parker doing "Sugaree". He gives that defensive rap at the beginning, that many people feel obliged to give when covering something by an artist with rabid fans. I can dig it. If I covered a Stevie Nicks song I wouldn't want to be harassed by Stevie fans. Graham Parker, for the last decade or so, has often used The Figgs as his backup band. Who are The Figgs? You did not just ask that. Look here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shades of Deeeeeep Purple..and time travelling while in my teens

I'm not a fan (at. all.) of what Deep Purple became, but I'll always have a fondness for their 1968 debut album.

As an audio/visual presentation it all works perfectly. I love when that happens.
The artwork sounds like the music looks like the artwork....and all that synesthesia stuff. (I think the vinyl tastes like the music smells too...not sure.) It's all so purple, man;  Deeeeeep Purple!

In 1987-88, when I was a (voluntarily) reclusive 14-15 year old, happy to stay in my room as much as possible, listening to records (and practicing drums--no, I didn't go to parties or date girls. that waited another couple years 'til the braces and acne were gone--but I became a pretty good drummer!), I would wake up and say, for example, "it's late fall of 1968" and listen only to albums that were released around then

The second Traffic album:

The Monkees' Head:

Jefferson Airplane's Crown of Creation (that opening shares a lot with "London Calling", no?)

The Stones' Beggars Banquet (I know, this is not on that album--same year though, and have you ever seen this kind of really boring but rare video????)

The Grateful Dead's Anthem of the Sun (Peter Banks, first guitarist of YES says this album--and probably mostly this song, was an influence on early YES--the stacked harmonies and arty touches)

Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland (especially this song...oh I still love this song!)

The Beatles' White Album--I had all four guys glaring at me from each wall of my room--those blank stares from the inside of the vinyl LP

Cream's Wheels of Fire (love the slow verse parts of this Ginger Baker tune)

Pink Floyd's Saucer Full of Secrets

Shades of Deep Purple (love this song a bunch... it's really just mod pop with wah wah and heavy drums)

I'd go as long as I could without any outside human contact and just imagine that I was a teenager in 1968, listening to all this amazing new music. It was fun.

Of course, I'd do the same with 1966 (13th Floor Elevators, Love, Count Five, The Yardbirds' Roger the Engineer, The Beatles' Revolver, Dylan's Blonde on Blonde...) and 1967 (waaaay too many to mention).

I never really wanted to imagine it was 1969 because then I'd have to put on a fake beard and buckskin and some kind of cowboy hat and pretend I had the slightest interest in, like, farming and stuff. My sister was into that--I was not.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Indies objectively digging Garcia/Hunter songs....

Notice no one ever covers a Bob Weir song? Ever ask yourself why?
In The Grateful Dead Movie, Weir's lyricist, John Barlow, says something to the effect of "no matter what, we'll never write anything half as good as Garcia and Hunter. They ARE the Dead".
(Weir, sitting near by, looks chagrined...)

The Decemberists do "Row Jimmy" (Weird choice!)

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco does "Ripple"


Vetiver does "Don't Ease Me In"

Built To Spill does, um, "Ripple"

Cracker does "Loser"

Ryan Adams does "Wharf Rat"

Not a fan of this guy, but Billy Corgan recently did "Morning Dew" in the style of the Dead (as opposed to the Tim Rose/Jeff Beck etc arrangement)

and lastly, this all star band doing "Tennessee Jed"