Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reframing....The Doors. A friendly, light pop group.

I have a past with The Doors. I guess I shouldn't be ashamed, because a lot of people do, and a lot of people have never gotten over their Doors Phase. But they were my first seriously favorite band, beginning in 6th grade, when I asked for The Best of The Doors on cassette for my birthday. A year later, I had listened to everything they'd released, read two books about them,  and had a big Morrison poster greeting me when I walked into my room (and sometimes freaking me out at night). Also, I learned to play the drums by drumming on my bed along with all The Doors' albums. By the end of 8th grade I was pretty much off The Doors and onto other things.

These days, there will be maybe one or two random days per year where I'll suddenly have an inkling to listen to ten or twelve Doors songs. This year, when I was compiling a playlist from the Doors on my iTunes (and I've pretty much amassed most of the studio stuff over the last few years, via one source or another), I realized that all the songs I wanted to hear were the ballads/bubblegum/lite jazz-pop songs from each album. I thought how funny it is that so many "easy listening" songs were recorded by a band whose legacy is DEEPDARKDANGEROUS.

I thought it'd be fun to share this playlist, along with some pictures showing the band in a friendlier light.

So, let's now step into Brian's Revision Machine and check out this band called The Doors.
Have you heard them? They were like this soft pop band from LA who were pretty good, despite the somewhat cheesy sex symbol front guy, Jimmy. He was kind of like their Davy Jones, but he did write some good lyrics occasionally, when he wasn't busy getting kissed on the cheek by teeny boppers and making them scream. They broke up after 5 years when Jimmy wanted The Doors to do a semi permanent Vegas residency, a la Elvis. He figured, if Elvis could get fat and still be loved by that audience, well then, he could too. So he went solo, but was eaten by a giant lizard on his way to his first gig in Vegas. Or did he? The legend continues....

 The Doors--20 Solid Gold Smash Hits
  1. Twentieth century fox--The Doors 
  2. The Crystal Ship--The Doors    
  3. I Looked at You--The Doors 
  4. Unhappy Girl    Strange Days
  5. Love Me Two Times    Strange Days
  6. You're Lost Little Girl    Strange Days
  7. Hello, I Love You  Waiting For The Sun
  8. Love Street      Waiting For The Sun
  9. Summer's Almost Gone      Waiting For The Sun
  10. Wintertime Love  Waiting For The Sun
  11. We Could Be So Good Together    Waiting For The Sun
  12. Tell All The People       The Soft Parade
  13. Touch Me      The Soft Parade
  14. Wishful, Sinful     The Soft Parade
  15. Blue Sunday       Morrison Hotel
  16. Queen Of The Highway    Morrison Hotel
  17. The Spy     Morrison Hotel
  18. Love Her Madly      L.A. Woman
  19. Hyacinth House      L.A. Woman
  20. Riders On The Storm     L.A. Woman

We're back...It was smooth and friendly and went down easy. No?  No one's killing their father or screwing their mother, no butterflies are screaming, no horses eyes are being whipped, no one's having beer for breakfast, no one's got "the poontang blues", no one's got eyes on their nipples, no one's telling you to WAKE UP!!! and giving you a heart attack.
It's family friendly and Jimmy is a welcome guest at anyone's dinner table.
Invite him tonight!
And hide the tequila. It's against his religion.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jerry Garcia's opinion of The Monkees--1967

A clip I put together from a 1967 interview, in which, pressed to put down The Monkees (yawn...), Jerry mans up and, like most musicians at the time, gives them props. Really, it was only journalists who hated the Monkees. Everyone from The Beatles and The Who to Buffalo Springfield and Frank Zappa gave much support to The Monkees.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Colin and Mick: The Nicer-Voiced, Hit-Writing Second Fiddles

Mick Jones
Colin Moulding

As sugar is to coffee and tonic is to vodka, so were the songs of Mick Jones and Colin Moulding to the catalogs of The Clash and XTC, respectively.

Few would argue with my stating that The Clash were largely Joe Strummer's band and XTC, Andy Partridge's. However, as forceful as Joe and Andy's voices were, or however much they owned the stage and the spotlight, each of them needed foils to sweeten their medicine.

Trivia Question: Which of the following bands did The Clash never share a bill with?
a) The Fall
b) XTC
c) The Grateful Dead

Answer: b) XTC

From today's standpoint, one might think that at some time in history, The Clash and XTC would have crossed paths. After all, they both
--toured relentlessly from 1977-82
--were increasingly fond of adding ska/reggae and disco to their initially aggressive sounds
--consistently released high quality, increasingly ambitious albums
--inched toward the mainstream with each album
--were proudly British
--had drummers named Terry with last names beginning with "Ch" (though Terry Chimes was only in for a bit and was nowhere as good as Topper Headon) (and of course, I'm joking)

However, after some light research, besides appearing on a couple of the same charity compilation albums, the two never shared a stage. In fact, it was their differences that really kept them apart.

--XTC ended up on the "New Wave" side of the fence, The Clash on the "punk" side.
--XTC were country yokels from Swindon. The Clash were hardened punks from London.
--XTC were adopted mostly by bookish types who weren't concerned with seeming "hard". The Clash got all the punks, many of whom got off on the violence that The Clash were actually against.
--In America,  The Clash attracted people like Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Martin Scorsese....The Clash were exotic creatures for these accepted outcasts to check out and be photographed with and tell the world that they didn't bite and did read books. And looked CUUUTE SCOWLING AND POUTING IN LEATHER!
XTC got a tiny bit of attention from their elders (namely, Paul McCartney and Robert Plant were fans), but they didn't seem dangerous or greasy or sexy or remotely interested in the drug scene, so they weren't championed by the same types. They attracted a lot of fellow male musicians.

 XTC is to The Clash as Mike Nesmith is to Gram Parsons. There are a lot of similarities, but in the end, image and presentation wins out in the hipster history books. XTC had no image or attitude. When they tried to go with a look, they looked dorky. Whereas The Clash looked good dressed in leather, or as gangsters, or in suits, or in military duds...they were just lucky that way. And they did it up right.

1981: Nice lads. Not terribly hip. 
1981: Before you go out, do you know what you look like?
The Clash surely did. 

But all that isn't really the point of this essay. The point is to highlight the similarities in the roles played by Colin Moulding and Mick Jones in their respective bands.

Mick Jones live in 1978
Colin Moulding live in 1978

Mid 1977--early 1978
The Clash's eponymous debut and XTC's debut White Music are both released. Jones and Moulding each sing two or three songs on these albums, but stylistically, the songs sound pretty interchangeable with the songs Strummer and Partridge sing. Moulding in fact seems to be even a bit stranger and more anti-melodic than Partridge, not really yet having grasped the pop songwriting formula (oh, but very soon he would!)
Some B sides begin to show differences in style. One of these B-sides, The Clash's "The Prisoner", is one of my absolute favorite Clash songs. The guitar solo in it is noteworthy--very "out" for a Clash song.

1978--The Clash release Give 'Em Enough Rope, XTC release Go 2.
On Give 'Em Enough Rope, Mick Jones wrote and sang "Stay Free". In the context of the album, which otherwise is made up of Strummer's always excellent rants and raves about oppression and youth culture, "Stay Free" is pretty much a straight up pop song (with an F-Bomb) which is Jones' shout out to an old classmate (and count me among the many who first heard it as a love song-- in fact, its real life subject does go along with it being a platonic love song).
Meanwhile, On Go 2, Colin Moulding has an unprecedented FOUR songs, all very good. Three of them are in a row. He's slowly developing his own style--for example he's learned how to construct a melody--but still, the songs still seem to owe a debt to Andy Partridge's jagged, herky jerky quirky style.

1979--The Clash release London Calling; XTC release Drums and Wires (not a bad year for new music...)
And now we have Mick and Colin each standing confidently apart from their leaders, proudly presenting songs that are just as good and distinctive from Joe and Andy's efforts. Most importantly,  they each provided BONA FIDE HIT SONGS on these albums: "Train in Vain" and "Making Plans For Nigel", respectively. These are songs that, for all the high-minded, artistic visions that Strummer and Partridge may have had, put The Clash and XTC on the radio, on magazine covers, in department stores, school dances and housewives' kitchens. Pure, high quality sugar. The cotton at the end of the Q-tip. The gravy. You know what I'm saying. Strummer's angry bellows and Partidge's hyper barking were just not the soundtrack for a Sunday drive with Mum and Dad. These are the songs still found on New Wave Hits collections and which artists (and 80's cover bands) are still covering. More radio-friendly voices and photo-friendly mugs.

In addition, Jones has the near-hit "Lost in the Supermarket", the dance-rocker "I'm Not Down" and the indescribable, very very un-Clash sounding ( even on an album that embraces several styles), "The Card Cheat". Moulding has two ADDITIONAL songs released as singles: "Life Begins at the Hop" and "Ten Feet Tall". He also delivers what I consider to be one of the hands down coolest XTC songs, "Day In, Day Out". Partridge is beginning to grumble about his songs getting a fraction of the production time in the studio because the label sees Colin as the golden goose. Still, Partridge plays a big part in these songs--arranging them and delivering extremely innovative guitar solos.

Here are some video versions of the hit songs. Gritty bootleg clips, to keep it real.

This first taste of stardom had surprisingly predictable effects on Jones and Moulding. The rest of The Clash were no angels, but they did feel that Jones, who got into the very un-punk, very expensive, very bearded-Hollywood-type drug, cocaine, was beginning to stand apart from the band. And Moulding, while still a team-player, allowed Virgin to talk him into recording a solo single, which vanished without a trace. Frankly, the songs aren't his best by any stretch. Also, he came very close to leaving his wife and kid for an Australian groupie. But the bands were what the people wanted, so everything remained status quo.

1980--The Clash are still promoting the double LP London Calling, touring a bunch, and recording their TRIPLE LP, Sandanista. XTC record and release Black Sea, their most bombastic-sounding, yet user-friendly album yet.
On Black Sea, Moulding has two songs. "Love At First Sight" is fluff with a dated Linn Drum-driven disco beat. But his other song, "Generals and Majors" becomes another hit. With its anti-war sentiment (but no real lyrical sunstance) and ska-feel, it's sort of Clash-lite. But what XTC lacked in street punk ballsiness, they made up for with hooks galore.

1981--The Clash release the monster triple LP Sandanista!. Mick Jones' best tune on it, in my opinion, is "Somebody Got Murdered". Spooky, moody, hooky.
Meanwhile, XTC spent 1981 touring the world, making some progress in becoming as big as the band they often supported, The Police. However, again, the fact that they had no gimmick or overt sexuality, many mainstream fans just had nothing to grasp on to. Awesome music and amazing live shows just weren't enough. And this was starting to really bother Andy Partridge, who gave every show his all. XTC also recorded what would be their most ambitious album to date.

1982--XTC release the double LP English Settlement. Finally, Andy Partridge scores the biggest hit, with "Senses Working Overtime". Just in time for his panic attack breakdown which immediately put an end to their touring days, and thus, their slow rise to mainstream fame. On English Settlement, Colin has four songs, the spooky "Runaways", the sugary/somewhat political "Ball and Chain", the so-described "insect punk" "Fly on the Wall" and the Police-like "English Roundabout". None of them are hits, though "Ball and Chain" is released as a single. This pretty much ends Colin's reign of hit-making (until his 1989 lite pop "King For a Day" from Oranges and Lemons)
Meanwhile, The Clash are now pretty much accepted by the mainstream, as they open for The Who at Shea Stadium, appear on the cover of magazines which mostly ignored punk, and most importantly, Mick Jones delivers the mammoth hit, "Should I Stay or Should I Go". However, The Clash are quickly unraveling. Joe Strummer disappears, takes up running, gives up drugs and kicks Mick Jones out of the band.
Though both bands carried on for varying lengths of time, 1982 saw the last of each band's original formula. A stellar 5 year run for both of them.

So, here's a Spotify playlist paying tribute to the two alternate, more friendly voices in each band.
Of course, to start, each are adopting "the punk pose" before gradually settling into their more comfortable pop clothes.

Protex Blue    1:44    The Clash    Clash On Broadway
Cross Wires    2:07    XTC    White Music
Hate & War    2:06    The Clash    The Clash
Instant Tunes    2:31    XTC    White Music
Remote Control    3:03    The Clash    The Clash [UK]
Crowded Room    2:53    XTC    Go 2
The Prisoner    3:01    The Clash    Super Black Market Clash
I Am The Audience    3:48    XTC    Go 2
Jail Guitar Doors    3:04    The Clash    Super Black Market Clash
Making Plans For Nigel    4:14    XTC    Drums &Wires
Stay Free    3:40    The Clash    Give 'Em Enough Rope
Day In Day Out    3:08    XTC    Drums & Wires
1-2 Crush On You    2:58    The Clash    Super Black Market Clash
Life Begins At The Hop    3:49    XTC    Drums &Wires
Gates Of The West    3:27    The Clash    Super Black Market Clash
Ten Feet Tall    3:17    XTC    Drums &Wires
Lost in the Supermarket    3:47    The Clash    London Calling
Limelight    2:27    XTC    Drums &Wires (bonus track)
The Card Cheat    3:50    The Clash    London Calling
Love At First Sight    3:08    XTC    Black Sea
I'm Not Down    3:06    The Clash    London Calling
Generals And Majors    4:05    XTC    Black Sea
Train in Vain    3:10    The Clash    London Calling
Runaways    4:35    XTC    English Settlement
Somebody Got Murdered    3:35    The Clash    Sandanista!
Ball And Chain    4:33    XTC    English Settlement
Should I Stay or Should I Go    3:10    The Clash    Combat Rock
Fly On The Wall    3:19    XTC    English Settlement

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nez in Nashville, Nez in Byrdland.

“In Nashville, (the music) is straight ahead, no boogie, nothing to it at all. And I want it to be pretty to listen to when you’re loaded. Nashville country ain’t pretty to listen to when you’re loaded. I mean if you’re loaded it’s an irritant. You say, Wow, what is that? Get it off there.”
--Michael Nesmith, some time in the early 70's (the place where I found it gives no date or source.)

Many of you have probably seen this famous clip from the second-to-last episode of The Monkees (filmed in late 1967). It's 100% awesomeness, and probably the hippest thing to be found on any of the episodes.
About a minute in to the clip comes this exchange:

Zappa (as Nesmith): "You know that after I quit the show I'm going to join The Byrds, doncha?"
Nesmith (as Zappa): (genuine laughter) "No, I didn't know that"
Zappa (as Nesmith): "When you quit the Mothers, who are you gonna join?"
Nesmith (as Zappa): "I may join the Byrds too!"

Wait! DID Nesmith Join The Byrds? (Depends on what you mean by "join")

" far as I know, I never laid eyes on the man (Gram Parsons)...
I played with those guys a little bit, Roger and those guys, when they were doing the Sweetheart of the Rodeo tour, but that was as much interaction in the L.A. country rock music scene that I had. All my country stuff came right out of Nashville; that’s where I was doing it. I’d go to Nashville and play there."
--Michael Nesmith, from a 2006 interview

In this recent book about the Flying Burrito Brothers, there is a passage that discusses the one concert in which Nesmith did in fact sit in with the Byrds. Long time music journalist Jim Bickhart, who was working with The Byrds at the time, says he witnessed this show, and gives the date as August 3, 1968 and the place as The Berkeley Community Theater. He says he saw Nesmith "playing mostly steel and regular electric guitar, as I remember....he was having a great time". He also notes the irony of hearing the Monkee playing "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star", the song often (wrongly) thought to be about The Monkees. Bickhart also says this was his first time seeing Clarence White with the band. Gram Parsons had left the band only weeks before. (Chris Hillman notes in the book that he has no memory of Nesmith ever playing with The Byrds.)

This would put this show somewhere between the end of filming the Monkees' movie Head and the beginning of the Monkees final tour as a quartet, where they played Japan and Australia. 

 “I played steel guitar and rhythm guitar for the Byrds at a concert in Berkeley, California. People asked me if my amps were turned on, you know? Did I really play or was it all for show? The Byrds certainly didn’t need me to stand around on stage and do nothing. Clarence White asked me not to get in the way of his solos, but the rest of time I was as audible as anyone on stage.”
--Nesmith in Folk Scene magazine in October 1975.

So was this just for fun, or sort of an audition? I do wish there were further examples of Nesmith's pedal steel playing beyond the elementary stuff he does on The Monkees' Headquarters album. Apparently, by 1968 he knew enough to play the Sweethart of the Rodeo songs.

 It's too bad they didn't throw in a Nesmith tune.
"Aunties Municipal Court" would have fit nicely...

The Scattered Legacy of a Reluctant Country Rock Pioneer

Between May 28-June 2 1968, Nesmith spent some time in Nashville, employing many of the same session guys that The Byrds (and Dylan) used on their country forays.

You can read an article about the sessions and some, er, blunt, quotes from banjo player Sonny Osborne HERE.

According to this excellent book by Andrew Sandoval, Nesmith recorded nine songs while in Nashville (and apparently took one day off to "enjoy the nightlife in NYC"--?--)

1) The Crippled Lion
2) Some of Shelly's Blues
3) Listen to the Band
4) Don't Wait For Me
5) How Insensitive
6) Propinquity
7) Hollywood
8) Good Clean Fun
9) St. Matthew

If one makes a playlist, these nine songs make a very nice, if short, collection. I'm sure no one would have me killed if we threw in

10) Carlisle Wheeling
11) Nine Times Blue
which were recorded two months before in Hollywood, with Chip Douglas on bass and Red Rhodes (who would play with Nesmith on and off for the next 25 years) on pedal steel. Also, it's good on these to hear Nesmith handling all the guitar work, since on the Nashville stuff, he mostly let the pros do the work.

Unfortunately, only a few of these songs were released during that time, and they were sprinkled lightly among Davy and Micky songs on The Monkees Present and Instant Replay, both released in 1969 when the Monkees were already last week's news. The rest came out on Rhino's excellent Missing Links 1-3, released in 1987, 1990 and 1994. 

I will admit to writing Andrew Sandoval and suggesting that Rhino release a collection containing only the Nashville '68 songs, and maybe, being Rhino, find some outtakes and other goodies. I never heard back. I even suggested a gimmick: release it as though it came out in 1968-69, launched Nesmith's solo career and was met by rave reviews from his peers (Parsons, McGuinn, Stills, Garcia, Neil Young, Dylan) and thus, the "hip press". By now, you know my fondness for musical historical fiction.

Well, if they won't do it, then I'll make an iTunes playlist. Dig It. Download it even.