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Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Insipid Record Collection - The Motels

Here is another band I felt never got enough credit for being good. The Los Angeles based "New Wave" band The Motels struggled a long while before ascending to the charts consistently in the early 80's, but they had some terrific songs. I wrestle with which one is my favorite all the time. I absolutely loved the songs "Suddenly Last Summer" and "Danger," but I think my all time fav by The Motels is "Take The L." Martha Davis had a great voice and a nice way of expressing her relationship angst. A curious thing about some bands is that they have to chart elsewhere globally before some of these US based record labels bother to sign them. In the case of The Motels, they had an international hit in France and Australia with "Total Control" in 1979 before Capitol records deigned to sign them. You folks might think I'm a whack job, but I'd like to believe I would have made a terrific A&R guy back in the day. I missed one of my callings there for sure. I still feel like I have an excellent ear for music (hey, stop laughing!) and am much more open minded about music than many of the people I have known over the years. Oh well, that and two cents will get you about as far along in life as you might imagine. You are looking live at my music career unfortunately...

To this day it's not clear to me how some folks in charge of programming at local FM radio stations are influenced by factors other than the music. There is just no accounting for some bands rising and others sputtering when the talent level seems so obvious in favor of the band that can't seem to make it. Funnily enough, it was only in the early to mid 80's that I felt albums really got frisked in full for every last great single. Some of the records that benefited at the time were Bruce Springsteen's Born in The USA, John Cougar Mellencamp's Scarecrow and Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual. Each of these records had up to five or six "singles" consistently played on FM radio. Even the mighty U2 no longer gets that kind of respect. The merits of No Line On The Horizon aside, it seemed be sabotaged by the worst lead single they've had in decades in "Get On Your Boots." I thought "Magnificent" was brilliant you barely hear it a mere ten months after it was released. They are playing "I'll Go Crazy" a bit now, but the record is probably done as far as singles are concerned. Zooropa and Pop got more respect than that. Weep not for U2, but it's just another sign of the terrestrial radio apocalypse. Selling singles the way they do today won't make anyone rich.

Back to The Motels; they were all over the FM dial from 1979 to about 1983. Exceedingly poor management allegedly left the band broke, unbelievably enough, by 1987 at which time lead singer Martha Davis decided to go solo. They resurrected, to little fanfare, around 1998, but after 1985's Shock they really were never heard from again for all intents and purposes. I hesitantly submit that The Motels are one of those bands that if you can grab a comprehensive greatest hits package you are probably good to go. They had five studio albums plus name only releases in 2007 & 2008. The players behind Davis have shifted many times, but with her voice out front the sound is instantly recognizable. Regarding today's posted single "Take The L," I wish I had written it myself. Take The L out of Lover and it's of my all time favorite rock song sentiments. The Motels seemed to get lost in the female fronted mass of successful 80's acts like The Go-Go's, The Bangles, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and that ilk. Those were pretty consistent acts, but it's a shame The Motels have faded from most people's memories. I don't know a thing about Martha Davis personally, it wasn't like she was in the news all the time (at least that I can remember), but I just loved her voice. Still do. "Danger" your love is like a stranger...."Who's Problem Am I?" if I'm not yours...and then "Suddenly Last Summer"....all these songs still sound great to this very day...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Insipid Record Collection - Timbuk 3

Here's an act that I really liked back in the late 80's and into the 90's. They were a folk duo with a drum machine called Timbuk 3. I only first heard them in 1986 when the late WBCN used to play their first single "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades." For years, and thankfully I've broken myself of this habit, folks used to ask me how I was doing and I'd say "Doin' alright, gettin' good grades" as in "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades." This band always had clever wordplay and I have always loved that kind of thing. "Fifty thou a year'll buy a lotta beer" was another cute line from this once fairly popular song. Radio took to it pretty well and it gave these guys some footing, but I feel like I was the only one buying their records. They probably did too. I got a big kick out of them. "Shades" even made it all the way to #19 on the Hot Billboard 100 in 1986. Not bad huh?

Timbuk 3 initially consisted of a husband and wife team named Pat & Barbara MacDonald. I saw them play live on the grounds of Boston's Channel Club back on October 30, 1991. The legendary Channel was on its last legs by then and they had opened a tiny little club for smaller acts called "Club Vertigo" in the back of the same building. That is where I saw Timbuk 3. By then they had added real live backing musicians to their band so they were now a foursome. Timbuk 3 only recorded from 1986 through 1995, but all of their records had some redeeming music on them. I was definitely a fan. I bought every single one of their full length releases. They appeared on MTV's The Cutting Edge in 1986 and I.R.S. Records subsequently bankrolled them as a result. I don't pay much attention to radio programming, as ludicrous as that statement sounds coming from me, as it applies to artists that aren't getting played. I was hooked on this band immediately. Greetings From Timbuk 3, their first album starring "Shades," was a blast. There isn't a bad track on it and a favorite cut of mine, "Shame On You," was apparently featured in the opening scenes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but as you know if you read my Halloween post; I didn't see it. According to Wikipedia, their music has been featured on over 20 combined compilations and movie soundtracks.

There isn't much information on the World Wide Web about these guys, but they were nominated for a 1987 Grammy for Best New Artist. That must have been a huge honor for them and very well deserved in my view. They have some allegiance with both Madison, Wisconsin and Austin, TX, but I don't have all the facts unfortunately. There next record after Greetings was Eden Alley, which again was excellent. It was kind of country folk with ironic lyrics and catchy melodies. After two records I was sold. I just bought the rest without hearing a note in advance. One of my all time favorites in their catalogue, and I promise you that ten or more of their songs are in the running, is "Dirty Dirty Rice" from their third, and some would say their best, release called Edge of Allegiance. Released in 1989 amidst the R.E.M., Soundgarden and U2 fare of the day, it is flat amazing that this band was kept alive for another six years. I don't know a single soul that has these records, let alone treasures them like I do. "Dirty Dirty Rice" popped up on my Sony iPod like device not three hours ago at the gym and I enjoyed the heck out of it for the billionth time. It's sometimes spooky how you know a band is out there and somebody somewhere is obviously enjoying them just like you, yet nobody you know knows anything about's kind of like being on your own musical island...

I'm going to recant this thought for one hot minute now that I just remembered something; I once gave a mixed track cassette to a friend of mine in the early 90's. A real non starter of a music fan if I ever saw one (he's the kind of guy who will listen to maybe 100 albums of music total until the day he dies with no desire or room for anything new...and this has been going on for 20 years already). I finally figured out that if I give away a cassette I had better make sure I still have the master because it will only be a matter of months until said giftee loses or destroys the copy I give them. Anyway, I give this guy one of my all time great cassettes with The Cure, The Jam, The The, New Order, The Clash and all the other your "B" but probably my "A" cuts of the day and wouldn't you know, out of 90 minutes and maybe 25 songs he comes back with "I love that song Dirty, Dirty Rice." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. All of the songs he could have come back never know what will strike someone...turns out he wasn't so stupid after all...

Timbuk 3 was unfairly pigeon-holed as a novelty band because of "Shades." It had those funny ironic lyrics and nobody who depended on the radio for their musical knowledge ever heard from them again. They must have been terrible right? Wrong! The truth is these folks were very good song writers and their voices blended beautifully right on through their last record in 1995. I think, unfortunately, their records are out of print these days due to public apathy. That's a real shame, but they were very cool for my money and I just loved 'em. So what if you've never heard of them? Sometimes that is what The Giant Panther is for...just in case you missed it...

Monday, November 09, 2009

My Insipid Record Collection - The Charlatans UK

Another band from the early 90's I've mentioned in the past, but just haven't gotten around to blogging about is The Charlatans UK. They are yet another band with a name conflict here in the States that forced the "UK" tag, but if I were these bands I'd wear it like a badge of honor. It sounds so much cooler than say, The Charlatans US, although I could actually live with that if I had to. I know they fool around with calling themselves The Charlatans as originally intended, but they'll always be The Charlatans UK to this fan. The record I come to talk about today is called Some Friendly and it was released in October of 1990. As a 30 year old roaming the alternative rock scene, I just loved this record. I saw them perform at The Paradise February 26, 1991 and had a ball. I know I've talked ad nauseum about the Manchester Scene in the UK around this time, but I never really spelled out how great I thought this record was. Some Friendly and Between 10th and 11th, their followup record, were very solid as first and second records go, but this band was right there with the makers of this sound. I don't want to dwell on it all over again since I have posted about this is the past, but the bands that best represent this period in musical time were The Charlatans UK, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, The Chameleons UK, James, Oasis, The London Suede and Electronic. There were others, but these bands acts are probably the most famous.

The Hammond B3 Organ seemed to be at the fore of many of the sounds you heard coming out of Manchester at that time. I know many people have long forgotten Between 10th and 11th's "Weirdo," but that song was a killer single in 1992. It's intro was pure organ and it rocked. British heavyweights Deep Purple made a nice living incorporating that instrument into their music and now it was back with a vengeance. I think, though, it was the combination of the Hammond, the drug Ecstasy and the boundless energy in those days. My crowd never touched Ecstasy, but we loved that music as if we had. Some Friendly's first single, "The Only One I Know," was a big hit on WFNX and I owned the CD inside of a week of hearing it. WFNX barely touches it anymore, which is really disappointing to be honest, but at the time they were also dabbling with "You're Not Very Well, Then and Sprosten Green" as well. That didn't last very long, but however I feel about this station today I can't say they didn't play "The Only One I Know" and "Weirdo." There were eleven tracks on Some Friendly and the radio fooled around with four of them. Not bad for a band that nobody ever heard of prior to 1990. Time monkeys around with your memory of records, but I still like Some Friendly very much. It brings me back to a time when I seemed to have less cares, but the truth is I should have had twice the cares. It might have done wonders for the following decades....ah hindsight...

I'm going out tonight, not to see a band, but to hang out with friends so I'm going to keep this relatively short (by my standards). The Charlatans UK are still recording to this day and released a CD called You Cross My Path in 2008. I haven't followed them since their heyday (my tastes move all over the road and I can only stay on top of so many bands), but they went on to record eight more records after 1992's Between 10th and 11th (allegedly named after the rough address of the NY Marque, which was where their first US gig was according to Wikipedia). I frequently go back and listen to this record and if you've never heard it I'm recommending it. Like I said, for every post I only need to make one new fan to make it all worthwhile...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Guilty Pleasures - Grand Funk Railroad

I'm sure to catch hell from The Giant Panther with this post, but I can't do a Guilty Pleasures feature without embarrassing someone (ultimately me) right? One of the funniest things I've seen on The Simpsons (a show I still love to this day) was a scene from an ancient episode called Homerpalooza where Homer is playing the car radio while shuttling some neighborhood kids around and they balk at his music, particularly Grand Funk's "American Band." Homer is indignant and shocked, essentially saying what about the "wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner?, the bong rattling base of Mel Schacher?, the competent drumming of Don Brewer?...oh man!" It is actually funnier if you were a fan of the band, as I was, back in the early 70's. Some bands wind up being caricatures of their former selves and I think, to a degree, that is what happened to the venerable Grand Funk Railroad.

First of, no name changes...ever! Chopping off the Railroad was a move I didn't particularly care for. Apparently there is a Grand Trunk Western Railroad running through their home town of Flint, MI and they decided to use a play on words as the name of their band. Great job. It was a very memorable name until they butchered it. Grand Funk Railroad was a power trio fashioned after bands like Eric Clapton's Cream. The critics hated 'em, but the fans loved 'em. Reminds me of the ascent of Kiss; another band I enjoyed the heck out in the 70's. I heard "Cold Gin" at the gym today on my Sony iPod like device and it still sounds great to me. Beginning in August 1969 with On Time, Grand Funk Railroad began making records that were sort of Rock & Soul. Their style was distinctly American, but it was still rock music at its core. There was a rumor going around that Grand Funk Railroad intentionally recorded their early music with the bass guitar seemingly out in front and allegedly louder than the lead guitar. There was a school of thought that bassist Mel Schacher was the best musician of the three so they decided to accent the positive. I guess I never noticed it if that is true, but I just love the sound of 1970's Closer To Home. Always have. 1969's On Time had "Heartbreaker" and 1970's Grand Funk has "Mr Limousine Driver," but Closer To Home, their third LP, was a very good record. Side two had three songs and all of them were great. "I Don't Have To Sing The Blues, Hooked On Love, and I'm Your Captain (Closer To Home)" made a perfect album side clocking in just shy of 22 minutes. I still love to play these three tracks to this day.

By 1972 Grand Funk Railroad was kind of sputtering along. They had released three more records called Survival, E-Pluribus Funk and Phoenix, but sales were mediocre at best. There was at least one good song on each record; namely their covers of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright" and of The Glimmer Twins "Gimme Shelter" on Survival, "Footstompin' Music" on E Pluribus Funk and "Rock & Roll Soul" from Phoenix, but they had reached a bit of a crossroads. They were brawling with their manager, Terry Knight, and had decided to bring on a keyboard player named Craig Frost after failing to entice Peter Frampton to potentially join the group. The resulting sound seemed to alienate their fan base to a degree. It was around this time they started going by the protracted name of Grand Funk and hired one Todd Rundgren (there's that man again) to produce their new record. By this time Knight was out and they were posing half naked on the inside jacket of 1973's We're An American Band. We're An American Band was a terrific record even as sick as you all are of hearing the title cut. Grand Funk Railroad, as I like to call them, never sounded so consistent on one album. There were eight definitive Grand Funk tracks and only "Walk Like a Man" got any airplay other than "We're An American Band." Nevertheless, anyone who bought that record and played the piss out of it like I did knows every note and lyric. I'm going to go with "The Railroad" and "The Loneliest Rider" as my personal favorites, but I love "Stop Lookin' Back, Creepin' or Ain't Got Nobody" as well.

This is about where Grand Funk Railroad kind of went off the rails to coin a phrase. 1974's Shinin' On had a couple of decent tracks, but the Funk became ultra popular for their cover of Carole King's & Geffrey Goffin's "Locomotion" originally made famous by Little Eva. I hate to admit this out loud, that is what this column is for I guess, but my friends & I lip synched and faked playing the instruments to this song on stage at some faux talent show in 8th grade if memory serves. Uggh. "We're An American Band" and "Locomotion" were their only Number One singles according to Wikipedia. Their next record, December 1974's All The Girls in The World Beware, had two more top ten singles in "Bad Time" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" plus a lesser known hit called "Responsibility," but the once mighty Railroad was now a pop band. An awful lot of people loved them as a result, but I became much less interested. I think the band did too because less than two years later it was over for all intents and purposes.

I know I'll get laughed at or whatever, but I still get a charge out of some the early GFR. Call them Rhythm & Blues, Soul or Pop, but no one can say they weren't mega successful. I'm posting their perfect album side tonight because I'm in a good mood. It was nearly 40 years ago now, but I don't care. Tell everybody you know; you've got some Rock & Roll Soul!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Giant Panther Does Requests! - Kim Mitchell

I just learned something right here, right now...I mentioned Canadian rocker Kim Mitchell in my last post and somebody, anonymously, asked me to post the songs I made reference to. Never a problem as we aim to please at The Giant Panther, so I figured I better bone up on Kim before I speak out of turn. I did some checking and it turns out Kim Mitchell was the lead singer of a band called Max Webster. Why is this important? Well it's probably not to any of you, but for me Max Webster was the first band I ever saw perform live at a rock show. I'm not going to count seeing David Cassidy at The Garden State Arts Center sometime in the early 70's. Ssssh! Don't tell anyone. Tracing some of my love of music from my allegedly cool late 60's awakening on through The Partridge Family (1970-1974) before figuring out what cool actually means can really be embarrassing. Keep in mind I was ten years old when I first laid eyes on Laurie Partridge. The significance of stumbling onto this tidbit about Max Webster is mostly irony, but I'm guessing Kim Mitchell was probably the first rock guitarist I saw play live (assuming he was there). This was 1976 at The Tower Theatre in Philadelphia. Cheap Trick was also on the bill followed by Rush performing 2112. Not bad out of the chute as far as I'm concerned. Who doesn't love a good blast of "The Temples of Syrinx" once in awhile? I definitely do even if I'm once again in the minority. I probably wouldn't have ever made the connection between Kim and Max Webster if someone hadn't requested these songs. I think that's kind of cool don't you?

I own the two records you see in the picture above. Akimbo Alogo and Shakin' Like a Human Being were their titles. I'm thinking I saw Kim Mitchell perform at either a WBCN (RIP) lunchtime concert (those were big in the 80's...the band would go on stage around noon and be done by 12:45 PM so everybody could make it back to work...they usually went down on Lansdowne Street so basically it was for students, folks with employers that didn't know or mind that you were cutting out fifteen minutes early and getting back fifteen minutes late, and those folks who worked in the Fenway area) or at something like a WBCN Rock & Roll Expo. I remember seeing The Long Ryders (Looking For Lewis & Clark) at something like this, but I can't remember if I actually did see Kim Mitchell or not. "Go For a Soda" was played fairly regularly for a couple of months back in 1984 and "Patio Lanterns" had a minor run a couple of years later in 1986. Here they are both are courtesy of "Anonymous," who seems to show up a lot in our comments files. Kim Mitchell apparently still records and performs according to his Wikipedia entry, but I have to admit to losing track of him. I did like these two songs though so I'm sure he's got more if you can find them.

Kim Mitchell - Go For a Soda.mp3

Kim Mitchell - Patio Lanterns.mp3

Kim Mitchell - Patio Lanterns.mp3 YSI

Monday, November 02, 2009

One Track Mind - The Pursuit of Happiness

I've been meaning to knock this one out for a while now and since I have an hour before The World Series I thought I'd toss this one back out to the masses for fun. Canada has long been a wellspring for catchy rock nobody seems to ever get to hear. I remember Kim Mitchell back in the 80's (Patio Lanterns & Might As Well Go For a Soda might ring some long lost bells) for example. The Pursuit of Happiness (TPOH) was one such band for me. Many of you will probably remember their quasi novelty track "I'm An Adult Now" released back in 1988 on their CD Love Junk. This is one of those humor meets pretty good song mashups for me. As I have noted in the past, I love when humor is injected into a good rock track. If I like AND it makes me laugh I'm sold. This record is classic cut out fodder. I remember loving this self titled record from 1975 by a Virginia band called Artful Dodger. Nobody I know can even recall this band, but I know every note on this record. I remember WNEW-FM in New York City, the mother of all FM rock stations for this once young listener, used to play a song off this record called "Think Think" for a couple of months back in 1975. I loved this record all the way through, but you can find it for 49 cents in a used record store and it's long out of print. It's a great record, but it's been a graveyard special since 1976. I guess what I'm trying to say is I love some records unconditionally even if nobody else on the planet has ever heard of them. In fact the older I get I'm convinced I have at least fifty of these in my collection. TPOH had a minor hit song with "I'm An Adult Now," but their record was really very good and it had/has zero audience.

Sometimes today, at least for me, I go shopping without a single shred of information about certain artists. I might hear them in Newbury Comics while I'm in the store or maybe I read about them in a trade publication, but back in the day it was all about the image. I'd buy anything on a whim trying to expand my horizons. I feel like I have to tell the story (again you're probably thinking) of how I had come to buy certain albums just by virtue of the artwork. In other words, by shear luck of the draw. I know I'll get the usual guffaws from a lot of you when I tell you I bought Joe Walsh's So What and Supertramp's Crisis What Crisis? just because of their covers and they are still two of my all time favorites. The Giant Panther hates Joe Walsh, but I'm a huge fan of his. Not because of "Rocky Mountain Way" or "Funk #49" or "Life's Been Good"; I love Joe Walsh because "Turn To Stone" was such a fantastic single. I didn't know The James Gang from Spanky and Our Gang back then, but I do now because of "Turn To Stone," which was actually a remix of the original version on an earlier record called Barnstorm. I love all of his "b" cuts like "Meadows" and "Indian Summer" and "Rosewood Bitters" and "Welcome To The Club." As for Supertramp I'm not embarrassed at all to admit to being a fan. Crime of The Century, Crisis What Crisis? and Even in The Quietest Moments were brilliant records long before anybody ever heard of Breakfast in America. I think you all know by now I go off on tangents at the drop of a hat, but I used to love shopping by picture or image. Albums were physically huge and a good album cover was a huge seller right up until the advent of the CD. I would have never bought Crisis What Crisis? without seeing that album cover and thinking those dudes are out there. I wanted to see what they had. I'm certainly glad I did. Great recording.

No one will accuse TPOH's Love Junk of having a great cover, but it was produced by Todd Rundgren and released on Chrysalis Records. Chrysalis, with its signature butterfly, was a British label existing as a subsidiary of Island Records. For me Chrysalis Records stood for Jethro Tull and Procol Harum, but it also housed a substantial portion of the library of such acts as Blondie, Ultravox and such inexplicably great sellers as Huey Lewis & The News and Spandau Ballet. True he said. Uggh. Anyway, Wikipedia does not give insight as to how TPOH came to be produced by sound wizard Todd Rundgren, but his signature sound (Bearsville?) is all over this disc. Harmonies out the wazoo (I should do some research on that word as it is amazingly prevalent in the lexicon of the past couple of decades don't you think?) and very clean sounding, Love Junk was a very good record in my opinion. It was never going to be album of the year, but I've heard much worse. Unfortunately most people haven't heard it at all. 49 cents might be high for the price this baby would fetch at a yard sale. No matter, "I'm An Adult Now" rocks pretty hard and has a few hilarious passages that I just love. "I don't hate my parents, I don't get drunk just to spite 'em, I got my own reason to drink now, think I'll call my dad up and invite him." This song just goes on and on with the cleverly written laughs. I wish I had written it myself. As for the album, check out the easy harmony on "When The Sky is Falling." Great stuff. I don't care if it's in the cut out bin. It's the public's loss as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

One Track Mind - Halloween Treats

I know many of you are way too young to remember the 1960's daytime Gothic Soap Opera Dark Shadows, but my friend David from River Road in Millington, NJ and I used to watch the thing with his older brother Joe. There was this game by Mattel called Creepy Crawlers that was very famous in the mid 60's that allowed you to make rubbery monsters from a mold. My guess is that the game would never get by the child safety inspectors today, but back then it was very popular. Between that and The Munsters & The Adams Family, which were both comedies, and shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents & The Twilight Zone there was a lot of interest in monsters, vampires and the unknown back then. It's not so different today, these things are cyclical and I'm a Sookie Stackhouse watcher myself, but I'm all grown up now. I have yet to see a real life vampire so I'm betting such things do not exist, but back in the late 60's Dark Shadows literally made the hair on the back of my nine year old neck stand straight up. I was banned from watching it by my mother because I would have nightmares. It sounds kind of laughable today, but I gotta tell ya Jonathan Frid and company scared the living bejesus out of me. Even at nine or ten years old I couldn't get enough of Lara Parker, or Angelique as her character was named, back then. Lara was gorgeous and scary all at once. She went on to be a nice character actor appearing in hit TV shows such as The Incredible Hulk, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O, The Rockford Files and Baretta (you remember that sweetheart Robert Blake right?). Something about "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" if I remember correctly. Speaking of loser ex-stars, I saw about ten minutes of Naked Gun II the other night and there was O.J., in his glory days, saving the day. Brutal. I know the Naked Gun movies have a cult following, but I struggle with that kind of slapstick humor. I realize I'm probably in the minority.

Before I get to your Halloween treats I saw this picture on the Internet of a couple of books I bought at our school's Book Mobile back in the day. Remember those babies? It couldn't have been more than 1972, sixth grade for me, and the five year run (1966-1971) of Dark Shadows had just ended. I don't know how many of these books Marilyn Ross wrote, but they were hot property amongst my peers at the time. Get a load of the price tags on these books; 50 cents! If we had five or six dollars back then we were rich by Book Mobile standards. Naturally the smart kids were buying Catcher in the Rye or House of The Seven Gables, but I was buying The Mod Squad or The Love Bug or some such garbage. Hey, not a word about Peggy Lipton! She was right up there with Marlo Thomas, Agent 99, Marilyn From The Munsters, Patty Duke and Marcia Brady...ha, kidding, but you see what we had for female hotties way back when? It was Mary Tyler Moore or bust I'm telling you. Now you know why I had a thing for Peggy Lipton. She was so cool and laid back. No Charlie's Angel she.

I'm not a horror movie fan. I think Dark Shadows knocked me off the horror thing forever. I've never seen Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream or any of those movies. I think I got through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of The Living Dead at least once, but we did have this TV show called Chiller Theatre on WPIX Channel 11 while I was growing up in NJ so I still had one foot in the supernatural in the 70's. I think the show originated out of Pittsburgh, PA and it mostly dealt with science fiction, much like The Twilight Zone, but as long as nobody was creeping into a dark basement with no hope of not encountering trouble (hello Jodie Foster in Silence of The Lambs...just call for backup for chrissakes!) I was usually OK. Chiller Theatre was eventually on Saturday nights at 11:30 for the most part and it was so popular in Pittsburgh that it kept Saturday Night Live off their local channel for many years before finally giving way around 1978. The show ran, in form or another, from 1963 to 1983. A heckuva run for a TV show nobody remembers wouldn't you say?

OK, I'm posting several Halloween favorites today. I have a folder on my hard drives with about 83 songs on it. I can remember being invited to a costume party about three years ago and not really wanting to go. I love Halloween except for the costumes and the candy and the obligatory parties. Call me the Grinch of Halloween I guess. I have no imagination when it comes to costumes and no girlfriend to dress me up. I always buy some stupid mask or some expensive costume and I dread the whole affair. So, around 7 PM I started sorting my database by key phrases like ghost, graveyard, devil, zombie, Dracula (I just saw this great documentary on Vlad The Impaler on The History Channel...I guess he's the original Dracula...nasty person...but he had some wild castles and escape routes...that impaling thing though; geesh...looks downright painful), spirit, vampire, Halloween and whatever else I could think of and started making a folder. I eventually showed up around 11:30 PM without a costume, but carrying a flash memory drive. Three years later and nobody has even heard it and I've totally dropped the ball about adding to it. My Christmas file, by contrast, has nearly 900 songs in it and I could never listen to the whole thing even if I started on December 1st and listened 'til I dropped. Besides, there are only about 25 central Christmas Carols so I have forty versions of The First Noel and all the other suspects...not exactly enticing, but there are some awesome versions. I guess what I'm saying is if you think you have some great newish Halloween songs I should know about please drop me a comment and point me in the right direction.

I'm going to post some 20 old standbys and some of my personal favorites, but these are by no means my absolute favorites. I was just in the mood. Hope you all have a blast tonight. Be safe.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Insipid Record Collection - Stereophonics

So, I had never heard of Sterophonics until I was watching FX's Rescue Me a couple of years back. I love a good TV show that also breaks (relatively) new music. My first class at Emerson College, way back in the Fall of 1978, was Introduction To Mass Communications. I couldn't tell you the professor's name for tonight's Mega Millions number, but down the road there were classes I had where the student teacher was Denis Leary. I don't remember if I took an Introduction To Comedy Writing course or what, but somewhere along the line I had Denis as a student teacher. Wikipedia says he graduated with the 1979 class, but I'm a bit skeptical. That would have meant we went to the same school for a year. I remember seeing his friend Mario Cantone (of Sex in The City Fame to name one thing) perform at The Emerson Comedy Workshop, but I can't honestly claim to remember seeing Denis Leary perform in person. I know I saw Eddie Brill (a national comic that warms up The David Letterman crowd nightly in addition to touring all over the place) perform several times. Every time I look at Gina Gershon though, who was also apparently a classmate of Denis Leary's, I think it's a shame I can't remember potentially having gone to school with her either. She's two years younger than I am so I must have. Remember you fool! No? Oh loss for certain...

Where was I? Oh yeah, I discovered the Welsh band Stereophonics while watching Denis Leary's Rescue Me. The song they used was "Devil," which is apropos if I don't have time to do a Halloween blog tomorrow, but hopefully I will. I don't know much about Stereophonics to be honest, but I liked their record Language. Sex. Violence. Other? I gather the title of the CD was snatched from the back of a video rental, but no matter. I'm clearly a late bloomer here because they had been together since 1992 and had been making records since 1997. Language. Sex. Violence. Other? came out in 2005 and it was Stereophonics' fifth record already. All I know is I loved "Devil" after hearing it on Rescue Me so I went out and bought the CD. They remind me of another band I like that nobody seems to know in Monster Magnet. I'll probably catch some flak for that, but I think "Devil" would have fit right in on Monster Magnet's Dopes To Infinity. I realize Monster Magnet is considered Stoner Rock (there's a category for every imaginable sliver of Rock no?), but Stereophonics are all over the place themselves. Both of these records are very good, but New Jersey's Monster Magnet is a tad heavier. You'll hear some faint Oasis in Stereophonics' music, but that was almost to be expected in those days in that geography. Not that that's a bad thing. After all that's like two degrees of separation from The Beatles. With a love like that, you know it can't be bad...

Language. Sex. Violence. Other? featured the singles "Dakota" and "Superman" before "Devil" surfaced. A fourth song, "Rewind" has its fans as well. I haven't followed their career as closely as I probably would have liked to, but I understand they have a new record coming out in a couple of weeks called Keep Calm and Carry On. We wish them well. As for Rescue Me, I always wonder if somebody on the staff of the show is responsible for tabling this tune or if Denis himself chose it. Denis is plenty cool as is, but I'd like him even more if he knew his way around a modern rock record bin. Either way I enjoyed it and love this CD. I know TV shows like The O.C. have a string of CDs of music that they "broke" on their show, but I haven't seen that show believe it or not. I think it's really smart though to do what they're doing. I just looked at The Music From The O.C. Mix I on Amazon and Jet, Spoon and The Dandy Warhols (We Used To Be Friends....tremendous!...I know I told you to go out and buy The Dandie's Welcome To The Monkey House about a year ago, but I'm telling you again...fantastic record) are all on this CD so they've got some big names going for them. Oh wow, I gotta get with the program here...I just checked out Mix II and found great bands like The Eels, The Killers (though I'm fast getting sick of these guys), Death Cab For Cutie, Interpol, Nada Surf and The Thrills on it. Somebody knew what they were doing five or six years ago huh? I don't know if the show is still on the air, but that is tremendous branding. I always pay attention to the music in the background of any show. It's the music geek in me I guess.

OK, without further ado....I'm passing along 2005's Stereophonics' single "Devil." Hope you like.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Insipid Record Collection - Graham Parker

Another one of my favorites from Days of Future Passed is Graham Parker. He had a couple of different backing bands over the years, but there is no mistaking his voice. I have remarked in the past about my college years basically transforming what I thought were my musical tastes. Graham Parker & The Rumour were a British "New Wave" (I get so tired of adhering to the labeling of bands, but if nothing else it gives it a bit of a time stamp I suppose) act that had three relatively well known records by 1979's Squeezing Out Sparks. All I know is that when I was leafing through famous used record store Nuggets in Kenmore Square in the early 80's I saw a lot of these album covers; Heat Treatment, Howlin' Wind and Stick To Me. The argument could be made that the more you saw particular records the poorer the quality or they wouldn't be there. Respectfully disagreeing I always went home and tried to find out more about artists that had more records in their section than most. There was no Internet, obviously, in those days so I had to go back to my DJ friends at the restaurant where I worked to get the skinny on some of the UK bands I was really just learning about.

The thing is, I went home to New Jersey for the summer of 1979 and worked in a factory that made those horseshoe things you see on the back of big truck cabs. They're called fifth wheels. It was a filthy disgusting job that I worked with other so-called respectable college kids home for the summer. I'll bet I was making $4.50 an hour tops to assemble these monstrosities on big chains hanging from the ceiling. If you did 25 a day you were considered a hard worker. I will say that since college kids are often too stupid to stay home the night before a 7:30 AM factory job, there were many days that seemed like weeks to this clock puncher that summer. The regular year 'round employees basically had a good chuckle at our expense and we knew we didn't want to end up like them so it was a volatile three month mix as the foreman chased us around trying to make sure my friends and I weren't dogging it (which we were as often as possible if memory serves). The reason I relay this intensely boring tale of 1979 is because the kids I was working with didn't all necessarily come from the same school district. Many times we were gladiators on the sports battlefield of The Delaware River Conference (DRC) in rural NJ. Once we put that aside there were always interesting exchanges about music. We used to sit in our cars during our fifteen minute breaks or half hour lunches and listen to, gulp, eight track tapes. One kid I didn't know at all before I started working at this factory played Squeezing Out Sparks and I liked it. I remember he was big Tom Petty guy too so maybe he started me down that path as well. I still love "Listen To Her Heart" to this day.

In 1979 some of the top records, not really counting The Clash's London Calling since it came out with a couple of weeks to spare in the decade, were Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, Gang of Four's Entertainment!, The B-52's debut album, The Police's Regatta de Blanc, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Damn The Torpedoes, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Elvis Costello's Armed Forces, Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps, Public Image Limited's Second Edition, David Bowie's Lodger, Supertramp's Breakfast in America, Joe Jackson's Look Sharp, Talking Head's Fear of Music, AC/DC's Highway To Hell, Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Blondie's Eat To The Beat, The Cars' Candy-O, The Eagles' The Long Run, Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door, Cheap Trick's Dream Police, Roxy Music's Manifesto, Iggy Pop's New Values, The Patti Smith Group's Wave, Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle, Marianne Faithfull's Broken English, Ian Hunter's You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic, The Kink's Low Budget, Wire's 154, Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage, The Jam's Setting Sons, The Cure's Three Imaginary Boys, Dire Straits' Communique, XTC's Drums & Wires, Prince's debut album, Tim Curry's Fearless, Van Morrison's Into The Music, Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming, Molly Hatchet's Flirting With Disaster, Van Halen II, The Alan Parsons Project's Eve, The Undertones debut album, ZZ Top's Deguello...and that doesn't include records by Michael Jackson or Donna Summer and others that weren't my style. Why did I list them all? I know I'm old, but does it strike anyone else that the top 100 records in this day & age just don't seem to measure up? It might be a case of the older I get the better it was, but that is one heckuva lot of great music concentrated in one era for some random year thirty years ago no? Maybe it's just me, but I'm not somebody who says "in my day" contrary to the occasional Giant Panther eye roll as I wax poetic about a long lost body of work. I love today's music just as much as if I grew up on it if it strikes me, but explaining what struck me in my formative years in here on this blog is very difficult to do without sounding like some clueless middle aged guy. Which I'm not...clueless that is...

The first time I heard "Local Girls" by Graham Parker I was on the bandwagon no questions asked. But Squeezing Out Sparks has other great songs like "Passion is No Ordinary Word, Nobody Hurts You, Discovering Japan, You Can't Be Too Strong, Saturday Nite is Dead and Love gets you Twisted." Anyone who followed Graham Parker's career knows full well this guy has a boatload of great songs like "Soul Shoes, Don't Ask Me Questions, Heat Treatment, Stupifaction, Temporary Beauty, You Hit The Spot, Mercury Poisoning, Don't Let It Break You Down, Get Started, Start a Fire and countless others. His Passion is No Ordinary Word compilation is a nice place to start if you would like more information about Graham Parker. For now though don't bother with the "Local Girls." Here endeth the Rumour, er, lesson...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Insipid Record Collection - Sugar

I've done my part to understand and digest Husker Du. I own Candy Apple Grey, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, Zen Arcade, Flip Your Wig and New Day Rising. These records all came out between 1984 and 1987. I didn't buy them until well into the 90's, mostly because of their critical acclaim. I'm not saying I don't like Husker Du, but these records don't get a lot of airplay at my house. I realize these guys were Minneapolis legends on par with The Replacements, but I prefer Bob Mould's solo stuff and his short lived band Sugar to Husker Du. Maybe it's sacrilegious, but that is how I feel. I can distinctly remember my friend Jefferson playing Bob Mould's solo debut Workbook for me in 1989 and it sold me. I've been a big fan of his ever since. You may remember the singles "See a Little Light" or "Wishing Well" from that record. It was almost acoustic Husker Du slowed down to a more reasonable speed. It could have been construed as a folk record. I just love this guy's voice and the pain he sometimes radiates. He's been wronged by lovers, record companies, band mates, alcohol and all the usual problems a rock musician seems to go through. Get this man a Behind The Music!...

Husker Du broke up in 1988 and Bob Mould has been releasing solo records ever since give or take a side project like Sugar. Sugar surfaced in 1992 and it was everything I loved about Mould solo in an alternative rock setting. Mould even has a song called "I Hate Alternative Rock" because I don't think he likes being typecast. For those of you who never followed his solo career he's got several tremendous songs I highly recommend. Among my personal favorites are "One Good Reason" from 1990's solid Black Sheets of Rain, "Fort Knox, King Solmon & Next Time That You Leave" from 1996's Bob Mould, "Can't Fight It" from the 1993 No Alternative compilation and "First Drag of The Day & Skintrade" from 1998's The Last Dog & Pony show. You can find all of these records in the cutout section of your local used CD store, but that just makes me love them all the more. You'd think I'd hate seeing records I paid full price for when they were first released selling for 99 cents (in some cases), but not me. I feel like grabbing the person next to know the one; he has to look at the "M's" at the exact same time you do and has no clue about waiting his or her turn...and saying "buy this!," but I never do. I guess my point is if you like Bob Mould or Sugar think about scooping up all of his solo records between 1989 and 1998. They are all very good in my opinion.

Looking back on it, you could see the Sugar thing coming on if you were paying attention to his solo work. He was slowly picking up the pace and featuring a harder edged sound after Workbook. By the way, Bob can wield the axe. When he rocks, on top of that voice, he delivers the goods. I saw him play at The Paradise a couple of years back and he stayed and signed CDs for about 20 of us after the show. He couldn't have been nicer. He had a firm handshake (sounds ridiculous, but I'm believer in a solid handshake) and he looked you right in the eye. I loved his humility. He seemed like a normal guy to me. I'm aware that he has a colorful personal life, but I'm all about the music so I bought this last three CDs and got them signed as a show of support. His music has changed a lot after The Last Dog & Pony Show. They say his latest album Life and Times, which came out recently, puts him back on track, but I haven't heard much of it as of yet. I think he DJs a lot and some of the stuff on his records the last decade or so has revolved around dance music and technology experimentation.

Sugar was a different animal. A very good Bob Mould on steroids. Teaming up with ex Mercyland bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis from my old friends Human Sexual Response (see earlier post), Mould hit a real sweet spot in his career. Copper Blue was released in September of 1992 and I went to see them play at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston in May of 1993. They rocked. WFNX was playing "Good Idea, Changes and If I Could Change Your Mind" and I was all over this record. My favorite track though was "Hoover Dam." Standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam. I'm on the center line. Right between two states of mind. Great lyrics. For those of you who are unfamiliar, The Hoover Dam is located on the state line between Arizona and Nevada and harnesses the power of the mighty Colorado River. Completed in 1936, the dam is still one of the biggest electricity generators in this country. I watched a documentary a couple of years ago on the building of the dam and it was pretty educational. We lost a lot of men on that job. Herbert Hoover got all the credit, but it's probably the biggest tourist attraction outside of Las Vegas to this day. My mother lives out in Nevada so while out in Vegas on a business I let her drag me over there. I don't know the name or number of the highway, but the imagery in Mould's song is all I could think of while I was there. I stood where Bob stood. Pretty cool. I'm leaving you with Hoover Dam because I just love this song. Hopefully somebody out there will agree with me.