Monday, December 18, 2006

Final Holiday Post - See You Next Year!

I'm posting the remainder of the Holiday themed music I intended to post now. I'm going to be out-of-town and likely busy with other things during the Holidays, but I'll be back around January 3, 2007 with more rare music, and semi-coherent ramblings. In the meantime, I recommend checking out the archives, as I'm going to have to start taking music down to make room for new stuff. Out with the old, in with the new. I'll also be taking down all Holiday themed music after New Years.

First up is Bobby Lloyd and the Skeletons. The contrapuntal interplay between "Do You Hear What I Hear" and The Kinks "You Really Got Me" in this song perfectly captures the disjunctive but symbiotic relationship between the religious and commercial sides of Christmas. Either that or it's just funny to hear the songs mashed together.

Finally, two hipster variations on 'Twas The Night Before Christmas: Tony Rodelle Larson and Babs Gonzales tell the story in beatnik and be-bop patois respectively. (BTW, I was once accused of being a beatnik in the pages of The New York Times, a story I will tell another time. But let me assure you, their description of me was no more accurate than their coverage of WMDs, like dig?).

Song-Poem Plug

I noticed David Dubowski (aka easydinar) has another song-poem auction going. Bidding ends tomorrow, and so far the price is obscenely low. If any of my readers wins the auction, I would be happy to post the results here. (FYI, I have no financial interest in this, I just think David provides a good service). Actually if there is sufficient interest, I would like to make song-poems submitted by readers a ongoing feature here.

Jingle Cats

The Jingle Cats first album, 1994's Meowy Christmas was a promising, if uneven debut. If nothing else, the band proved they had honed their craft during years of playing the Madison Wisconsin college circuit. When their version of "Silent Night" was a surprise smash, the album quickly went platinum mostly on the strength of that single. Nevertheless, most critics dismissed them as novelty one-hit wonders, which made the sustained brilliance of the follow-up album all the more surprising.

Released a mere one year later (although it should be noted that this is equivalent to approximately 5.4 cat years), Here Comes Santa Claws broke new ground others had assumed was cat litter. On this remarkable album The Jingle Cats leave behind the obvious trappings of conventional rock and pop music, creating a new hybrid form that is at once subtle and startling. Gone are the guitar heroics and obvious hooks of Meowy Christmas, replaced by brooding, textured, ambient surfaces that can only be described as post-music.

While not as immediately accessible as the debut, the second album developed a fanatical cult following. Initial sales were disappointing, but the album eventually went on to sell more than the debut, and was certified triple-platinum in 2001. One of the people most impressed by the album was Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who in a 1997 interview with NPR's Terri Gross claimed the album opened his mind to new musical horizons, and attributed the changes in his own band's sound between Pablo Honey and The Bends to his obsession with the album. Brian Wilson is said to have spent hours in front of his stereo curled in a fetal position, weeping like an infant while playing the first 30 seconds of "Oh Holy Night" over and over again.

But there was a darker side to this unprecedented burst of creativity; many have speculated that the changes in the Jingle Cats' music can be traced back to a July 1994 jam session with Garfield. Garfield reputedly introduced the band to catnip during a break in the sessions, and much ink has been spilled over the effect it had on the music. Several members of the band have struggled with dependency problems for years since then.

Sadly, this level of brilliance could not be sustained, and 2002's Rhythm and Mews was nothing more than a collection of b-sides, fan-club singles, and outtakes. Rumors abound that a third album was recorded and rejected by their label, Jingle Cat Music, for being too uncommercial. Few outside of the Jingle Cats' inner circle have ever heard the music recorded for that album. Among those who have heard the tapes, there is little agreement regarding the music's quality. Some suggest it represented as radical a break from previous song forms as Here Comes Santa Paws, while others describe the music as "tuneless caterwauling." We are unlikely to ever know the truth as the master tapes were apparently shredded when, in a catnip induced frenzy, lead-guitarist Cheese Puff mistook the tapes for a ball of yarn.

Friday, December 15, 2006

World Premier Song-Poem "Ballad of the Boy in the Bubble"

I got my song-poem back today. I have to say I am quite pleased with the results. David Dubowski is the musician behind the eBay song-poem auction, and I give him a lot of credit. He brought a genuine enthusiasm to the project, and obviously worked very hard on it despite the fact that he must have been disappointed with the closing amount for the auction. Kudos to Dave (check out his tasty guitar licks after the third chorus). He also did a nice job of dealing with the rather awkward chorus.

The whole thing has been a fun experience for me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fascinated by the song-poem phenomena, or is just curious to hear someone else set their words to music. For someone who has always regretted the fact that he has no natural aptitude for music, it is rewarding to be involved in the creation of music in some way, even if the song isn't going to rock anybody's world. While I realize fame and fortune are not coming my way anytime soon as a result of this song, I had a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy it. (Maybe next year I will attempt to write a Yultide standard and post it here, although I could never top "Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile.")

If anyone reading this ever does a song-poem (either through Dave or someone else) I would be happy to post it here. In fact, I'd love to hear what you guys could come up with.

Ballad Of The Boy In The Plastic Bubble [right click to download]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Other Holiday Music Sources

This photo is one of the "outtakes" from our yearly Christmas card photo shoot. We are very excited to celebrate our first Christmas with Amelia. Getting a four-year old and four-month on the same page for pictures is not easy, but we got some good ones. Luckily, my wife Marjorie is a very talented photographer. (I mostly stood around with a mirror to create some fill light.)

I wanted to recommend a few other sources for non-obvious Holiday music. The Little Hits website posted Shonen Knife's wonderful "Space Christmas" last year. I recommend checking it out, as well as a lot of the other things lurking in the archives of the site. I have no idea who the proprietor of Little Hits is, but he clearly has an amazing record collection. I got the idea to do this blog after discovering Little Hits. (Shonen Knife is another band that got awful in a hurry, but their early music really is terrific).

There are a couple Holiday-specific music websites I recommend checking out. When I posted the Esquivel tracks, I mentioned that there is probably a lot of interesting Holiday music lurking at garage sales, but I am too lazy to bother separating the wheat from the considerable chaff. Well the proprietors of falalalala and Ernie (Not Bert) are Holiday music fanatics who are not too lazy, and have presented a lot of interesting rips of vinyl from Christmases past. Most of the downloads take you to rapidshare, which is kind of annoying, but if you are looking for some non-standard Christmas music it is worth the effort. If Christmas albums with titles like Switched on Santa sound interesting to you, these are the sites for you. Check the Cool Wax has A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas by The Three Suns (great), as well as a (mistitled) Redd Kross Christmas song.

Finally, to the person who found this site by googling "nanalan theme song lyrics," it goes like this: "La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la, nanalan'."

Happy Hanukah

Hanukah starts tonight. I was determined to find a decent Hanukah song to post. It was not easy. I went so far as to buy a used copy of a Dr. Demento CD with a song by Geflite Joe & the Fish, and some song about a Hanukah Homeboy. This was a horrible mistake. The less said about the music on that CD, and the Hanukah songs in particular, the better.

I did discover one interesting Hanukah music project by the Klezmatics, Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah. Much like the Billy Bragg/Wilco project from a few years back, the Klezmatics album is based on never recorded lyrics found in the Woody Guthrie archives. So the words are all Woody, the music is all Klezmatics. This was just released this year, and is obviously available for purchase. To celebrate the start of Hanukah (hardly one of the holiest of Jewish holidays, BTW), I am putting up this song for a brief time. This is a pretty interesting stylistic mix; the music is obviously rooted in klezmer, but it is easy to detect elements of rock, jazz and even country music in the mix. (Of course klezmer and Jewish musicians had a huge and underappreciated impact on jazz, but that is another story.)

Hanukah Tree
[available for purchase]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Pia Zadora's cinematic debut, was a holiday favorite at the Bilderback household during the 1970s. Channel 25 in Washington, DC played the movie every Christmas, and every year my brother and I watched it. We were too young to know anything about the camp aesthetic, and we didn't think of the movie as "bad." The idea of Santa being kidnaped by Martians then kicking some green butt may have seemed a little silly to us, but we liked it. The film's cold war subtext and imperialist implications were lost on us young Bilderbacks (I was a long way from a PhD in Cinema Studies at six).

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is available online for free at archive.org, and I suspect at the Ocean State Job Lot for $1. And seven-year-old Pia Zadora does not get near a garden hose in this movie, so it is safe for the whole family. (Pia's interview with Joey Ramone in SPIN was a classic.) This is often cited as one of the worst movies ever made, but I have trouble calling movies as entertaining as this (or Plan 9 From Outerspace, or Glen or Glenda) "bad." In my opinion these are better movies than a lot of the ones that get the institutional recognition of being nominated for academy awards. What do you think the chances are someone is going to bother to write a blog entry about such boring fare as Seabiscuit or Million Dollar Baby in 40 years?

Here are two versions of the awesome theme song from the movie "Hooray For Santy Claus!" The first is the original version from the movie and is credited to Milton DeLugg & The Little Eskimos. In the SPIN interview Zadora claims she sings the song, but I am having trouble finding independent confirmation of that. Any info would be appreciated. The second version is a remake by Senor Tonto, which is also available for download at their website. Both are wonderful.

RIP - Peter Boyle

This movie alone made Peter Boyle immortal.

Heartbreak Noel

Elvis and Christmas just go well together. "Blue Christmas" is one of the few Christmas songs I don't mind hearing over and over, or even at other times of the year. Perhaps that is why there are several songs with the "I Want to Spend Xmas With Elvis" theme. Debbie Dabney sounds like she would have loved to spend Christmas with Elvis, but would likely have settled for Gene Vincent if the King wasn't available. This was written by Don Kirshner and Bobby Darin, and as novelty Christmas songs sung by nearly talentless artists go, it's pretty good.

Kirshner is best know as the impresario behind the Monkees and The Archies. Bobby Darin is best known for being Bobby Darin. Krishner and Darin met while students at the Bronx High School of Science, which counts an astounding seven Nobel Prize winners among its alumni.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reissues - Blog Policy

As it says on the banner, I try to focus on stuff that is rare and out-of-print (i.e. things that you can't buy new and artists aren't currently receiving royalties for). My hope is that the exposure this site gives to this music will create demand for commercially available reissues, although I recognize that is a long-shot. When something I've posted is reissued, my policy is to take it down.

I recently discovered a couple things I posted have been reissued, so I took down the links to the MP3s and replaced them with a link to the item at Amazon.com. One poster helpfully pointed out that the Merle Haggard Bob Wills tribute has been reissued as a two-fer with It's All In the Movies. Amazingly, the wonderful Rev-ola label has also reissued the Fun and Games album Elephant Candy. I ordered a copy for myself, and I also highly recommend their Merry-Go-Round reissue.

I have been a little more liberal with my holiday music postings (although the vast majority of what I have posted is currently unavailable) because my plan is to take it all down after New Years. Additionally, at some point music from past months will need to be removed to make room for new stuff (I have only 500 MB of file storage, and am not inclined to pay for more). I'm pretty close to my limit now, but once I take down the holiday music I will have some breathing room. But nothing here is permanent, and I think that's probably for the best anyway.

Also, I usually post links to Amazon.com, but obviously I'm not trying to tell you where to buy your music. It's just easier for me to link there. I buy most of my music from my local independent retailer, Zingg Music.

The Wedding Present Xmas

During 1992 The Wedding Present released a single a month with the aim of duplicating Elvis Presley's feat of 12 charting singles in one year...and they pulled it off. On the surface this took a lot of chutzpa until you consider that each single was released in a "limited edition" run of 10,000 copies, which was apparently all the sales necessary to place a song in the British top 30 by the year 1992. All the songs were later compliled on two CDs, Hit Parade vol. 1 & 2.

This was the final single, released in December, and of course it is holiday themed. In keeping with previous practice the A-side was an original ("No Christmas") while the B-side was a cover (Elton John's "Step Into Christmas").

"No Christmas" was the second lowest charting of these singles, making it only to #25. Promotional gimmick or not, 12 top-30 singles is a good year for any band. I have to say, I prefer the Elton John cover to the original on this one, although my favorite cover from the project was either "Go Wild In the Country" (Bow, Wow, Wow) or "Let's Make Some Plans" (Close Lobsters). (I plan to post the Close Lobsters version of that song one of these days).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Song-Poem Update

So you guys were no help at all in determining what to submit for a song-poem. Thanks a lot. In the end it didn't matter because my options turned out to be more limited than I thought they would be.

First I asked Will (my four-year old son) to help me write a song. I asked him what he would like to right about, and he said "kitties!" "Okay what do you want to say about kitties?" I asked. "Kitties, kitties, kitties, kitties, kitties, kitties, I love kitties." That was as much as he was willing to contribute. Will is a very creative kid with an astounding vocabulary (he recently used the word "dissipate" in an entirely appropriate context). But the creativity has to pretty much come on his own terms, and he just wasn't into this.

So, on to option two: I tried to find the poem about sad clowns I wrote in the third grade. I thought it was with a package of old school stuff my parents gave me before they moved, but I couldn't find it. (Will did enjoy reading some funny paragraphs I wrote in fourth grade, and wearing my old Indian Guides vest though.)

That left me with no options other than to either write an entirely new song, or revisit the "Boy in the Bubble" song I wrote years ago. I just didn't feel up to writing something new, so it was back to "Boy In the Bubble." I was reluctant to revisit this song for a few reasons; first, I wrote this before the much-criticized Bubble Boy movie, and at 37 I am a little more sensitive about being respectful of people with real disabilities than I was as a callow youth. (I wrote the song after the Seinfeld "Bubble Boy" episode, but I hadn't seen it at the time.) Also, I remembered far less of the lyrics than I thought I would (only a couple lines really), so I essentially had to redo the whole thing.

Some back-story on this: I originally wrote the lyrics to "Boy in the Bubble" circa 1994 after watching the John Travolta Boy In the Plastic Bubble made-for-TV movie while working at Kim's Video in New York. The movie struck me as strange because while it dealt with the specifics of the of the boy's immunodeficiency, the writers ended up treating the whole thing as a kind of poetic metaphor for fear of commitment. (At the end of the movie Travolta's character just leaves the bubble to be with the girl he loves to no ill effect). I thought it would be amusing to write a song that treated the subject in the same way (i.e. as a metaphor for fear of commitment). I really didn't intend it to be offensive or insulting to people with serious diseases, although I recognize it probably is. I apologize for that.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the lyrics I came up with. I wrote them in about ten minutes last night, and they bear little similarity to the original lyrics, so I have renamed the song, "Ballad of the Boy in the Bubble":
I live my life behind cellophane
It's enough to drive a boy insane
No fresh air, no human touch
But when I saw you baby it was just too much

I'm the boy in the bubble
And love is just trouble
Boy in the bubble
Love is just trouble

As fine as you are I must turn you away
Cause in this bubble I must stay
I know your kiss would thrill me
But baby your germs could kill me

I'm the boy in the bubble
And love is just trouble
Boy in the bubble
Love is just trouble

Love's too scary with immunodeficiency
If I leave this bubble it could be the end of me
But I can't help wonder what it would be like
To feel your touch and ride a bike

I'm the boy in the bubble
And love is just trouble
Boy in the bubble
Love is just trouble

My love for you just can't be concealed
My emotions aren't hermetically sealed
I'll take my chances leave this bubble behind
Cause life without love isn't kind

I'm the boy in the bubble
And love is just trouble
Boy in the bubble
Love is just trouble

But I'll take my chances leave this bubble behind
Cause life without love isn't kind

So there it is, it's not nearly as good as the song-poems many people with serious mental illness write, but it is what it is. I'll be interested to see what the guy comes up with. He promises to have the song to me in about a week, and I'll post it when I get it. And remember dear reader, you are partly to blame for this offensive trash because you didn't advise me not to do it when you had the chance.

Xmas South of the Border

What would Christmas be without the South of the Border sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, The Baja Marimba Band, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66?

These tracks come from an A&M seasonal promotional LP, ¡Something Festive!, that was given away at B.F. Goodrich locations. (Speaking of which, remember to get your tires rotated as inclement weather approaches). It is actually a pretty decent, if slightly cheesy album, with tracks by Burt Bacharach, Pete Jolly, We Five, Claudet Longet, plus those listed below. It also contains perhaps the worst song I have ever heard, "Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy" by Liza Minelli.* Words fail to describe how wretched this track is, and to make matters worse it only has a tangential seasonal connection at best.

I have about five or six more seasonal music posts in the queue. I want to get them up in advance of the holidays because as I mentioned earlier, I'm taking them all down after January 1st, and really nobody is going to want to hear them after that anyway. This also gives you a chance to put together a Holiday mix CD guaranteed to annoy relatives you don't really like. 'Tis the season.

*So far on this blog I have nominated Stories "Brother Louie" David Crosby's "Triad," and now this song for worst song ever. I don't doubt I'll nominate others in the future. But really this song reaches unparallel levels of putrescence, so for now I'm sticking with "Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy" as worst song ever.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dinosaur Jr.

"We have always been at war with Oceania and Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel were never members of Dinosaur Jr."

Did anyone think this lineup would last? When someone close to the band told me that Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel (Velvet Monkeys/B.A.L.L.) were joining Dinosaur Jr. after Lou Barlow got kicked out, and that the band would continue with Mascis and Fleming as co-leaders with both Spiegel and Murph on drums I fearlessly predicted the lineup wouldn't last a month. I doubt it lasted much longer than that, but they did manage to record a nice single "The Wagon"/"Better Than Gone" for Sub Pop. "The Wagon" was later featured on Dinosaur Jr.'s major label debut, Green Mind. But by the time that album came out the idea of a Mascis/Fleming led band was a distant memory, and Dinosaur Jr. was basically down to just Mascis, so this Fleming penned b-side went down the memory hole.

There has always been something about the "double drummer" concept that appeals to me. It's just so excessive. It's too bad this line up didn't stick because the band could have gone on to become an alt-rock 10cc, which if you think about it is a lot cooler than what it became.

Friday, December 08, 2006

R.I.P.: Anita O'Day & Betty Comden

This website might give you a very skewed picture of the kind of music I listen to. Believe it or not, I don’t spend the majority of my listening time with old Get Hip 7” singles, Feelies offshoots, and bubblegum music. In fact, I am much more likely to drop a jazz vocalist or string quartet on my turntable these days than a limited-edition, colored vinyl, Sub Pop fan club release by the Lonely Moans or Lubricated Goat.

Anyway, that is a long way of getting around to the fact that I want to pay tribute to two fantastically talented women who recently passed away: Anita O’Day and Betty Comden.

Back during her wild days in the 50s and 60s few would have predicted Anita O’Day would live to the ripe old age of 87. O’Day came to the public’s attention via some fantastic sides she cut with Gene Krupa and Roy Eldridge. She later cut some big hits with Stan Kenton's band, and then went on to a successful solo career that was hampered somewhat by long-term drug problems. O’Day had a very unique voice. She helped define the “Cool School” vibrato-less singing style, which ironically in her case was the result of a childhood tonsillectomy gone wrong that accidentally removed her uvula.

Betty Comden, half of the famous Comden and Green songwriting team that was responsible for Singin’ In The Rain, On The Town and many other classics, also passed on recently at the age of 89.

Back in 1996 I attended a special screening of Bells Are Ringing with Comden and Green as honored guests. In their own very modest way these two geniuses electrified the room with their mere presence. It’s a hard thing to describe, but some people really do light up a room when they walk into it, and Betty Comden certainly was one of those people. (Her songwriting partner Adolf Green died in 2002).

In tribute to these two talented women of song I offer two Comden and Green classics from Bells Are Ringing sung by Anita O’Day. These tracks are taken from an album O’Day cut with Latin Jazz master Cal Tjader, and are easily available so I’m only leaving them up for a few days.

The Party's Over [available for purchase]
Just In Time [available for purchase]

Dean & Britta

Dean & Britta have re-posted a Christmas song they recorded last year at their myspace page. "Old Toy Trains" is a cover of a Roger Miller (the one who wrote "King of the Road" not "That's When I Reach For My Revolver") song. The song is definitely worth checking out. Dean Wareham has always had great taste in his choice of covers.

Speaking of Britta Phillips, I imagine most of you know that in a previous life she was the "lead singer" of the cartoon rock band Jem and the Holograms. I recently discovered that a bunch of Jem songs are available for download. Despite Phillips' obvious talent and my affection for cartoon rock, I have to say based on the few songs I listened to this is truly, truly dreadful stuff. In fact, this stuff is so bad that it has a gay camp following (apparently the series had quite a lot of obviously queer subtext). Luckily for Phillips this is not primarily what she will be remembered for.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus

I'll be honest. I've never really forgiven Hillary Clinton for her disparaging remark about Tammy Wynette back in 1992. I know she apologized, but the very act of saying she wasn't "some little woman, standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette" displayed the kind of elitist arrogance that Democrats are often unfairly maligned for (though I think it was a fair interpretation of this incident). And no apology or image makeover can wash that perception away once it has set in with the public. Just as Mel Gibson didn't randomly go on an anti-Semitic rant, Hillary's words revealed something important about the attitudes that define her as a person.

Anyhow, Tammy Wynette was a lifelong Democrat who walked away from four marriages rather than sticking with a failed relationship. You can think what you want of that, but the woman deserved better than to be ridiculed as a pathetic symbol of pre-women's lib victimization. Wynette was a strong woman who came from dirt-poor origins and practically raised herself. And she never forgot where she came from; a former hairdresser, Wynette renewed her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life (just in case she had to go back a less glamorous line of work). And talk about a classy lady, Wynette later performed at a Clinton fundraiser despite Hillary's hurtful words. She collaborated with artists as diverse as Lou Reed, George Jones, and KLF (whose song "Justified and Ancient" featuring her vocals was a #1 hit in 18 countries). To this day it still gets under my skin that Clinton made such an obnoxious comment about such an accomplished and decent woman.

I guess if Wynette forgave Hillary there is no good reason I shouldn't either. But any Democrat considering supporting her run for the Presidency ought to think long and hard about whether they want someone who is (justifiably) perceived as an elitist snob at the top of their party's ticket. So I'll forgive, but I won't forget.

This is a long way of getting around to George and Tammy's entry into the holiday arena, "Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus" (the couple had been known as "Mr. and Mrs. Country Music"). The song starts with a random Christmas vignette about appliances because it was taken from the out-of-print Christmas Party with Eddie G. compilation.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

K. McCarty

During the early 90s it seemed everybody was covering Daniel Johnston. The list of artists who have covered Daniel Johnston songs reads like a who's who of indie rock: fIREHOSE, Yo La Tengo, Wilco, Beck, The Pastels, Half Japanese, M. Ward, The Flaming Lips, Spectrum, even Pearl Jam covered "Walking the Cow." In 2004 a compilation of Johnston covers featuring some of these luminaries was issued in conjunction with Johnston's originals.

On the one hand, Daniel Johnston is the ideal songwriter to cover. The original versions of the songs (especially the early ones) were more like frameworks for songs: primitive, crude recordings of simple chord progressions often played on the chord organ, coupled with Johnston's bizarre-yet-touching lyrics. The covering artist typically took the framework Johnston provided and built the kind of song they wanted around it. On the other hand Johnston sings with such arresting honesty and raw, unpolished emotion, that sometimes the covers seem like mere academic exercises compared to the brutal frankness of the--sometimes difficult to listen to--originals. Covering Daniel Johnston is tougher than it might initially seem.

For my money nobody covered Daniel Johnston as well as Kathy ("K.") McCarthy, who released an entire album of Johnston covers, Dead Dog's Eyeball in 1994 (the same year Johnston released Fun, probably the most unlikely major-label release in music history). For those put off by Johnston's amateurish delivery, McCarty's album is a revelation. Yes, Daniel Johnston really is more than an indie-hipster freakshow; he wrote some great songs. McCarty makes the case for Johnston as a genuinely talented songwriter quite convincingly.

McCarty's association with Johnston went back a long way; her band Glass Eye, were instrumental in bringing Johnston to the public's attention. Johnston was a big fan of the Austin based unit and would regularly present them with home recorded cassettes of his songs at their shows. McCarty was quick to recognize the "genius" behind Johnston's obvious mental illness, and the band became his biggest booster. Dead Dog's Eyeball was the culmination of that boosterism.

I picked two songs from this now sadly out-of-print album. "Walking the Cow" is probably Johnston's best known song, having been covered many, many times. In my opinion, you won't find a better version of this song anywhere. "Museum of Love" is an intensely personal song that is almost painful to listen to in Johnston's original recording; McCarty manages to make the sentiments expressed in the song seem at once personal and universal.

Help Needed -- Song Poem Dilemma

I actually won the song-poem auction. I put in a token bid, and didn't expect to win, but I did. From what I've read the going rate for a song-poem back in their heyday was around $300. I got a bargain at $10.50, which is an especially good deal when you adjust for inflation.

But now I have a real dilemma. What should I submit? I looked around and could not find the lyrics to "Boy In the Bubble." I have a pretty decent memory and could probably put it together with about 75% accuracy. I remember lines like "I know your kiss would thrill me/But Baby your germs could kill me." I don't remember what I rhymed with immunodeficiency, but I'm sure I could come up with something. This song has the advantage of being in horrible taste.

The other route I was thinking I could go would be to submit a poem I wrote as a child. The one that stands out in my mind was a poem I wrote in the third grade about sad clowns that ended with the line "Like the eagle we are legal." I caught a lot of flack over the years for that last line, but it made perfect sense to me. This approach has the advantage of submitting something genuinely naive, and it also lets me off the hook in terms of quality (hey, I was eight give me a break).

A third route would be to write something entirely new. If I did this I would do it in collaboration with my four year-old son, Will. Writing with Will would have the advantage of being fun (and I assume a thrill for him). I'm leaning toward this as a solution.

Anyway, this could be my ticket to fame and fortune, so I want to do this right. Any advice you might have would be much appreciated. I doubt I'll come up with anything as brilliant as "Santa Came On a Nuclear Missile," but no matter what I will post the results here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Marshall Crenshaw

When your first album is absolutely perfect, it isn't necessarily good for your career--there's nowhere to go but down. This phenomena is sometimes referred to as the Crenshaw Conundrum. It's a shame that everything that Crenshaw does has to be judged against the impossibly high standard standard set by his debut, because he has released plenty of worthwhile music since then. Here is his James Brown-ish entry into the Holiday music market. Believe it or not, this was originally recorded by Bob Seger and the Last Herd. (Speaking of James Brown, I can't find my James Brown Christmas CD, which is unfortunate because I can't get "Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto" out of my head).

BTW: I've been looking for some good Hanukkah songs, not having much luck.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Thee Cellar Dwellers

Thee Cellar Dwellers were masters of the garage rock genre. Listening to "Wonderin' Why" again after many years, I am impressed with just how faithfully Thee Cellar Dwellers recreated the 60s garage rock sound. These songs would sound more at more on the Nuggets box-set than they would on the Children of Nuggets box set. We can debate whether that is a good thing or not, but I defy anyone to identify anything about these sides that would date them to 1987 instead of 1966. In the final analysis, this rocks, and that is more than good enough for me.

The band never got around to putting out a full-length LP, which is too bad because having seen them live I can tell you they easily had an LP's worth of good material. If memory serves, their raw and rockin' live show was better than the single would indicate (although the single is very good). Thee Cellar Dwellars were as good as any garage revivalists of the 80s, save The Lyres (whose music somehow managed to transcend the genre's limitations even while working within it), and The Cynics (whose lead singer could scream as well as anyone in the history of rock and roll).

Thee Cellar Dwellars were:

Jim Baetz: guitar/vocals
Mark Ebeling: guitar
Susan Mackey: organ/vocals
Eric Ebeling: drums

It's too bad "Wonderin' Why" wasn't included on Children of Nuggets, because Thee Cellar Dwellers deserve to be remembered.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pure Pop Christmas

Each of these is a great pop song on its own merits, regardless of any seasonal connection. The Screaming Santas are really The Posies, Jon Auer and a couple guys from Super Deluxe. They should collaborate more often. The XTC song was originally issued as a single by The Three Wise Men, then showed up on the odds and sods collection Rag & Bone Buffet and probably a Rhino "new wave" Christmas compilation. NRBQ's "Christmas Wish" has a real Pet Sounds vibe to it, and is one of my favorite NRBQ songs, ranking right up there with "Riding In My Car" and "RC Cola and a Moon Pie." I doubt I'm the first or last to use the term "criminally overlooked" in connection with NRBQ.

And seriously, go get The American Song-Poem Christmas. This is great stuff, if you don't believe me, listen to the clips from "Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile," "The Peppermint Stick Man," and "Daddy Is Santa Really Six Foot Four" at Amazon.com. The album is also available for download from iTunes and eMusic (where you can get a free trial) if you are in need of instant gratification (and this is one case where the fidelity lost to compression is beyond irrelevant). And face it, you know your life is incomplete. You feel like there is some void you can never manage to fill. It is time to come to terms with the fact that the problem is that you do not own two distinct versions of "Santa Claus Goes Modern."

I discovered three songs from the album are also available for free from WFMU, who released the final two volumes of the MSR Madness series as online exclusives. Evelyn Christmas, Snowbows, and Season's Greetings [right click to download].

Luna - Bobby Peru (Live in the studio)

I get more hits to this web site from people googling Dean Wareham than anything else. Other than a few of my friends, I suspect the only people who have seen this site are crazed Dean Wareham fans desperately searching for any small tidbit of information about Dean Wareham that cannot be found at All Music Guide, Wikipedia or A Head Full of Wishes. Whether it is his songs, or his undeniable sexual magnetism, Dean Wareham brings people to my website. Thanks Dean.

I had a friend in grad school that had (what seemed to me to be) an unhealthy obsession with Dean Wareham. But it never bothered her boyfriend (and eventual husband), so I guess it couldn't have been that bad. I used to see Dean occasionally at Film Forum, and it is clear from many of his songs that he is a serious cinemaphile. Penthouse starts and ends with songs named after Faye Dunaway movies (Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde). He also has appeared as a film and TV actor.

Wareham uses a cinematic reference to make the lyrics to this song much more interesting. On the surface this is another melancholy, broken-hearted love song: "I know what is the matter so why can't I fix it/Forgive me please." But the reference to Bobby Peru, the sociopath portrayed by Willem Defoe in David Lynch's Wild At Heart, gives the song a disturbing undercurrent: "I lay awake thinking/Clever things I could have said/My thoughts kept turning to Bobby Peru/How would he handle this one." Bobby Peru probably would have "handled" it by ripping out someone's spleen and eating it in front of them. I never much cared for Wild At Heart, and I think David Lynch is an over-rated director, but the way Wareham references the film gives this song an added, disturbing emotional punch.

This is a live-in-the-studio version of the song taken from an Australian CD-single of "Tracy I Love You." The original version can be found on the under-rated Pup Tent. A new album from Dean and Britta is due out in February.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Big Money And Fame Could Be Yours!

I've posted a couple of song-poems on this site (most recently the seasonal favorite "Santa Claus Goes Modern," which has been covered by Yo La Tengo). I had assumed the song-poem phenomena died out sometime in the early eighties. Maybe it did, but browsing eBay today I found a song-poem auction. It's kind of amusing to me that the seller gives the same promises of fame and fortune as the song-poem factories of old, although his tounge seems firmly planted in cheek:

WILL YOU BE FAMOUS? Send it to your local DJ, friends or family. If your song becomes famous, YOU get all the glory and all the fame, all the women and all the money! If you ever have wanted to write a song about a person, place, thing, feeling, idea, accomplishment, longing, whatever it is, let it be a song. Just supply the poem!


I'm considering bidding. As a joke, I once wrote some lyrics to a song that I considered sending to Redd Kross (never got around to that). It was called "Boy in a Bubble" inspired by the John Travolta TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. I probably lost the lyrics years ago though. They were pretty funny from what I remember. I could then post the resulting song here. (Of course I am too lazy to really do this).

Early Parliament

Parliament's first album, Osmium (1970), doesn't fit in neatly with the rest of their catalogue. It doesn't sound much like the slick, pop-oriented funk that would characterize later Parliament albums starting in 1974 with Up For the Downstroke. But neither does it sound exactly like the full-on freaky psychedelic/funk hybrid Clinton and company would create under the Funkadelic moniker starting the same year.

On the whole this sounds more like a Funkadelic record than a Parliament one, but with greater emphasis on the funky than the freaky. I don't think George Clinton quite had the master plan nailed down in 1970, and this sounds like an embryonic version of what would follow. But that in no way detracts from the overall quality of the record itself. The album starts with a version of "I Call My Baby Pussycat" that is funkier and superior to the one that was re-recorded by Funkadelic for America Eats It's Young, and contains other hit-worthy tracks like "My Automobile," "Funky Woman," and "Nothing Before Me But Thang." It also has the hilarious "Little Old Country Boy" which is unlike anything else in Clinton's catalogue.

The album was originally released on Invictus, a label formed by the Holland/Dozier/Holland team after they split from Motown in 1968. "Invictus" is Latin for "unconquered" and also the title of a poem by William Ernest Henley with an interesting history, and like the P-Funk phenomena itself, reflects the spreading influence of the black-power movement at the dawn of the 70s. Osmium has been reissued numerous times, under numerous titles, by numerous labels, sometimes with bonus tracks, sometimes without. As far as I can tell, the bonus tracks haven't been on an in-print edition of the album for years, which is too bad because they were taken from singles that were just as good as anything on the album proper if not better. Here is one of them--this is some funky stuff.

Esquivel Space Age Xmas

The "lounge revival" of the 1990s was annoying. There is no getting around that. Perhaps it (along with twee-pop) was a reaction against grunge music. But it was annoying nonetheless, although I am not exactly sure why I think so.

That said, I actually like Esquivel, The Three Suns and some other hipster-lounge favorites, and of course I have a fondness for stereo-demo records. Perhaps part of my discomfort with the 1990s revival of interest in this kind of music is my assumption that the phenomena was rooted in hipster irony. Although I have no real justification for thinking that; if my affection for the music is genuine why shouldn't I be charitable enough to assume other's is as well?

In 1996 BarNone released an Esquivel Christmas album, merry xmas from the space age bachelor pad, that combined six songs from a 1959 RCA Christmas sampler with some stray tracks from other albums that marginally fit the holiday theme, in addition to two newly-recorded tracks played by Combustible Edison with an elderly Esquivel doing voice-over. The album is now out-of-print and fetching a pretty penny in the Amazon.com Marketplace.

The Holidays are the perfect time for this sort of good natured music. I'd like to see Irwin Chusid *(who produced a number of lounge-music reissues, and did much to re-popularize the genre on his radio show on WFMU) put together a Space-Age Pop Christmas collection. I'm sure there is a lot of worthhile Holiday material in this genre out there beyond Esquivel, but I don't have the patience to scrounge yard sales and dumpster-dive to find the worthwile stuff among the garbage (Christmas records are among the most common records found at yard sales).

Here are two of the better tracks from the CD, full of Esquivel's trademark "zu, zus." Both of these songs originally appeared on the 1959 Christmas sampler, and would no doubt be as effective in adding some zing to a Holiday party as spiking the eggnog with LSD.

*Looking a Chusid's website, despite his skill as a producer, author and DJ, his politics stink. It makes me wonder if perhaps there is there something inherently reactionary about the whole lounge-music revival and interest in "outsider music," and that is the reason I feel slightly uncomfortable with it. I don't think so actually...I'm probably just over-thinking things again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Santa Claus Goes Modern

Songs that have Santa Claus piloting something other than his traditional flying sleigh are a mini holiday music subgenre in their own right. Here are three very different examples. "Santa Claus Goes Modern" comes from the Beat of the Traps song-poem compilation and puts Santa behind the wheel of a flying saucer. This amazing song is featured in two different versions on the American Song Poem Christmas compilation from BarNone. I highly recommend this album because whether you are a Gentile, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Athiest, Agnostic, or something else altogether, no Holiday season is complete without hearing songs like "Santa Came On a Nuclear Missile," "Maury, The Christmas Mouse," and "Rocking Disco Santa Claus." The movie Off the Charts, about the song-poem industry, is next up in my Netflix queue because I really want to hear from the amazing minds who created this stuff. This music is not at all "bad," it's fascinating.

"Santa Done Got Hip," which can be found on the Rhino Hipster's Holiday compilation, also puts the jolly old elf in a flying saucer, and The Untamed Youth put him behind the wheel of a hot-rod for "Santa's Gonna Shut 'em Down."

The Bats

More Kiwi-pop. The Bats were the band Robert Scott formed after the breakup of The Clean, and he continued putting out music with that band through The Clean's many reunions. In fact, The Bats just released a new album last year. I don't think it would be difficult to argue that The Bats ended up being the best of the post-Clean efforts (including the reunions).

This song originally appeared on The Bats second EP, And Here Is "Music For the Fireside"! The Bats early singles and EPs have a more low-fi, homespun feel than the material that would emerge on their later LPs, but the material is just as good. Most of the early EP and single material was compiled on the Compiletely Bats CD, but that is now out-of-print and hard to find. The CD makes for a very good Bats album and is well worth picking up if you find a copy.

I have no idea what a "Chicken Bird Run" is. Maybe in New Zealand people take their chickens out to chicken runs much as Americans take their dogs to dog runs. I imagine it would be a nice place for chickens to socialize and maybe get a little exercise. Perhaps someone with a better knowledge of local New Zealand customs could fill me in. Anyway, despite not knowing what this song is about, I like it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas

"Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" gave Country Christmas novelty numbers a bad name. Here are two less-heard, but much better ones. "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas" by Commander Cody could have been written by my son was it not for the fact that he is four and his father doesn't really drink much.

I have a real soft spot for George Jones novelty numbers. The story behind "My Mom and Santa Claus" is as follows: Jones was being pitched Christmas songs by a bunch of Nashville songwriters and wasn't too pleased with what he had heard so far. "Don't any of you have a twistin' Santa Claus song or something?" he asked. According to legend, Clyde Beavers ran out of the room and came back two hours later with this gem, before the pitch session was even over.

I imagine that story is about 80% accurate. This likely wasn't a tough song to write. Mix one part "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" with "The Race Is On" add a dash of "The Twist" and viola! A Holiday standard beloved by generations. Or maybe not, but in a sense the machine-like production pace and rationalized division of labor in 60s Nashville is part of its charm, and like Hollywood during the studio era it's great strength. Maybe not everything created by the system was great, but the percentage of great stuff was likely no lower than any other means of song production, and lots of reliable generic filler was created to fill out albums. And some of that filler, like this song, have a special charm all their own.

And is it just me, or are all these "I caught Mommy with Santa Claus" songs on some level about the trauma suffered by a child who walks in on the primal scene?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

All I Got For Xmas Was Doug E. Fresh

Happy Thanksgiving. As promised, here is the first installment of holiday music. I promised offerings secular, sacred and profane. Obviously I'm going to start with the profane.

I have written before about how certain songs take you back to a particular place and time. Hearing The Treacherous Three (Kool Moe Dee, Special K & DJ Easy E), and special guest Doug E. Fresh kickin' it old-school on "Xmas Rap" makes me feel like it's 1984 and I'm waiting for wrestling practice at Annapolis High School, watching the Tiggs brothers break-dance. They don't write them like this anymore. This is the so-called "X-Rated" version and contains plenty of cursing, but is also hilarious and has a social message that cuts deep: the observations on how economic status effect one's perception of the holidays are just as relevant today as they were in 1984.

"Back Door Santa" on the other hand has no socially redeeming qualities, and though it has no cursing, it is an absolutely filthy song, full of barely disguised double-entendres. I don't know how Clarence Carter got away with this. This is probably my all-time favorite Christmas song.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Great Unwashed

After Kiwi-pop legends The Clean broke up, the brothers Kilgour formed The Great Unwashed, essentially a more lo-fi version of The Clean without Robert Scott (who had gone on to form The Bats). The Great Unwashed released an EP and some singles that were eventually compiled on the unimaginatively titled Collection. It's hard to think of The Great Unwashed as anything other than a footnote to The Clean's more storied history, but the music holds up well on its own.

The Clean went on to record a number of reunion albums starting with 1990's Vehicle. Most of these albums are good, but by this point The Clean were more of a Kiwi-pop supergroup than a functioning band, and the albums lack the inspiration that marked the original Clean (and The Great Unwashed).

Welcome Samuel Paul Devin

Congratulations to Anne Flounders and Pete Devin on the birth of their first child:

SAMUEL PAUL DEVIN
November 21, 2006, 11:02 AM
8 lbs, 3 oz
21.5 inches

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peter Case

It's hard for me to believe this seminal album is out-of-print. The kind of slicked-up roots music on Peter Case's solo debut would eventually become known as "Americana," a programming staple of public-radio stations like WFUV in New York City, but in 1986 this combination of folk, blues, country, and rock with contemporary pop touches sounded very fresh. There must have been something in the air in 1986 because around the same time Elvis Costello abandoned the "new-wave" sound of Goodbye Cruel World for a similarly rootsy mixture on King of America (like Peter Case produced by T-Bone Burnett), the Pouges were creating a comparable hybrid of Irish folk and punk rock (Case ends this album with a cover of the Shane McGowan penned "Pair of Brown Eyes"), and Suzanne Vega would have a huge hit with "Luka" the following year. This rush of acoustic-based roots music was memorably dubbed "the 'coustic revival" by a particularly drug damaged record store clerk at the Annapolis Record and Tape Exchange.

It probably came as something of a shock to hear Case, who had spent the last 10 years playing revved-up power-pop in The Plimsouls and The Nerves, come out with something so folksy. But in a sense Case was only getting back to his roots, he grew up worshipping both Woody Guthrie and The Beatles, and when Jack Lee talked him into forming The Nerves with Paul Collins, Case had been performing as a folk singer. It also helped that he delivered the strongest and most consistent set of songs in his career up to that point (The Plimsouls were great, but the albums do have some filler).

"Steel Strings" was the big alt-radio hit off this album, but nearly all the tracks are memorable. I chose the Van Dyke Parks arranged "Small Town Spree," a nice bit of narrative song writing. Someone should reissue this album with bonus-tracks; I bet there's some killer demo tracks out there.

The War On Happy Holidays

I don't need another reason to be pissed off at the religious right, but I have one: they have freakin' ruined Christmas for me. They have taken a season that used to be fun, and is supposed to be about peace on earth, brotherhood of man and all that jazz, and turned it into yet another orgy of xenophobia and intolerance. Well done.

I am of course referring to the fact that I can no longer innocently wish someone "Happy Holidays" without fearing that I will raise the ire of some wack-job fundie who thinks I hate the Baby Jesus. Last year I wished a guy "Happy Holidays" and after he stared at me for a few seconds he literally snarled back the words "Merry Christmas!" Lighten up already pal! And please stop listening to Bill O'Reilly. The people behind the "Merry Christmas NOT Happy Holidays" campaign are the same twisted hatemongers who would run screaming to the FBI if some dark-skinned person wished them a "Joyous Eid al-Fitr," but think nothing of literally demanding that a Jew, Muslim or Hindu have a "Merry Christmas."

I have some very specific reasons for wishing folks "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas": (1) Most obviously, I don't always know the religious background of the person I am speaking to, so telling them to have a "Merry Christmas" is at best stupid and at worst insulting. Call this political correctness run amok if you must, but where I come from it's just called being considerate. (2) Christmas falls only on December 25th, and on every other day between Thanksgiving and New Years "Happy Holidays" is simply a more appropriate salutation. (I tend to wish my family "Merry Christmas" on the 25th, but other than that "Happy Holidays" makes more sense.) (3) The whole holiday season is linked more to seasonal cycles and ancient pagan rituals than it is to any religious event (and for what it's worth most scholars do not place Jesus' birth in the month of December anyway). So just be thankful I don't wish you a "Scintillating Solstice" and get over this whole "War On Christmas" nonsense.

With that joyous sentiment, I want announce that after Thanksgiving, I will be posting some Flowering Toilet Yuletide favorites. Some of it will be secular, some of it will be sacred, and a lot of it will be profane. By the time I'm done you should have enough holiday music to make a mix CD guaranteed to annoy any sanctimonious relatives. Then on January 1st 2007 it all disappears into the aether.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Death of Samantha

Death of Samantha's first two releases Painting Smiles On A Dead Man and Strungout on Jargon were highly derivative of fellow Cleveland residents Pere Ubu, and did very little for me. 1988's Were the Women Wear the Glory moved the band into less arty territory, and was better for it. Their 1989 swansong, Come All Ye Faithless was, in my opinion, their best effort with a number of stand-out tracks; "Roses Rejoice," "Rosenberg Summer," "Machine Language," and the track presented here, "New Soldier/New Sailor." Vocalist John Petkovic is still something of an acquired taste, but these are strong, catchy, guitar-driven tracks.

After Come All Ye Faithless, DoS either broke up, or added Don Depew to the lineup and changed their name to Cobra Verde. Later they became Robert Pollard's backing band in Guided By Voices while also continuing as Cobra Verde. "New Soldier/New Sailor" sounds a bit like Bowie-era Iggy Pop, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Trypes

The Trypes were an offshoot of The Feelies during the period of relative inactivity between the 1980 release of Crazy Rhythms and the release of the The Good Earth by a revamped Feelies lineup in 1986. The Trypes only release, The Explorer's Hold came in 1984 and anticipates the more pastoral turn The Feelies would take when they regrouped in 1986.

But this is not a Feelies release by any other name (though it almost smells as sweet). The Trypes sound is more keyboard dominated than the Feelies due to the presence of John Baumgartner, and the influence of The Velvet Underground is even more evident. After the Feelies moniker was re-activated (folding Trypes' bassist Brenda Sauter and percussionist Stanley Demeski into the reconstituted lineup), the Trypes morphed into Speed the Plough. Baumgartner would again collaborate with The Feelies/Trypes crew under the Yung Wu moniker led by Feelies drummer Dave Weckerman.

Confused? I haven't even explained where The Willies fit into all this, and I'm not sure I can. As far as I can tell, The Willies were an instrumental offshoot of The Feelies, but also the name The Feelies used for their appearance as the high-school reunion dance band in Jonathan Demme's 1986 Melanie Griffith vehicle, Something Wild. [Would someone please issue a deluxe version of the Something Wild Soundtrack with The Feelies/Willies wicked awesome versions of "I'm A Believer," "Fame," and "Before The Next Teardrop Falls"?]

Anyway, I spent years searching for this EP, and finally found a copy at the (sadly now defunct) Pier Platters in Hoboken. I paid what I thought was too much for it at the time (though in reality it was probably less than $20), but I figured I'd never see it again. A couple days later I found another copy at the (usually hideously overpriced) Bleeker Bob's for $5. Why does it always seem to work like that? You search for something for years, and then once you finally find it, it starts turning up everywhere for less money.

"(From the) Morning Glories" is a gently hypnotic number with a very Moe-Tuckeresque lead vocal by Brenda Sauter.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Camper Van Beethoven

There isn't much from the CVB vaults that isn't available. After falling out-of-print for a few years, all of their indie albums have been reissued through Spin Art with bonus tracks. Even the Camper Vantiquities rarities CD was given bonus tracks. And after years of threatening, the band even released their bad-joke cover of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk a few years ago (I'm sure it was hilarious at the time, but you probably had to be there and be stoned). Neither of the albums they released for Virgin have ever gone out-of-print, but then they've never been reissued with bonus tracks either, so there are a few rarities from the Virgin era. This cover of the Buzzcock's "Harmony In My Head" came out as a b-side on a promo-only 12" for "Turquoise Jewelery." This song would have in no way been appropriate to include on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, but it's one of my favorite Buzzcocks songs, and this version does it justice. In certain respects this anticipates the more straight-ahead alt-rock sound that would characterize Lowery's work with Cracker.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Syd Straw

Syd Straw is not what one would call prolific; she has released only two (very good) albums in her career, 1989's Surprise and 1996's War and Peace. She also appeared with Marc Ribot on the Shimmy Disc Rutles tribute album, Rutles Highway Revisited, performing "I Must Be In Love." I won't go on and on about how the Rutles are actually better than the Beatles, but I will say that many of their songs easily transcend their comedic and derivative origins. That is certainly the case with "I Must Be in Love," which in its elegant simplicity captures the feelings associated with the first flush of new love as well as any other pop song I can think of (and that is saying a lot). Straw and Ribot smartly pare the song down to its essential elements, further emphasizing its simple beauty.

Syd Straw first came to my attention as a vocalist with The Golden Palominos, but she has never been a stranger to the field of entertainment. Her father Jack Straw (not the controversial British politician) was a film and TV actor most remembered for his role as "Prez" in The Pajama Game with Doris Day. And it is a little known fact that Syd provided backing vocals for some of Pat Bentar's biggest hits.

Finding an audience for Straw's music was always a tall order; quirkier than certain plain-vanilla popular female singer-songwriters, but not as self-consciously weird as Tori Amos or Kristen Hersh, Straw’s music has always been hard to pigeonhole. But her talent cannot be denied, and I think that if she had been more prolific it might have helped her find a larger audience. But then she may be happy with the audience she has.

I apologize for the poor sound quality, Shimmy Disc was never known for audiophile-quality LP pressings, and this album also suffered from obvious groove cramming. But a used CD of this could set you back around $50-$75, so don't complain. (Fortunately, Galaxie 500's epochal take on "Cheese and Onions" is available on their odds and sods CD, Uncollected.)

I Must Be In Love [right click to download]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Rosebloods

I can tell you very little about the Rosebloods. They released this song on a 7" single on the Pennsylvania garage-rock label, Get Hip in 1989. I think they were from Indiana. The sound of this song did not really match the stone-age, garage-rock vibe of most other Get Hip acts (The Cynics, The Stump Wizards, Thee Cellar Dwellers, The Heretics, etc.). This was more in a Byrdsian, jangle-pop bag with overtones of country rock. I think this is a very nice song; solid, tuneful indie-rock circa 1989. If anyone has any helpful nuggets of information about the Rosebloods, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Searching for Ron Klaus

Ron Klaus is something of an enigma. Let's review what is known about Ron Klaus: We know he had a party, we know he had a band, we know he had a thousand loving friends, and most importantly we know Ron Klaus, he wrecked his house. We know these things because of Big Dipper's 1988 college radio smash "Ron Klaus, He Wrecked His House" written by Ron's former Embarrassment band mate Bill Goffrier. But there is much we don't know. We don't know why he wrecked his house, we're only told "he had his reasons." We don't know what he did after he wrecked his house. Did his insurance cover any of the damage? Where did he live after wrecking his house? Was the house salvageable, or was it a total loss? Where is he now? Does he regret wrecking his house, or would he do it all over again if he had the chance? I was determined to find answers to these questions and more.

So I went searching for Ron Klaus. I had heard a rumor that he was now a captain of a whale watching ship on Cape Cod. So I started making some phone calls. After four wrong numbers I hit paydirt.

Me: Hello, Is this Ron Klaus?
RK: Yeah.
Me: Are you the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house?
RK: I guess so, yeah. What's it to you?
Me: Well, I was just curious about it, you know?
RK: It's really none of your f****'n beeswax. What do you care? Who are you?
Me: Well, it's just that, you know, there's the song "Ron Klaus, He Wrecked His House."
RK: What the f***k are you talking about? Are you a cop?
Me: No, It's just that your former band mate, Bill Goffrier wrote the song about you and...
RK: I've never been in a band, are you some kind of Moonie or something?
Me: Isn't this Ron Klaus, former bass player for the Embarrassment?
RK: Did you say Ron "Klaus"? This is Ron Kraus, K-R-A-U-S.
Me: Oh, uh sorry, I think I've got the wrong guy.
RK: Yeah, I think so dips**t.
Me: But you said you wrecked your house, what happened?
RK: I fell asleep smoking in bed and the house burned down. Then my wife left me and took the cat with her.
Me: I'm sorry to hear that.
RK: Don't ever call me again.

So that didn't work out too well, but I was undaunted. I decided to Google Ron Klaus to get some more information. I found a couple Ron Klauses, and I figured one of them had to be my guy.

First I called a Ron Klaus who is a helicopter pilot. I figured that someone got mixed up with the whale watch rumor, and Ron was really a helicopter pilot now.

Me: Hello, Is this Ron Klaus?
RK: Yeah.
Me: Ron Klaus, K-L-A-U-S?
RK: Yeah.
Me: Are you the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house?
RK: (Laughing) I get that a lot. No.
Me: Have you heard the song?
RK: Yeah, one of my buddies gave me the CD as gag. That song sucks.
Me: Oh, okay, well thanks.

So next, I tried a Ron Klaus who is an engineer and pastor. Could it be that after burning down his house that Ron Klaus went back to school, got a PhD in Engineering, then found God and became a pastor and a missionary? This was exciting! My mind was racing! Maybe Ron decided to study Engineering in order to design a house that couldn't be wrecked. And maybe he started preaching to warn young people about the evils of wrecking their house. There was a screenplay in this! Maybe a book too. This could be the next Beautiful Mind. But before I started writing my Oscar acceptance speech, I figured I should call Ron and get the skinny.

Me: (excited) Hello, is this the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house?
RK: No. (click)
Me: Hello? Hello?

Another dead end. I'm out of leads now, and Ron Klaus is perhaps even more of an enigma than when I started my search. If you have any information about the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house please let me know. I have questions that need to be answered, I have a screenplay to write. Hollywood needs me.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Fun and Games - Elephant Candy

More bubblegum pop, this time courtesy of The Fun and Games. Listening to the lyrics I get the sneaking suspicion that Elephant Candy is either some sort of elicit substance or a euphemism for knockin' boots, or possibly a euphemism for knockin' boots while on some elicit substance. Then again maybe these guys were just really fond of the concessions stand at their local zoo. Maybe I'm just too suspicious.

Elephant Candy [Now reissued! click for Amazon link]

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Jazz Butcher

The Jazz Butcher reminds me of a more eclectic Lloyd Cole, or maybe a less weird Robyn Hitchcock. Or something. Anyway, 1988's Fishcotheque was the first Jazz Butcher (aka Pat Fish) solo album after the breakup of the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy. It was a darned good album. I hadn't listened to this in years, but I recently ripped my vinyl copy for iPod play and have been listening to it a ton. In the Salon article on the iPod, Fareed Manjoo claims that most people end up listening to only a select few songs on their iPod over and over. I have no way of knowing if that is true or not, but I can say unequivocally that the opposite has been true for me. Since I got my iPod I've been listening to a ton of stuff I haven't listened to in years. That was actually the impetus for starting this blog. As long as I was going to go through the bother of ripping my vinyl to digital, I might as well share some of it with the seven or eight other people in the world who also might want to hear it.

This is such a good album it was hard for me to pick just one song, so I picked two. I could have as easily picked any two tracks from the record. "Next Move Sideways," "Looking For Lot 49," "Keeping The Curtains Closed," "Get It Wrong," "Chickentown," and "Out Of Touch" are just as strong as the tracks I selected.

I chose "The Best Way" because it is least representative of the Jazz Butcher sound, and it is probably one of the funniest white rip-offs of "Rapper's Delight" ever recorded. I had always wondered why a British guy with a Philosphy degree from Oxford would interject "Praise Stuckey's!" into a song, considering Stuckey's is an exclusively American fast-food chain found mostly in the Southeast. Now I know why; he's actually saying "Prized Turkeys!" Frankly, I think "Praise Stuckey's!" works better. Does anyone know who the radio pitchman sampled in the song is?

"Susie" is much more typical Jazz Butcher fare, with the added attraction of The Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom on feedback drenched guitar. Fischcotheque is the only album I know of to name check both Lionel Ritchie and The Patti Smith Group. If you know of another please let me know, I'd like to hear it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ted, Woody, and Junior

This one is for Ted Haggard. Why is anyone surprised when it turns out that a virulently anti-gay preacher is a closet case? Anyone who is as publicly obsessed with gay sex as Haggard is obviously curious about it. All politics and liberal schadenfreude aside, I hope that one day Ted can understand that there is nothing wrong with the way God made him. No need to lock yourself in a closet and carve a scarlet "H" on your chest Ted, just jump into the bath with Woody and Junior, cover each other with soap, and work up a lather.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Squalls

When I first started this blog a friend of mine joked that I should post some Squalls rarities. I bet he didn't think I had any actual Squalls rarities. I'm sorry to say that I do. This track comes not from the Athens, GA soundtrack, or from either of their Dog Gone LPs, but rather from their super-rare, eponymous EP from 1984. Why do I have stuff like this?

Anyway, the EP is okay with more of an obvious "new wave" sound than their later LPs. Listening to this it is clear that the Squalls lacked a decent, or even distinctive, vocalist. Their first LP had a funny, super-sped-up, rap version of the Grateful Dead's "Truckin'." I remember playing it on my radio show in college and getting a call from an outraged Dead Head. If I actually managed to get a Dead Head worked up about something, or even harshed his buzz slightly, I feel like I performed a real public service.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Joey Levine

Dragon Tales has to be one of the most odious children's programs ever produced. My four-year-old son runs screaming from the room whenever it comes on. I assume this is because he is as turned off by the show's inane moralizing and poor animation as I am. I am convinced that this sort of sanctimonious, politically correct kid's programming is what turns children into hard-hearted conservatives when they grow up.

So anyway, the show basically blows, and mercifully my son doesn't want to watch it. So why the heck can't I get its damned theme song out of my head? Simple: It's because it was written by Joey Levine, and the guy is some kind of evil genius who can put things in your head that never, ever come out. If you need proof of this look no further than the fact that he wrote the music for the "sometimes you feel like a nut" Almond Joy/Mounds commercial. You probably haven't heard that in a quarter century, but it's running through your head right now, isn't it? Yeah, I thought so. Levine wrote dozens of other commercial jingles that are permanently lodged in your subconscious as well, but I won't tell you what they are because you'll start to go crazy.

More importantly, Joey Levine was also a prime mover in the bubblegum revolution of the late sixties. "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy," "Chewy, Chewy," and dozens of other bubblegum hits flowed from Joey's pen, and his nasal, proto-punk vocals were featured on many of the smashes from the Buddha Records hit factory. Bubblegum got zero critical respect at the time, but in retrospect it was an important simplification/reduction of rock music at a time when it was starting to become pretentious. Punk was a later such simplification that owed much to bubblegum music (the late Jeffrey Hyman claimed he re-named himself "Joey Ramone" in tribute to Levine, and the Talking Heads, Dickies, Ramones and others covered bubblegum hits).

Here is a sampling of some of Levine's less-known handiwork, "I Enjoy Being A Boy In Love With You" was performed by The Banana Splits, but written by Levine (I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but Bingo, Fleagal, Drooper and Snork combined wrote less than 25% of The Banana Splits material, and most of that was album filler). "Quick Joey Small" was featured on a Buddha Records Bubblegum sampler called The Kazenetz-Katz Super Circus. Why haven't more bands covered "Quick Joey Small"?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fetchin' Bones

All Music Guide says Fetchin' Bones were a proto-grunge act, but that in no way does justice to what a quirky and unique band they were. In reality Fetchin' Bones music was a joyous mishmash of punk, funk, rockabilly, surf, and jangle-pop, filtered through a quirky, uniquely Southern, sensibility. Musical boundaries meant nothing to this band. Fetchin’ Bones were fun in a way that grunge could never be.

Talk about an energetic live act. Fetchin' Bones could really get a crowd of white people moving (their live cover of "Superfreak" could easily have caused the floors of many indie clubs to collapse). I remember they always had a big box of odd percussion instruments on stage that lent an element of mysterious alchemy to their show. And lead singer Hope Nicholls seemed like a real wild woman. What fun.

Fetchin' Bones put out three wonderful albums, Cabin Flounder, Bad Pumpkin, and Galaxie 500, before they produced Monster, an album that smoothed off some of their quirkier edges and moved the band closer to heavy metal territory. When that bid for mainstream acceptance flopped, the band called it a day. They deserved better. How can you not love a band that named an album Bad Pumpkin? (Hope Nicholls and guitarist Aaron Pitkin later founded the bands Sugarsmack and Snagglepuss. They also own a clothing store, Boris & Natasha, in Charlotte, NC.) I think Fetchin' Bones might have a myspace page if you want to be one of their "friends."

"Asteroid" is one of the many excellent cuts from their first album, 1985’s Cabin Flounder, on DB records.