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.