Monday, January 29, 2007
I remember going to a record convention at the Annapolis Armory with a buddy of mine back in 1992. We approached a booth with vendor who, in both appearance and demeanor, was a dead ringer for the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, except for the fact that he was flesh and blood and no one had to draw him. He took a break from reading another potential customer the riot act about his lack of knowledge about what would be printed in the run-out-groove of an original pressing of some album or other to ask us what we were looking for. My friend casually asked, "Do you have any Professor Morrison's Lollipop?" The pain of being asked for something he had never heard of was visible on his face as he said "no."
So who was Professor Morrison's Lollipop? Mostly they were another one of the great Super-K band names (along with The St. Louis Invisible Marching Band and Lt. Garcia's Magic Music Box). Kasenetz and Katz signed a Nebraska band with the pedestrian name of "The Coachmen" to The White Wale label to be Professor Morrison's Lollipop. They released a few singles under that name and not much else. The name also showed up as one of the featured "bands" performing on the Kasenetz-Katz Super Circus LPs. The Coachmen were a real band, but I would guess Professor Morrison's Lollipop, on record at least, where mostly likely studio musicians.
The song featured here, "Itchy Itchy," wasn't released until it showed up on a bubblegum rarities CD on the Collectables label titled, The Super K Kollection Vol. 2. This is a pretty good song, and in my head I can hear Mudhoney doing a mean cover of it. Anyone with any connection to that band ought to pass along the recommendation to them, because I'd love to hear Mark Arm sing "I got an itchy, itchy lady bee buzzing all over me now."
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Monday, January 22, 2007
I was the music director of Dickinson College's radio station, WDCV, when the Ass Ponys' first album was released on Okra records. I put the album in heavy rotation and it got some airplay. A couple weeks later I got a phone call from one of the guys in the band thanking me for playing the record. It wasn't unusual to have someone from the label call to say thanks, but it was pretty rare for a band member to call. He seemed like a real nice guy.
I met the Afghan Whigs with some friends of mine from college back in 1990 when they played a show at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. as the opening act for British techno-rockers Jesus Jones. We introduced ourselves to the band, and it turned out that bass player John Curley's parents had both attended and met at Dickinson, so we formed an instant bond.
It also helped that we were willing to mercilessly mock Jesus Jones, who had been such prima donnas as to force drummer Steve Earle to set up his drums at the front of the stage because they didn't want to have to set up their drums again after sound check. The stage at the 9:30 Club was notoriously small, and there was barely room on it for one drum kit, let alone two. But apparently it is a very difficult and time consuming process to set up an actual drum kit in such a way as to make it sound exactly like a drum machine, so Jesus Jones got their way. This was the single shittiest thing I ever saw a headliner do to an opening act, and the audacity of it was compounded by the fact that Jesus Jones was so totally unworthy of behaving with such arrogance, and the talent gap was so wide in favor of the opening act. I mean if Charlie Watts told you to do something like that you would say "Thank you for letting me play on the same stage as you Mr. Watts." But Jesus Jones? Come on!
Despite the fact that Earle looked a bit ridiculous set up directly in front of the audience, it was an incredibly rocking and energetic performance. As the band got to their last song Dulli asked for volunteers from the audience to get on stage and sabotage Jesus Jones' drum kit. I was strongly considering it, but my less-inhibited friend, Mike Daecher had already jumped on stage and been pushed into the drum set by Dulli before I could finish considering all the possible consequences. Daecher earned his own little place in rock history with that act, at least in my mind.
Obviously, Mike got kicked out of the club, but the band really appreciated it, and we all hung out a bit after the show. I remember walking around the neighborhood surrounding the club with Dulli when a drug dealer approached us. My reaction to drug dealers is generally to say "no thanks" and move on quickly, but Dulli started rapping with the guy, making up stories, telling the him we were in town to see the Ramones play and other nonsense. It struck me that Dulli was something of a hustler, albeit an extremely charming one, and I think you hear that side of him come through on this track. When I later heard Dulli had some drug problems (from which I understand he has since recovered), I flashed back to his easy rapport with that drug dealer, and I wasn't entirely surprised.
I kind of lost interest in the Afghan Whigs around the time of Black Love, but in general I appreciated their efforts to expand the indie/grunge sound into something more emotionally and intellectually complex. Dulli was one of the few indie rockers whose knowlege of black music didn't begin with Black Sabbath and end with Black Flag, and some of the bands' attempts to incorporate soul music into the fabric their sound were highly successful. Despite my soft spot for Up In It, the Uptown Avondale EP is my favorite release by the band.
I never did get to see Jesus Jones perform live.
Whether you live in the USA or not, know that this is a fight over the freedom of the whole world involving an attempt to destroy the USA economically and militarily so that it can't defend the world from those who wish to rule it and make you their servants with a microchip (666) in your right hand or forehead. You can sit there quietly (and pretend they don't read you mind and know where you stand) while they work to overextend the USA further with debt (such as universal health care).
Yikes! Microchip implants, the number of the beast...this guy clearly needs help. What a bunch of paranoid nonsense.
But as long as we are on the subject, I don't think it's any coincidence that on the same day that Hillary announced she was running, I had that dream with King Tut and Hong Kong Phooey and Cecil Rhodes sitting around a giant mahgony table chanting the lyrics from Music From the Elder. I don't think that's a coincidence at all. No sir.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
It was not unusual for there to be more than one group going under the same moniker during the sixties, and I suspect we have a case of that here. The Third Rail was Joey Levine, Artie Resnick and his wife Kris Resnick. The band was strictly a studio group, and released one album, ID Music, on Epic in 1967, followed by a few singles. "Run, Run, Run" the lead off track on the album was a minor hit and was featured on the original Nuggets anthology. All three members were later involved with numerous bubblegum hits.
Recently I picked up a single by The Third Rail, and I can't shake the feeling that it's by a totally different group. The single "The Subway Train That Came To Life"/"A-Train Rush Hour Stomp" was issued in 1966 on the Cameo label (C-445-A/B). The A-side is a novelty number with a 20s flavor and prominent kazoo. The B-side is a similar sounding instrumental. The music on this single doesn't sound entirely like the music featured on ID Music or the subsequent singles, but it doesn't sound dissimilar enough to convince me that it's impossible these are by the same band. But I can't find any mention of the Cameo single in any Third Rail discographies, and the songwriting credit on the single is to "M. Barkan, A. Wayne, R. Evans." Since Levine and the Resnicks were all songwriters first and foremost, the idea that they would have outside writers for their first single doesn't make a lot of sense to me. In the end, that is the most compelling argument for this not being the same band.
On the other hand, I can't find any information that would definitively prove these are different bands either, and the name and time period are the same. If "Subway Train" is by a different Third Rail, it was almost certainly the only thing they ever issued (under that name at least), and they at least sound a little like the other Third Rail. I've done a lot of web searching, and haven't come up with any definitive answers, so if someone could help me out with more information, I would appreciate it.
ID Music was reissued a few years ago with bonus tracks by Rev-Ola, but now seems to have fallen out-of-print. Rev-Ola included all of the Epic singles that followed the release of the album, but not the Cameo single (another factor that makes me suspect this may be a different band). In any case, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of the reissue. So many reissues of 60s music are hyped as "the great lost album of the 60s," and often they disappoint. But ID Music is a genuine classic, and in many ways a unique release. The Third Rail created a fantastic amalgam of psychedelia, absurdist humor, and social commentary, while keeping a sure grasp on the craft of pop songwriting. If the album has one weakness it that it some of the songs ("From A Parachute," "Invisible Man") come off as too self-consciously "serious," although that flaw is more than compensated for by the flashes of surrealistic humor.
"She Ain't No Choir Girl" was issued as a single and is featured as a bonus track on the CD. You might think you know what a song called "She Ain't No Choir Girl" is about, but trust me you don't. The song starts off about like you would expect, then suddenly takes a series of weird and twisted detours.
So can anyone help me clear up this mystery? Are these two songs by the same group? I would think not, but I'm not certain by any means.
**As I've been writing this post, I've been doing some parallel web searching, and now I'm pretty sure the single is by the same Third Rail. The "A. Wayne" in the songwriting credits is Artie Wayne, a long time music industry pro who was apparently bitten by the blogging bug. He mentions representing Artie Resnick and Joey Levine in his blog, so it would have to be an enormous coincidence for these to be different bands. It is possible the tracks on the single were penned by Levine and the Resnicks, and credited to the others because of publishing/royalty arrangements. Looks like I'm offering you a pretty darn rare recording by The Third Rail. I'm going to see if I can get more information out of Wayne. Still, any added information would be appreciated.
Update, Mystery Solved: Artie Wayne emailed me with an answer:
"The First 3rd Rail was Mark Barkan and myself on a one shot master I sold Cameo. Some time later Artie, Joey and Chris by coincidence came up with the same name. Since Mark and I had no plans to continue recording we just let 'em use it."
Here are two of the better covers the band did manage to commit to wax. The Modern Lover's "I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms" is perhaps the perfect song for The Feelies to cover, nerdy and uptight, yet still rockin'. The Modern Lovers only ever recorded a demo quality version of this song, and The Feelies do a great job with it. This may be the definitive version of this song. This appeared on a promo-only 12" for "Doin' It Again." "Paint It Black" was a staple of late-era Feelies live shows, so I was kind of surprised when it showed up as a bonus track on the A&M CD reissue of Crazy Rhythms. This track was recorded long after the rest of the material on Crazy Rhythms, and it doesn't entirely fit stylistically with the earlier material. Why A&M included this as a bonus is anybody's guess, but I'm glad they did because it's awesome.
Paint It Black [right click to download]
Saturday, January 13, 2007
I heard this song on the radio the other day, and it brought back a lot of memories. Looking at this video again it is clear that Ullman was a major talent who probably had more to offer as a comedian than as a singer (although despite the fact that her voice is pretty limited, and it's actually Kirsty McColl who sings the sublime "baby!" part just as Ullman switches to her hausenfrau outfit, I still think it's kind of a shame that Ullman didn't find a way to maintain dual careers). I always thought this was one of the better early MTV videos, and one of the things that was great about that period was that it was possible for something that wasn't entirely predictable to breakthrough in the new medium.
Somehow I always remembered Ullman pushing Paul McCartney around in a shopping cart at the end of the video, but he only shows up in the car with her. I can't believe how boyish McCartney looked in 1983. He was 41 at the time, but looks to be closer to 20 (make up probably helped, but still).
This is a pretty weird single. Bohanna was a non-Super-K Joey Levine/Artie Resnick project. Levine and Resnick produced a number of singles during the late 60s under a variety of monikers outside the Super-K fold (Up 'N Adam, Jet Stream, Rock Candy Mountain, Gideon, The Salt, Pattie Flabbies Coughed Machine, etc.), but never experienced anything near the kind of success they had with Kasenetz and Katz. (Though Levine would eventually become involved with Reunion, who had a huge hit in 1974 with "Life Is a Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)," a song that would later serve as obvious inspiration for R.E.M.'s "It's The End of the World (As We Know It)" and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire.")
As far as I am aware this single was the only release under the Bohanna moniker. "Jamaica" is a propulsive bubblegum diddy about getting stoned on the beach in Jamaica and having a liaison with a mermaid. "Nightime Lady" is a bluesy garage rocker about picking up a prostitute in order to dress up in her clothes. (At least I think that’s what these songs are about, if anyone can propose reasonable alternate interpretations, I'm all ears.)
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Soon the emotion and presence of this group are brought back with startling grace and wisdom on "Plaster Caster" and the beautiful acoustic medley "Goin' Blind."
I personally would never have thought to use the words "startling grace and wisdom" in connection with a song about a groupie who makes plaster casts of rock stars' genitals, but I congratulate Mr. Haney for recognizing the depth of emotion and penetrating intelligence that the more casual, non-professional listener such as myself might miss were it not for his startling insight and wisdom. If you can find any equally outstanding examples of rock criticism, please feel free to share them in comments. I have a feeling this one will be hard to top.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Teen Babes has never been officially released on CD (although it came as a bonus on a limited edition Australian tour CD in 1993 that also featured "Trance" and "Byrds and Fleas"--that's how I got my copy). This EP is crying out to be reissued.
Their cover of "Deuce" makes KISS's version sound flacid in comparison. It must have badly bruised Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley's massive egos to get their butts kicked by a bunch of punk teens from L.A., and it took them 8 years to bounce back back with Revenge in 1992, their strongest album since 1981's Music From The Elder.
I recorded this song by British Music Hall legend Billy Williams directly from the Victrola. Basically I just stuck a mic down the horn and hit record on my M-Audio 24/96 Microtrack. Why did I do it you ask? I have no clue. Maybe it's something to do with my attraction to extreme juxtapositions--using the latest recording and delivery medium to bring you sounds from one of the very oldest means of delivering pre-recorded music. Maybe it's just because I can.
There is something kind of spooky and affecting about listening to music reproduced like this. The song was recorded in 1912, before the advent of electrical recording, so Williams stood in front of a horn to sing this, causing a diaphragm to vibrate which in turn made a needle vibrate while it cut into wax. The playback basically works the same way in reverse. So when you listen like this, despite the poor signal-to-noise ratio, there is no electronic mediation between you and the sound generated over 90 years ago. In a weird way it is like listening to a voice from beyond the grave (Williams passed on in 1915). (And of course I realize the same could be said for any other form of recording, but given its entirely mechanical nature, acoustic recording of this nature strikes me as somehow more direct, at least on an intellectual level).
If you really like this, you can order a boxed set of Williams' complete recordings here. I expect the sound quality will be rather better than this.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Of course that's not the way it happened at all. The Echoes were a band that had a minor hit with "Baby Blue" in 1961, changed their name to The Scoundrels and released a few sides for ABC then hooked up with bubblegum impresarios Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz (aka Super K Productions) who already owned the rights to the Lt. Garcia name and had a pre-made, sure-fire hit song and concept ready for the band. The "hit" was "Latin Shake" written by Joey Levine and Artie Resnick ("Yummy, Yummy, Yummy," etc.), and the concept was that the world was ready for a Latin flavored bubblegum act.
"Latin Shake" tells the cautionary tale of an illegal immigrant named "Jose" who due to lax border enforcement crosses the Rio Grande with guitar in hand. The next thing you know everybody in the U.S. of A. is doing the "Latin Shake" and Jose's records are selling like "hot tamales," presumably cutting into the sales of records created by hard working native born Anglo-Americans. This is why we need a fence people!
Beyond the "Latin" concept, 'Cross the Border is a somewhat unusual bubblegum album in so far as the people pictured on the cover actually played and wrote most of the songs on the record. It is also unusually consistent, with a number of strong tracks beyond the single, "Come On," "Salomila," "The La La Song," and others are first rate bubblegum pop with a psychedelic/Latin flavor.
When "Latin Shake" failed to catch on the Lt. Garcia concept was abandoned, and most of the band went on to become The Ohio Express touring group (the original Ohio Express members left the Super K fold because they were upset about being nothing more than a touring band and a faces on the record covers). Lt. Garcia guitarist Harold Boyle recounts the whole story here.
Reading the interview with Boyle it seems the band was not exactly thrilled with the resulting album, but I suspect their judgment was affected by Kasenetz and Katz's exploitative business practices. "Latin Shake" is genuinely catchy, and should have been a hit. (Within ten seconds of the needle hitting the groove on this album my four-year old son was singing "Ahhhh Shake!") The rest of the album isn't really bubblegum, but unlike the filler on many Super K albums it is good stuff, blending Folk, Latin, Psychedelic, Garage Rock, and even Greek influences into a very tasty mix. This album is much better than a lot of the records that have been reissued and hailed as "lost masterpieces" from the 60s. Some label like Sundazed or Rev-Ola would be smart to reissue 'Cross the Border.
Friday, January 05, 2007
The Pale Saints were one of many British "shoegazing" bands, and got lost in the shuffle a bit. The band was less distinguished than their peers My Bloody Valentine (who pushed the sonic envelope so far out on 1991's Loveless that they were never able to create a follow up) and Lush (who had much surer pop sensibilities). The Saints fell somewhere between these two bands; their lush soundscapes were never as adventurous as My Bloody Valentine's, and their songs were not as hook-sure as Lush's. And they had the misfortune of not being as photogenic as the far less interesting Ride. They did however have the good taste to cover my favorite Opal song, "Fell From The Sun," on their self-titled debut.
Their follow-up, In Ribbons, was even more atmospheric than the debut, and featured a cover of Slapp Happy's (via Mazzy Star) "Blue Flower." The band's final album, Slow Buildings, was recorded after the departure of group leader Ian Masters and was unbelievably dull, even by shoegazer standards (whose musical aesthetic has a certain amount of dullness built into it).
The Little Hits website has made the Opal/Clay Allison version of "Fell From the Sun" available if you'd like to do a bit of compare and contrast. One of these days I'm going to get around to ripping my copy of Opal's difficult to find Early Recordings LP, and will post something else from the album.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
This song is pure power-pop nirvana. There is no telling what this band might have been able to accomplish if they had stuck together, but sadly they broke up in 1978 after having released only a single EP. I am convinced The Nerves would have been huge if they could have stuck it out another couple of years.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I woke up Christmas Morning to discover James Brown had died. I realize this is old news, but I wanted to pay my respects. I don't have much to add to all the more timely eulogizing: James Brown was a giant, as big an influence on popular music as Elvis and the Beatles, if not more so. But what I love most about James Brown is that he was not afraid to let you know that he was willing to work his ass off to entertain you, and to earn your love. In today's media environment where multi-media celebrities seem to believe they are entitled to your love and money by mere virtue of their celebrity that alone is something to be honored. It really was no exaggeration to call him the "hardest working man in show biz."
This 1966 clip of Brown performing "Prisoner of Love" shows off the Godfather's more sensitive side.
"Finders Keepers" by Salt Water Taffy is similar to the big hits of the 1910 Fruitgum Company in which a children's game or rhyme is transformed into mild sexual innuendo ("1,2,3 Red Light," "Simon Says," "May I Take A Giant Step (Into Your Heart)," "Goody Goody Gumdrops," etc.). This song only scraped the bottom of the charts, and the band did little else of note (and unlike many bubblegum acts this was a real band, not just a name Kazenetz and Katz dreamed up). Nevertheless, this is a really, really catchy song, and one of the better minor bubblegum hits.
Monday, January 01, 2007
To get the New Year started I wanted to offer Sally Timms' cover of John Cale's "Half Past France." Timms is best known as a member of The Mekons (more from them some other time). This track comes from her 1995 solo album, To The Land of Milk and Honey. Anyone can cover The Velvet Underground (even Weezer apparently), but it takes real taste to cover a track from Paris 1919.