Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween A Go-Go

Speaking of Halloween compilations, the always-reliable Little Steven has released a pretty cool looking Halloween compilation, Little Steven's Underground Garage Presents Halloween A Go-Go.

Our first Halloween collection finds us probing the subconscious to confront our most persistent demons on Garage Rock's favorite holiday. We are visited by some of the usual cast of characters one would expect, Dracula, the Wolfman, Ghosts, Zombies, and Witches, but are far more horrified by that which cannot be touched, controlled, bargained with, or avoided. Our own dreams. During the course of these proceedings you will find yourself dancing with the Devil, laughing in the face of the apocalypse, transported to the mystic forests of your deepest darkest secrets and insatiable lusts, and shocked by the helplessness of your own confessions of the sacred and the profane. But afterward, if you live, one fact above all will remain clear. Now you will learn why you fear the night!

It looks like a good line up of songs, and Little Steven made the inspired decision to include Roky Erickson & the Aliens' classic "I Walked With A Zombie" from Roky's first solo album, The Evil One. He could just as easily have chosen "Two Headed Dog," "I Think Of Demons," "Don't Shake Me Lucifer," "Night Of The Vampire," "Creature With The Atom Brain," or "Stand For The Fire Demon" all from the same genuinely terrifying album.

I don't really mean to quibble with Little Steven's choices (who am I to quibble with Little Steven?), and it's good to see The Stems and The Fuzztones get a nod, but this album does not look 100% complete to me without a track from the Cramps. "I Was A Teenage Werewolf, "Zombie Dance," "Human Fly," "I Ain't Nuthin' But A Gorehound," or "Surfin' Dead" would have fit in nicely.

If I were putting together a Halloween compilation, here are a few other tracks I might consider for inclusion (other than what I've already posted):

The Flaming Lips - "Halloween On The Barbary Coast," or perhaps "Unconsciously Screamin'."

- "Halloween" (face it Mudhoney's version kicks butt over Sonic Youth's original).

Robyn Hitchcock - Lots of Hitchcock's music would be appropriate for Halloween (perhaps a legacy of his name). Likely suspects include, "Eaten By Her Own Dinner," "Let There Be More Darkness," "The Pit Of Souls," "Sleeping With Your Devil Mask," "The Ghost Ship," "The Man With The Lightbulb Head," "My Wife And My Dead Wife," "Demons And Fiends" and probably about a dozen other spooky Hitchcock tracks I'm forgetting about.

Brian Eno & David Byrne - "The Jezebel Spirit" What could be spookier than a genuine exorcism set to music?

Jonathan Richman - "Vampire Girl" Not really a scary song, but I do love Jonathan.

Bo Diddley - "Bo Meets The Monster" No purple people eater is going to mess with Bo Diddley. Bo Diddley is a gunslinger.

Aimee Mann - "Frankenstein" Mann's song is too much of a brainy allegory to be frightening, but it's a good song nevertheless.

Pink Floyd - "Scream Thy Last Scream" One of Syd Barrett's last recordings with the band he founded was rejected by his bandmates as being too disturbing. It's hard to argue with that assessment; forty years later it still has the power to disturb. Despite dozens of Pink Floyd reissues, neither this song nor "Vegetable Man" has ever seen official release.

Meat Puppets
- "Attacked By Monsters" "Snakey is awakey and he wants a little piece of the pie." Lock up your daughters, this is scary stuff! "Vampires" isn't nearly as frightening, but it's a good rejoinder to anyone who claims the Meat Puppets didn't make any good music after leaving SST.

Meat Puppets
- Vampires (Live)

This one sounds good anytime of the year.

Ben Vaughn - She's A Real Scream

I make a point of re-posting this Velvet Monkeys' rarity every Halloween.

Velvet Monkeys - Spooky

Anybody have other suggestions?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Did The Monster Mash

My mind has been moving inexorably in this direction, and I didn't even realize it until for no reason in particular "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Over Night" popped into my head while writing about the The Groovie Goolies.

Posting all this spooky Halloween music must have brought me back to the fact that one of my favorite records as a kid was a Halloween themed album. I couldn't remember the name of the album, but I could vaguely picture the album cover in my mind...the dominant color was green, it had writing dripping with blood...What did it say? Was it Monster Mash? Maybe.

What were some of the tracks on the album? "Monster Mash" was definitely on it. I was pretty sure "Dinner With Drac" and "Purple People Eater" were on it too. There were some other novelty songs that had nothing to do with Halloween or monsters, "Itsy Bitsy Tiny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Over Night" were two of them. It must have been a budget compilation with re-recordings of hit songs. That didn't prevent me from playing the record over and over again during all times of the year. I must have driven my parents nuts.

Okay, time for a Google search. A couple pages into a google image search on "monster mash album" I see it. That's the album cover! Another blogger has made the entire Peter Pan "Monster Mash" album available. Wow, now the memories really come flooding back. What an awesome album cover! No wonder I loved it. Look at those dancing monsters. Hey, that vampire chick's kinda hot. And what's with the monkeys playing the instruments? And the maze on the back. I remember that.

Listening to the album brings back more memories. I remember my mom explaining to me that the narrator singing "Feet Up Pat 'Em On The Po-Po" didn't literally want his son to grow up to be a "lady-killer just like his pa." "Lady-killer" is just an expression you see, it means a man who is popular with the ladies, not a serial killer.

I'll have to make a CD-R of this for my kids. They'll probably hate it.

Groovie Goolies

If you are of a certain age, you might remember the Saturday Morning cartoon show, The Groovie Goolies. Then again, you might not because the show wasn't really very memorable. Likewise, the music featured in the show was pretty uninspired. For the most part the Goolies' tunes sounded like the stuff that was too bland to be cut by The Archies.

According to Wikipedia, Tom McKenzie, a former member of the Doodletown Pipers, provided vocals for much of the music featured on the show. Maybe he's the one singing on this track, "First Annual Semi-Formal Combination Celebration Meet The Monster Population Party," which is the most enjoyable track on the Groovie Goolies' sole album.

I suppose I'm being a bit hard on these monsters, but I think this was a real missed opportunity. The Groovie Goolies show offered the perfect chance to turn young kids on to something a little bit musically wilder and more aggressive, a chance to subvert the dominant musical paradigm. Instead the show's producers offered chewing gum that had lost its flavor on the bedpost overnight. If you're looking for cartoon rock with a more exciting garage-rock flavor, check out The Hardy Boys, they (seriously) rocked.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Screaming Lord Sutch

Is there a better time than Halloween to enjoy the unique musical stylings of Screaming Lord Sutch? Actually, there is. Considering he ran for office in his native Britain as a representative of the National Teenage Party and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party numerous times, the perfect time to honor Sutch is Halloween during an election year.

"Til The Following Night," released in 1961, was the A-side of Sutch's first single, and was produced (along with his next four singles) by the legendary Joe Meek. No mere Halloween novelty number, "Til The Following Night" (aided to a large degree by Meek's bizarre assortment of production techniques) sounds genuinely macabre and deranged. It almost sounds as if it's being sung by a person who genuinely believes himself to be a vampire (or perhaps someone who really is).

Sutch borrowed his name and stage persona from Screamin' Jay Hawkins, but took the horror quotient further than anything Hawkins ever attempted. "Til The Following Night" and follow ups such as "Dracula's Daughter," "Jack The Ripper," and "Monster In Black Tights" stood zero chance of earning airplay on the conservative BBC, so in 1964 Sutch founded one of the first pirate radio stations in the UK, Radio Sutch.

Sutch also had a habit of attracting some of the UK's best rock musicians before they became household names including, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Nicky Hopkins, Matthew Fisher (Procol Harum) and Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple). Many of those musicians, especially Jimmy Page, returned to work with Sutch on his debut LP in 1970, Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends. The collective wrath of millions of confused Led Zeppelin fans has regularly earned the album showings at the top of various "worst album ever" lists.

Sadly, Sutch committed suicide in 1999.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cat Butt - Zombie

I've gotten a few requests to post more Cat Butt since I first wrote about their infamous 1989 EP. And what better time to honor that request than Halloween, especially when one of the remaining tracks is the super-spooky "Zombie"?

"Zombie" is sure to scare the bejeebees out of (or at least seriously confuse) anyone who thinks "grunge" is the stuff that broke through on the radio in the wake of Nirvana's success. Chris Daughtry would need to change his designer jeans if he ever heard something this vicious and raw (not that he ever will). If you grab this track along with the two I previously posted, you will be half way along your Journey To The Center Of Cat Butt.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Freaks And Geeks - Tricks And Treats

This is a great clip from "Tricks and Treats" the Halloween episode of my all-time favorite TV Show, Freaks and Geeks. I signed petitions to keep this show on the air and to get it released on DVD. Fortunately, the later effort was successful. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the clip in which know-it-all uber-geek Harris claims that

...this year there's a bunch of evil hippies who don't want Reagan to be president. So to disrupt the election, they're going to inject the candy with heroin. Turn kids into addicts.

If I remember correctly, this was an actual rumor that made the rounds back in 1980. Unfortunately, the liberal media covered up the devastating consequences of this plot. Back then we didn't have fair and balanced media outlets like Fox News that were willing to report on the radical left's attempts to destroy our country from within.

I highly recommend you adhere to my five updated Halloween safety tips so that you don't become a victim of whatever nefarious schemes the evil hippies have planned this Halloween in order to prevent a McCain presidency.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween Safety

There's more about Halloween to be scared of than ghouls, goblins and vampires. Far more frightening are unsafe costumes that lack reflective tape and the omnipresent danger of one of your neighbors hiding a razor blade in a Milky Way or spiking the candy corn with LSD.

This informative educational film from 1977 is exactly the sort of thing we used to watch in school when I was a kid.

Halloween Safety (Centron Educational Films, 1977) Part One

Halloween Safety (Centron Educational Films, 1977) Part Two

Unsafe costumes, razor blades in candy; these were the things children of my generation were taught to fear on Halloween. But let's face it, the world is a lot more complex and dangerous in 2008 than it was in 1977. And while this film offers some information that is still helpful, it is hopelessly out-date today. Because the dangers we face today are greater, parents must work harder than ever to keep their children in a constant state of fearful paranoia.

It is in that spirit that I have created five updated Halloween safety recommendations for 2008:

1. Rather than merely cutting candy bars or fruit in half to check for sharp objects, I recommend that parents purchase x-ray machines to examine all Halloween treats.

2. After they have been x-rayed, all treats should be sent to a lab for a complete chemical analysis to check for harmful substances. The yummy, safe treats should be back in time for Ground Hog Day, so you might want plan another super fun event for when the kids actually get to eat the candy.

3. It's important for the modern parent to remember there is more to worry about these days than hippies trying to turn our kids on to acid. Today's parent should be very concerned about terrorists lacing Halloween snacks with dangerous substances like ricin or weaponized anthrax. That is why I recommend that all children wear hazmat suits over their Halloween costumes. (The hazmat suits should, of course, also be covered in reflective tape so that they are clearly visible to oncoming cars.)

4. Parents should always accompany children while trick-or-treating, and in addition to hazmat suits, I recommend at least one parent carry a concealed firearm (something along the lines of a Kimber Pro Carry should do the trick in all but the worst neighborhoods).

5. Certain houses should be avoided altogether on Halloween. Ask yourself a few questions before you approach a neighbor's home. Does the house look a little run down? If so, move on to the next one. Can you pronounce the name written on the mailbox? If not, don't let "political correctness" interfere with the well-being of your children. Finally, any house with an Obama yard sign or rainbow flag should be avoided for obvious reasons.

So long as you follow these five simple rules, you and your kids are sure to have a safe, happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

R.I.P. Rudy Ray Moore

Damn. Rudy Ray Moore is dead.

Back when I taught film history I used to show a clip from Birth Of A Nation and juxtapose it with a clip from Dolemite in order to generate discussion about depictions of race in American film. I'm not sure what point I was trying to make, but the juxtaposition usually got people talking.

As Moore once immodestly said of himself:

These guys Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac claim they're the Kings of Comedy, they may be funny, but they ain't no kings. That title is reserved for Rudy Ray Moore and Redd Foxx.

Moore was 81.

Original theatrical trailer for Dolemite. (Warning: Unless you are a pimp, this clip is not likely to be suitable for your workplace.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shelley Stuart & The Five Stars - Vampire Husband

"Vampire Husband," a tale of a wife attempting to reconcile her love for her husband with his undead status, is one of those song-poems that has to be heard to be believed. With awkward rhyming couplets like, "You promised to never hurt a hair on my head/But you are strictly, strictly from the dead," and Stuart's slightly off-key vocals, "Vampire Husband" is pure song-poem bliss. I have no idea who wrote this gem, or what the author's intentions might have been. But listening to this song about a woman who is terrified of her husband, it is hard to get around the suspicion that there might be some non-supernatural form of domestic terror lurking just beneath the surface of these goofy lyrics, and that makes the song genuinely creepy.

"Vampire Husband" was cut by the Boston based Sterling label. Vocalist Shelley Stuart was the wife of label owner, Lew Tobin, who likely plays the keyboards on this cut. This song and many others song-poem classics are available for download for free from WFMU on the I Like Yellow Things: MSR Madness, Vol. V compilation.

And is it just my imagination or did Lew Tobin have Rod Argent's keyboard playing with the Zombies in mind when they cut this spooky track?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Frantics - Werewolf

Over the days leading up to Halloween I'm going to present some songs that will scare the pants off you. These will be essential tunes for your Halloween party, or just really good music to freak out trick or treaters.

Speaking of which, no Halloween party would be complete without the Frantics' brilliant instrumental "Werewolf." The Frantics hailed from Seattle and recorded for the Dolton label in 1959 and 1960. The spoken intro and sinister snarls truly take this song into rarified territory among werewolf songs, it's only competition being "Werewolves Of London" by Warren Zevon and "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" by The Cramps. The Cramps appropriated massive portions of this song for "Don't Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk" (which by the way is good advice when you're out trick or treating, take it from the voice of experience).

Just keep telling yourself, "It's only a song, it's only a song..."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"New" Buena Vista Social Club Album

I'm not sure why it took Nonesuch 10 years to get around to releasing a live album of the Buena Vista Social Club's 1998 Carnegie Hall show (it's the show that was filmed for Wim Wender's must-see 1999 documentary), but I'm grateful they did.

Wender's film provides ample evidence that the band absolutely tore down the house at this show. The live version of "Candela" in particular is among the most, er, incendiary music I've ever heard. The only sour note is the knowledge that vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Rubén González and guitarist/vocalist Compay Segundo have all passed on since this historic night of music making.

Best of all the album is being released on double LP with a bonus CD set included. Other recent Nonesuch LPs I've purchased have been outstanding pressings, among the best I've heard, so I'm really looking forward to hearing this.

Providence Wimp Rock City (Small Factory)

Small Factory (along with Honeybunch and Velvet Crush) put Providence, Rhode Island on the map as the premier home to wimp rock during the 1990s. While I found their two albums, 1993's I Do Not Love You and 1994's For If You Cannot Fly, somewhat disappointing, I still consider them a great singles act, as proven by the (unfortunately out-of-print) 1996 singles compilation Industrial Evolution.

I didn't move to Rhode Island until 2000, so I have no idea what Providence was like in the early 90s. But in my mind I picture a city populated exlusively by people who looked like the audience I stood amongst at a Heavenly/Small Factory show at Under Acme in New York City sometime in the early 90s: lots of twenty-something women wearing baby doll dresses and Hello Kitty barretts alongside men wearing thick-rimmed glasses, thrift store clothes and Hello Kitty barretts. In my estimation these were men and women who in other times and other places would have already been forced to lead adult lives for the better part of a decade, but were hopelessly clinging to an idealized notion of childhood innocence. Perhaps that assessment will sound less harsh if I admit that, in essence, I was one of them. I don't think I went quite so far down the road of spectacularly hip scenesterism as others, but without realizing it, I was hiding from the adult world in graduate school at exactly the time I should have been making my way in it.

On one level, the obsessive tweeness of the 90s indie-rock scene was a legitimate, perhaps inevitable, reaction against the world-weary posturing of grunge. On another level it was simply cloying and cute, a temporary hiding place from the world of adult responsibility and its mundane demands. But setting scene politics aside, Small Factory's singles still hold up for the same reason I found them appealing at the time: it's solid pop music delivered with passion.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street

Thanks to Guy for pointing this YouTube video out to me. It's Stevie Wonder doing an epic take on "Superstition" live on Sesame Street. Guy remembers being completely freaked out by this as a four or five year old. I can understand why, I am not sure children that age should be exposed to music this funky. I have to say, this version completely crushes the studio version of the song from Talking Book.

Unfortunately, I don't remember seeing this. I would have been three years old on April 28, 1973, so I would have been the right age. Perhaps it's buried somewhere deep in my subconscious.

It's always been a bit disappointing to me that neither of my kids has ever shown much interesting in Sesame Street (although as I type this Will is wearing an Elmo t-shirt that Amelia picked out for him to wear today). Will also completely wore out a Cookie Monster shirt (Cookie Monster is pure id, so of course children love him). But just a couple weeks ago, I could not talk Will into letting me buy him a Bert t-shirt. "Come on," I said, "you'll be the only kid in school cool enough to have a Bert shirt." He told me if I could find him another Cookie Monster shirt, he'd wear it, but Bert wasn't happening (Bert is all superego, so I guess he's a tougher sell).

Anyway, from the little bits of Sesame Street I've seen over the past several years, I can tell you without a doubt it is nowhere near as cool, or dangerous, as this. Check out the kid with the long hair in a full-on funk freak-out on the fire escape. Awesome!

And here's Stevie teaching Grover a little bit about soul.

Finally we have a Wonder's vocoder drenched classic written specially for his Sesame Street appearance.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tim Remastered

Despite my complaints about Rhino's remaster of Pleased To Meet Me, I went ahead and picked up the reissue of Tim as well. I'm glad I did. To make a long story short, they got this one right.

I wish I could compare the remaster to my original LP, but I can't. Years ago I loaned my LP copy of Tim to a friend who made the mistake of leaving it locked in his Ford Fiesta on a hot day. When he returned it to me it was warped to the point of being unplayable. I replaced the LP with a new-fangled CD, but I have never been happy with the way the album sounded on CD.

The remaster makes for a much more satisfying listen than the older CD (which was probably issued a couple years after the album was released on LP and cassette). The older CD suffered from the kind of thin and tinny sound I often associate with CDs from the mid 80s (which is what initially turned me off about the medium). Tommy Erdelyi's production had a tinny quality to it anyway, and the flaws in the original CD only exacerbated the problem. The remaster, while preserving the original qualities of the recording, sounds richer and fuller. So yeah, the snare drum still sounds like it's being channeled through a tin can, but it least it sounds like it's coming from a bigger tin can.

Unlike the Pleased To Meet Me remaster, Rhino preserved the dynamic range of the original this time. Yes, the volume is boosted a bit compared to the older CD, but I see (and hear) little, if any, evidence of dynamic range compression. Likewise, the dynamic shifts between songs have been preserved on this remaster (the quiet songs don't sound as loud as the loud ones). I'll try to post images when I get a chance, but for now you'll have to take my word for it.

Tim was the first Replacements album I bought, and as such holds a special place in my heart. And I have to say, nostalgia aside, I still think it's a kick ass album. Look at that album cover. What the fuck is that? It's awesome. And the songs. Nearly every song on this album is killer. Yes, the hard-rock numbers "Dose Of Thunder" and "Lay It Down Clown" sound a little forced. But even though "Clown" is the weakest song on the album, it still contains the classic line "the only exercise you get is the shakes" (which I have to believe was written about Bob Mould). You can't entirely slag a track with a line like that. Every other song on the album is a bona-fide classic.

I'd go so far as to say that it is very difficult to think of a run of classic albums as strong as the Replacements had from Let It Be through Pleased To Meet Me. Maybe the Stones from Beggar's Banquet through Exile On Main Street were better. But as great as those Stones albums were, I'll always have more affection for the Replacements, because they were a band that I felt belonged to me, not to some bunch of sell-out old farts whose primary pleasure in life seem to consist of lecturing me about how much cooler everything was when they were my age. On these albums Paul Westerberg and his crew spoke directly to the issues and concerns of alienated kids coming of age in the late 80s in a way that "classic rock" couldn't.

Little things: There's a little less bonus material on Tim, but what's there is great. As others have noted, the short bit of studio chatter that precedes "Left of the Dial" has been eliminated on the remaster (personally, on a scale of 1-10 this rates somewhere between 0-1 as a concern for me, although I realize others feel differently). "Nowhere Is My Home" an Alex Chilton produced track previously only available on the Boink! EP is clearly sourced from vinyl (it doesn't say so in the liner notes, but I guarantee it). I have no problem with this whatsoever. The truth is, sometimes a vinyl copy is the best source available. I'd rather hear a good vinyl transcription over an attempt to reconstruct a deteriorated master tape any day. (And who knows, maybe this is one of those masters sitting at the bottom of the Mississippi?) They got the cover image right, with yellow text that matches the original LP art instead of the white text on the old CD (that always bugged me more than it probably should have). The liner notes by Bob Mehr are first-rate, shedding a lot of light on Westerberg's songwriting and the creative tensions within the band at the time.

This goes a long way toward restoring my faith in Rhino as a premier reissue label and trustworthy guardian of our musical legacy. This reissue is a nice, I would say essential, upgrade. Oh yeah, one more thing: Hey kids, things were so much cooler when I was your age.