Archive for April, 2009

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I came across me.

April 27, 2009

Well Ronnie Lane month will be ending soon, and I’ll also be either very busy or completely out of town this week, so I don’t know how much blogging there will be.

Of course, I can always find an excuse to post some Ronnie-related music, but it always seems most appropriate during April. 

I believe I posted this song eons ago on the old version of the blog when we tore through Ronnie’s solo discography, but it just came up at random on my iTunes today, and I just had to post it again.

“Just For a Moment” was written in the early 1970s for a Meher Baba Foundation album (Ronnie was a Baba follower like his good buddy Pete Townshend), but his recording of the song with Ronnie Wood most famously made it on to the little known soundtrack of the little known film, “Mahoney’s Last Stand.”

Ronnie spent many of the last years of his life in Austin, Texas  (MS had already swiped his ability to walk, and play — let alone hold — a guitar), and made several local live appearances and performed on radio sessions for KUT, with a handpicked group of local musicians that included the likes of Alejandro Escovedo and future members of Poi Dog Pondering. 

He left Austin in the early 1990s on account of the heat, and relocated to Trinidad, Colorado where the thinner mountain air somewhat helped his deteriorating condition.

But a little while before he left Austin, he performed on a Christmas radio show for KUT, backed only by DJ Jody Denberg and guitarist Rich Brotherton to perform “Nowhere to Run” and “Just for a Moment.” They handle Wood’s signature-style guitar parts from the original quite handily.

The performance would prove to be Lane’s last time in from of the radio studio’s microphones, and with a whole career of heartbreakingly beautiful songs to his name, it’s almost unfathomably perfect that this ended up being the final bow. It’s enough to make you a little misty.

This cut, and several other live and radio cuts from his time in Texas can now be found on Live in Austin. Definitely worth picking up.

Ronnie Lane – Just for a Moment

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Reality, it’s not for me and it makes me laugh.

April 24, 2009

It’s merely been a week, but I’m nearing completion of the Brian Wilson biography I picked up last week. Good reading — it’s been nice to get deeper insight on what the hell was going on in the group in the 1970s and 1980s when Brian was seriously on an island and the rest of the group was trying to pull things in various different directions.

Of course it casts the Wilson brothers as fractured beings, thanks to their dad and his tough upbringing and heavy-handed managerial style in the band’s formative years. But while Carl managed to maintain the most sanity, even he was prone to flights of addiction and compulsive desires for complete control. 

I don’t think anyone’s ever going to doubt or second guess Brian Wilson’s genius — this is the man who gave us Pet Sounds and SMiLE, after all, but any well-versed Beach Boys audiophile that a good majority of the stuff he was writing after 1968 devolved into some questionable territory. Not to say it was all bad, of course, but… how’s about that fairy tale vignette on Holland? Even in the recent pushes to try to reclaim The Beach Boys Love You as some kind of lost triumph, take a serious listen to that album and then make your case that it really deserves that kind of praise.

Now with Brian on decades-long mental sabbatical, the rest of the band took up songwriting duties, and both Dennis and Carl built solid individual foundations on their respective output. Mike Love and Al Jardine weren’t entirely worth writing off, but their creations weren’t exactly outright amazing, either. Take a gander at the video for the environmental statement “Don’t Go Near the Water” from 1971’s Surf’s Up album for proof:

In that video you can see Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar (or perhaps better known as Stig O’Hara of the Rutles), who were drafted into the Beach Boys by Carl to flesh out the band’s live shows and also bring a bit of R&B feel to the outfit.

Blondie’s most well known contribution is singing lead on “Sail On, Sailor” — arguably the Beach Boys’ best song of the 1970s, but he and Fataar co-wrote and shared vocal duties on the HUGELY underrated “Here She Comes” from 1972’s So Tough, oddly credited to Carl and the Passions, a pseudonym the Beach Boys used in their formative years. Listen to this song and just try to tell me the Beach Boys wouldn’t have been more commercially formidable in the 1970s if they’d let Blondie and Ricky have a bit more sway with songwriting. This is fantastic stuff.

The Beach Boys – Here She Comes

Bruce Johnston was also an important commodity in the 1970s (that is, before they fired him). Although he’d been in the Beach Boys’ ranks since the mid-1960s when Brian had his “I can’t tour anymore” meltdown and reverted to the studio, and can also clearly be heard on the gorgeous fadeout of “God Only Knows,” Bruce didn’t really start getting his songwriting due with the band until 1970’s Sunflower. He offered up the sentimental ballad “Disney Girls (1957)” for Surf’s Up, which very nearly verges into cheesy territory (you know, the kind he’d plow headfirst into years later in writing “I Write the Songs”), but maintains enough whimsy for it to be enjoyable.

The Beach Boys – Disney Girls (1957)

It’s not to say that the other guys were writing crap, but I think these two songs make a strong case for not letting personal egos take too much space in rounding out an album. Did we need “Student Demonstration Time”? “TM Song”? “California Saga”? I dunno, man. I could’ve done with a few more “Here She Comes.” 

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What tomorrow knows.

April 23, 2009

OK I admit it. When I first saw this news story at NME, I was terrified. 

At first it was the fact that Pete Doherty’s band of sometime-shows could really be considered a replacement for the La’s (despite the fact that the only two constant La’s were Lee Mavers and John Power), and that Lee seemed willing to place a comeback on the shoulders of a guy equipped to turn around only one truly genius song per album. Admittedly however, that one gem is usually pure genius.

And I know they’ve hung out and all, but still… it seems a dangerous precedent to leave anything as coveted as a La’s — or even Lee Mavers — comeback in the shaky hands of Pete. 

Then I thought, “F*ck it.” If that’s the way Lee wants to do it, who am I to worry? He gives the world one truly genius album that everyone loves and he hates, apparently he’s sitting on a goldmine of unrecorded material, what a gift it would be to get proper versions of songs like “Was it Something I Said?” and “Human Race.”

Then I thought, no. Why even risk tarnishing it now? I mean, sure, the author of one of the finest pop/rock albums of all time doesn’t like the one gift he gave the world, despite the fact that virtually everyone who’s heard it adores it. Maybe it drove him insane, but isn’t that kind of the magical allure of rock and roll? Can everyone bring the train from back around the bend and pull off a SMiLE in the September of their years? Isn’t that the great thing about artists like Jeff Buckley, who only got the chance to do one album but left it perfect? 

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I don’t know. Lee Mavers is unquestionably one of the greatest pop songwriters of all time and he’s given the world’s stereo systems nothing new since the La’s self-titled debut in the early 1990s. Part of me thinks the NME story is just overblown hype that will amount to nothing, as most Mavers-related buzzes since 1995 or so do. So there’s no need for me to overanalyze or worry.

But then I think of how effective the guy could just be on his own.

The La’s – Who Knows
A chillingly beautiful song that was originally a B-side on the first “There She Goes” single from 1988. There really are no words. If this song doesn’t touch you on some level, I fear for your soul.

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Those rosy days are few.

April 22, 2009

I’m not one for quick posts just with video links, but every once in awhile, someone gets something that I absolutely can’t expand on.

I didn’t make it to Coachella (I never do), but all the news has come back about McCartney’s typically brilliant set. No one’s really talking about how Paul Weller’s set was cut short, much less the fact that he was breifly joined on stage by Johnny Marr. Er, WTF?

Paul Weller, Steve Cradock and Johnny Marr all together playing “Town Called Malice.” Somewhere, the 19-year-old version of myself just had to change his pants.

A great big thank you to whatever goodhearted audience member took the time to not faint from sheer excitement (as I would have) and record this.

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I don’t think that they’d understand.

April 21, 2009

Despite the facts that — 1.) my three favorite bands were all products of the 1960s, 2.) I think several of the prototypical rock and pop songs of the 1950s have yet to be bettered and 3.) I can get into an argument with anyone who wants to agree with Homer Simpson’s assertion that rock music achieved perfection in 1974 (I easily contend it was 1966) — I still thank God every day that I came of age in the 1990s.

I’m sure sentimentality runs high for anyone that went through their teenage years in a particular decade, subscribing to particularly ridiculous fashions and simultaneously loving and hating the popular songs of the era (I think evidence can be found in my Dad recently asking me to send him an MP3 of the Jacksons’ “Blame it on the Boogie” with an additional request at the end of the inquiry — “Don’t laugh at me”).

You see, some amount of social aptitude in junior high and high school demands conformity in that no matter what your particular music tastes may be, you at least know and (to a certain level) understand the popular songs of the day. So despite the fact that I was even more of a Beatle- and Oasis-head in the mid 1990s than I am today, I still knew all the words to TLC and Spice Girls singles, despite the fact that I didn’t own the CDs. I swear.

And that’s because popular culture in the 1990s was inescapable. If put on the spot, I reckon I could still recall most of the dance moves to “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Not because I ever took anytime to learn them, but simply because I saw the video that many times in high school. You must remember that there was a time, dear readers, when both MTV and VH1 were dominated by music videos and not reality shows about 1980s rock stars hoping to find true love with 1980s groupies or teenage girls bitching about their birthday parties. There was a communal effect in something like OMC’s “How Bizarre.” Of course it was ridiculous. But you had to know it to make fun of it, didn’t you? And chances are, you knew it pretty well, because if you turned on modern radio or MTV in 1996, you heard the song.

In a way, it makes me pity today’s youth. Certainly YouTube and MySpace have unifying effects, or else the Arctic Monkeys would’ve never come to power and the world would have been spared of that Soulja Boy “Superman” business. But how many car radios are tuned to local modern radio stations anymore? If you don’t have Sirius deal pumping out a refined selection of music catered to your taste, then you probably have an iPod churning out songs you like based on a computer’s suggestion of what you like (and that based on the fact that you have both a Johnny Cash AND Kanye West song in your library).

Maybe I’m resentful that I wasn’t afforded that kind of (respected) individuality in my adolescence. But again, love it or hate it, everyone knew “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” And I, for one, think the world was a better place for it.

I use that long introduction to defend what’s come to be my favorite series on this blog, “Confessions of a ’90s Survivor.” This is the one  in which I justify posting relatively crap tracks and musing on what they meant when they were popular, and maybe more importantly, why they ever were popular. If you’re new to the site, you can see the first few entries in this series here.

And I implore you to get involved with the conversation — hearing other people muse on these songs is fantastic (see the Cardigans’ post from the earlier run of this series).

CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR

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Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
From City of Angels: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture

I don’t know if this is completely justifiable, but I’m placing the blame for this one squarely on Brad Silberling, the guy who directed the movie. In truth, it’s probably down to some producer or management firm that thought “Hey, we can square these guys away with one good tune for this flick,” but in the end, I need a fall guy, and Silberling has the most distinguished title at the end of his name with regard to this movie.

The legend goes that Johnny Rzeznik was suffering from a bad case of writer’s block and entering a new era of sobriety when someone came calling for a song to help underscore this new Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan feature that also, for whatever ungodly reason, would feature Dennis Franz’s naked backside. “Iris” was the product.

That’s right, “Iris” was the product. Teetering on the brink of extermination, this depressing-ass movie sparked a creative renaissance for Rzeznik which then bequeathed “Slide” and the rest of that Dizzy Up the Girl album that, given the choice, maybe life would not have been so bad without. And although I haven’t had to check in on the band since music video channels stopped playing music videos and I stopped having to listen to modern radio, apparently the Goos are still getting good mileage off this song.

Remarkably, sometimes I’m skeptical about God’s existence…

I suppose the movie would provide good inspiration to anybody looking for some, although if I had to write a song after seeing the movie, it probably would’ve consisted of the words I disbelievingly stammered to my friends after the lights came on: “Jesus Christ, that was depressing. What was the point of that? The guy gives up eternity for this girl and straightaway loses her? That was the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I paid for that. What’s the point? Love never works out? Even when you put eternity on the line?”

Of course, I would’ve made it rhyme. But that said, maybe it’s no coincidence that most of my friends are married now, and I’m still just the fun date for some girl to all these weddings. Oh, Brad Silberling, so much to answer for.

My skepticism and follies regarding love aside, Rzeznik was able to send a few chords around and around again on his acoustic guitar and swipe some of the movies core themes and visuals (“I’d give up forever to touch you,” “You bleed just to know you’re alive”) to crystallize a sleepy waltz and provide good fodder for a music video that could readily feature random clips from the flick.

But the reason it was able to find its own life outside of a movie that now shows up at infrequent intervals on TNT is that it has all the romantic pinings a teenager weathering their own bout of unrequited love feels.

I mean “My Heart Will Go On” was huge, but you have to remember that it was only huge while “Titanic” was huge (which, admittedly, was a long f*cking time). But once that popularity subsided, everything associated to it went with it. “City of Angels” wasn’t that good, but this song still anchored the Goo Goo Dolls’ ensuing album and justified stadium shows for awhile thereafter and a “Behind the Music” special. It’s the first lines of the chorus that resonate with everyone — “I don’t want the world to see me, ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.” In high school, maybe it’s a line I would’ve most quickly associated with the goth kids, but really, it’s typical teenage mentality. “I can’t explain it, you just don’t get it, you’re not me, you can’t understand,” blah blah blah. Add some pretty mandolins and overly poetic imagery ( “All I can taste is this moment, and all I can breathe is your life,” anyone?) and boom, you got a song to kick off any ill-advised mix CD for the girl or guy you swear you’d give up forever for.

It’s not to say the song wasn’t perfectly timed, either. If music could be compartmentalized in the latter half of the decade, certainly acoustic-led yearnings/laments took a big share of the cupboard after Nirvana’s Unplugged album woke everyone up to the power of acoustic sets and Oasis found a Beatlesque balance to it all with “Wonderwall.” Could “Iris” have been so successful in 1992, when acoustic pop was defined by something like Extreme’s “More Than Words”? Maybe — the lyrical sentiments are perennial after all — but it’s hard to argue a lot of acoustic singer-songwriter groundwork hadn’t already been laid by the time this song blew up.

And for as much as I detested telescopes, wheeled desk chairs, over-styled hairdos, the spelling of ‘Rzeznik’ and this song’s chorus for pretty much the whole of 1998, I was screwing around on my guitar a couple weeks ago and stumbled over the chords of this song. I’d never learned to play it or even bothered to look it up, but then there it was coming out of my fingertips. And I sang the chorus, and what I could remember of the verses (which was a considerable amount considering I haven’t really thought about the song in 10 years).

It didn’t make me reflect or reconsider the Goo Goo Dolls in any way. It didn’t make me think maybe there was a deeply beautiful message in “City of Angels” that my callous teenage mind was too quick to scoff. It didn’t make me run to the music store looking for even a used copy of the soundtrack or Dizzy Up the Girl. But it made me remark casually to a friend, “You know what song I have in my head that I haven’t even heard in years? And I can still remember all the words?

And that’s why the 1990s were so great. Are these teenagers today going to be having such conversations or momentary ruminations about the Plain White T’s in 2019? For some reason, I just don’t think so. But maybe I’m already an old fart.

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She said, “Don’t ring while he is here,” and gave me back my poetry.

April 17, 2009

Well dear readers, as if the Proclaimers version of “Five O’Clock World” wasn’t enough for you, I’ve got even more of a bonus for you heading into the weekend — a whole new post! My superiors showed a rare case of generosity this afternoon and on account of the number of hours put into the office this week, gave me an early out today. 

After doing a bit of walking around Madison on this glorious day and finding a painfully affordable copy of Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (a book I’ve been meaning to read for years now), I’ve found a quiet spot outside to read and do a bit of blogging.

Obviously the previous incarnation of this blog had a lot of various series going for it, most of which should carry over, but one that didn’t show up as often as I might have liked was a series called “ComBlete” where we examined that wonderful thing of the 1990s — the CD single that contained three or four exclusive tracks.

As much as I like iTunes and means of sharing, obtaining and releasing music on the internet, there’s really no payoff anymore for the true fan is there? It used to mean a lot to go into a record store, peruse the import section and find some rare copy of a four-year-old single that’s long since been deleted in its mother country but still contains songs that never even saw the light of day over here. Now odds and ends are there for anyone with a search engine. Of course I take advantage of it, but as I see more and more record stores disappear, I slightly ache for the kids that will never know the joy of finding a host of treasures and debating what to spend what little hard earned dosh they have from their part time retail jobs on. I always loved that turmoil. My family and friends hated it though, because it always meant I spent hours in music stores…

Anyway, one of my biggest gripes about artists’ CD singles was always directed toward those who wasted B-side space with superfluous remixes. Oddly, as I grow older, I’m actually developing the smallest little soft spot in my heart for remixes. I have respect for remixes if they can preserve the integrity of the song and create something interesting as opposed to looping a 5-second clip of the bassline and one line of singing from the song over and over for eight minutes.

When Billy Bragg released the single for “Sexuality” (his smarmy ode to conscientious free love, co-written with Johnny Marr) from his Don’t Try This at Home album in 1991, he put two different remixes of the song on the B-side. They both  sound very much like early 1990s remixes, but they also actually keep the verses and choruses in tact which is kind of interesting. And after years and years of listening to the album version of the song (you know, because I always detested anything with a ‘remix’ tag in parentheses) it’s kind of refreshing to hear different interpretations of the song, but still preserving Billy’s delivery. Plus the last track is “Bad Penny,” one of very best and most forgotten ruminations on unrequited love Billy ever wrote.

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Billy Bragg – Sexuality (Manchester Remix)
This remix was done at the hands of Owen Morris, who handled production duties on the first Electronic album and later had a hand in Oasis’ first three albums. The undertone has a bit of a ‘Madchester’ feel to it, but stays true to Johnny Marr’s guitar work and screws a bit with some of the song’s chorus harmonies, which is kind of enjoyable. Who knew you could groove to Billy like this, anyway?

Billy Bragg – Sexuality (London Remix)
If the Manchester remix took Billy onto the dance floor, the London remix insists you reconsider it after a hit of E. This remix actually reminds me of the sounds that would pervade the Stone Roses’ single, “Begging You,” four years later, but like the Manchester remix, the song’s skeletal structure remains. The refrain dolls up Kirsty MacColl’s backing vocals a bit, and while this version is a bit more droning and less earthy than the Manchester version, it’s also not completely intolerable. Coming from a recovering remixphobe like me, that’s high praise.

Billy Bragg – Bad Penny
Bragg actually wrote and demoed this song around the time of his 1988 album Workers Playtime, and the demo (which recalls his early days of just voice and electric guitar )can now be found on the rereleased version of the album. But the final version with full band in tow has a nice energy to it, too. Like several Billy tracks, though, the lyrics ultimately override whatever music sits under them. Sensitive boys all over the world will be able to relate to the story of a shy boy writing poems and songs for a girl who goes out with everyone else and only gives the author in question the time of day when she’s feeling a little lonely herself. “She comes back and asks me to sing all her favorite songs as if she’s never been away, as if she’s done nothing wrong. But I’ve come to the conclusion that she doesn’t realize a thing. And she probably still thinks I love her, and she doesn’t know that it’s a sin…” Amen. And just as heartbreakingly direct as his classics like “A Lover Sings” or “The Saturday Boy.” 

The song’s most entertaining video can be viewed here.

Enjoy and have a great weekend, all.

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But I live for the end of the day.

April 17, 2009

What a week. Working a lot of long hours everyday this week, which has left me very little time for blogging and even less time for sleep. I apologize to the people that have been coming back and seeing the same post sitting there day after day, and thinking, “WTF, Paul? You start up a new blog and then you don’t give it the proper attention?” 

It’s the thing about working in the news world, you know. It never stops. 

But working such hours made me think of one of my all time favorite songs, the Vogues’ 1965 hit, “Five O’Clock World” (granted, most days this week my personal Five O’Clock world found me in the office awaiting return phone calls, or stuck in some city or state government meeting that even produce that good of a story… Christ…)

The song was written by a guy called Allen Reynolds, who I’m told went onto be a record producer and actually ended up working with Garth Brooks (my aversion to mainstream country music leads me to take a friend’s word for it and leave it at that). And while the Vogues’ Wikipedia page boasts about many other hits (and oh look, they’re open for engagement at your next village fair), this is the only thing I can say I’ve ever heard by them.

Still, if this was all I had to my name, I wouldn’t complain. The continuing guitar riff is fantastic, the vocals are solid and the production has that nice thick 1960s texture that made several otherwise square white vocal groups sound almost like R&B contenders. 

If oldies radio didn’t do enough for it in ensuing decades, Drew Carey (who I still fail to understand on any level) resurrected the song for perhaps one of the greatest opening sequences of any 1990s sitcom in his show’s second season:

It was enough to tune in each week to see, although the show’s producers kept going back to the well and trying to make more videos (let’s all admit that “Time Warp” and “What is Hip?” were a bit cack, but the show’s use of “Cleveland Rocks” — however trite — is still the best thing to happen to that city. LeBron and Spinal Tap included). And despite my lack of enthusiasm for or understanding of Carey, the show still dropped some great comedic musical references

The unfortunate byproduct of the way the music industry worked in the 1960s is that several labels were able to make bank on a hit single or two, but then either folded or were acquired by larger labels. In some cases, the rights to the label’s catalogue were then tossed up in the air, and “Five O’Clock World” was allowed to be rerecorded on several occasions for other fly-by-night labels looking to make a quick buck with compilations bearing titles like Super Awesome Hits of the 1960s. For some of the absolutely appalling examples of what I’m talking about, run a search of “Vogues Five O’Clock World” in the iTunes store, and listen to some of those 30-second samples. I honestly believe there’s a special place in hell for the people that allow that to happen. And the bands that are so hungry for cash that they agree to stoop to such levels.

Thankfully, legitimate compilations carry the proper version of the song, which is just… still unbelievably awesome. 

The Vogues – Five O’Clock World

And since you’ve been so patient with me during this busy week, here’s an added bonus for you. During the last couple seasons of “The Drew Carey Show,” the producers thought it would be fun to milk the “Five O’Clock World” cow a few more times and ask contemporary bands to record a version of it for the show’s intro. I can’t tell you if any of these versions ever made it on. I only ever saw a handful of episodes when it was actually on TV and not in syndication, and even then, “Cleveland Rocks” was the perennial opener. 

Nevertheless, my dear sweet Scotsmen, the Proclaimers, got to take a whack at the song as a result and did a pretty good version of it themselves. Perhaps unfulfilled by it’s inclusion on “The Drew Carey Show” (if it ever even made it on), the Reid brothers plugged it into their 2002 album, Born Innocent for posterity. 

It’s not a patch on the original, of course, but it definitely has its charms.

The Proclaimers – Five O’Clock World

Thank God the weekend’s nearly here…

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But love is blind and you soon will find that you’re just a boy again.

April 14, 2009

Continuing on with Ronnie Lane month here at “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” I thought it would be appropriate this week to take a look at some covers other artists have done of Ronnie songs, since we already dipped into some of the covers he took on in his lifetime (which are gone now, ah see — sticking to that 10-day rule. Gotta keep up!)

It’s my personal opinion that any artist worth their salt should be able to do a Ronnie cover, but the funny thing is that even as simple as his songs are, it’s impossible to better the original versions of Ronnie’s songs. His songs were just perfect in his hands, and while everyone should and will try them (like Beatles songs), they never will better them (like Beatles songs).

Nevertheless, here are a few cool tries.

 

They're just pointing out who the man is. That's all.

They're just pointing out who the man is. That's all.

 

 

Golden Smog – Glad and Sorry
You can all debate whether this was a supergroup or just a cool get together of some high profile names (at the time and now), including Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy and the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, but they made some pretty cool music together, and this was pulled from their debut album together, 1995’s Down by the Old Mainstream. It’s one of only two covers on the album, and while it rolls along at a relaxed pace and with nice guitar work, it’s still not a patch on the Faces’ version from 1973’s Ooh La La where Ronnie harmonized with Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan laid down one of the finest simple piano lines ever committed to acetate. 

Idha – Ooh La La
Andy Bell’s ex-wife is getting some decent mileage on this blog all of the sudden, but not without good reason — she has a pretty good voice and obviously some exquisite taste in tunes. This is culled from her 1994 EP A Woman in a Man’s World, in which she does a lot of acoustic-led covers of male-penned songs. This is a fun song for anyone to play and/or sing, but considering she doesn’t change the lyrics, it gives the song a funny feeling in that, well, a woman’s singing it. Because, as my late friend Brian once said, the whole reason this song is so great is “because it’s just about how women f*ck with you your whole life.”  

Ocean Colour Scene – The Poacher
Arguably Britain’s most prominent Mod band in the late 1990s, the Birmingham quartet laid down an acoustic version of this solo Ronnie classic for the BBC, which can be now found on The BBC Sessions. Lead guitarist Steve Cradock got his first proper vocal debut on OCS’ last album, On the Leyline with the track “These Days I’m Tired” and also issued a beautifully understated record, The Kundalini Target, earlier this year, but this is pretty cool because he takes lead vocals here for what might be the first time in an Ocean Colour Scene song (I’m hard pressed to think of an earlier example at the moment). The band were also known to tear up Ronnie’s Small Faces classic “Song of a Baker” at several gigs in the 1990s.

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Tell ya, something’s happening ’round here.

April 10, 2009

With the return of the Friday Five this month, we look into (or I guess, more appropriately outside of) one of my all time favorite bands, Oasis.

I’ve been obsessed with the band since I first saw the “Live Forever” video in 1994, and have followed, researched and loved the band ever since. 

Ultimately, it is Noel and Liam’s band, but arguably since 2000, the band’s been more of a band than it ever previously was with the addition of formidable songwriters in their own right, Gem Archer and Andy Bell, both of whom played in bands on Oasis’ former label, Creation Records.

However, the stories of musicians that have come and gone from Oasis is like an unending web that keeps falling in on itself. For instance, when Alan White was only 15, he tried out to be in Gem Archer’s band at the time. Though the audition went well, the older boys figured a 15-year-old would be too much trouble to have along on the road, so they told him no. Several years later, Alan was the one welcoming Gem into Oasis. 

Johnny Marr basically helped Oasis from their start — from supplying Noel guitars and a manager at the very beginning of the career to adding guitar tracks on Heathen Chemistry and helping Liam Gallagher find his legs as a songwriter. For several years of selfless help, how did the Gallaghers repay him? By taking the Healers’ drummer Zak Starkey away and employing him on two of their own albums. 

There are several inward folding examples which only grow more obtuse when you include all the dudes who’ve helped them out on tours. But we’ll save those stories for another time. Today, let’s look at the auspicious pre-Oasis work of members who enjoyed an extended stint with the band on record and stage.

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The Friday Five
The Oasis Family Tree, Vol. 1 

Deborah Bonham & the Houseband – Black Coffee (live)
Although I admit to being very impressed by Chris Sharrock’s stickswork with Oasis (was at the Chicago show in December and have to concede, he’s by far the most entertaining Oasis has had just in terms of watchability), I still say the decision to show Zak Starkey the door was a big mistake. Listen to some of the drumming on Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. It’s heavy, but it’s tight as hell too. It’s hard to pick one pre-Oasis Zak drummed song to serve as a good tie to his work with Oasis. Certainly any Johnny Marr + the Healers track would’ve been sufficient, and the live version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that Noel performed with the Who in 2000 marked the first time Noel and Zak shared the same stage. But I think this pull from the Steve Marriott tribute gig is a bit more apropos, since even though they didn’t play together, Noel, Gem and Zak all shared the same stage that night. Zak backed the houseband, and I think his work behind Debbie Bonham on the rendition of “Black Coffee” is his best performance on drums that night. Can now be found on the recorded memento of the night, Mustn’t Grumble – The Steve Marriott Memorial Concert 2001.

Heavy Stereo – Smiler
By far the best move Oasis ever made was taking on Gem Archer to replace Bonehead in 1999. Gem brought an amazing set of skills to Oasis as well as a dead cool look. The one drag of his involvement is that he’s not singing nor writing the same caliber songs as he was when he fronted Heavy Stereo in the preceding years. Of course, his voice has a Liam-esque tinge to it anyway, so I suppose the difference is not completely vast, but even as good as songs like “Eyeball Tickler,” “The Quiet Ones” and “To Be Where There’s Life” are, I still don’t think he’s bested the best Heavy Stereo stuff. This was a standalone single from the band in 1995. Listen to the sheer glam rock glory in here and tell me an Oasis album wouldn’t have benefitted from this track. Funnily enough, Noel Gallagher once deadpanned that on second thought, he should have called their 2005 hit single “Lyla” “Smiler” instead. 

Hurricane #1 – Step Into My World
Following the demise of Ride, whose final album Tarantula was an Andy Bell-driven and still underrated affair, Bell formed Hurricane #1 and moved himself away from the microphone, relegating himself to guitar player/songwriter, a la Noel Gallagher. Perhaps a little too conscious of what he was doing, the band’s first single, “Step Into My World” overtly sounded like an Oasis album track or B-side of the era (which is no diss), and Alex Lowe sounded like one of the many Liam-copycats being spawned in Britain in the mid-1990s. The press wrote them off as a ridiculous carbon copy of Oasis, which Lowe took exception with and then brilliantly decided to start insulting his world-conquering labelmates in the press in a vain hope at some kind of separation. Didn’t have the intended effect, and Hurricane #1 limped on until 1999, when Bell left to join Gay Dad but was intercepted by Oasis to take over bass duties. Obvious influence aside, this is still a brilliant song, and it  ended up on the band’s self-titled debut
Interesting pull from a 1997 NME interview with Noel an Liam:
“I see Hurricane #1 went in at Number 35,” notes Noel, chomping his BLT and nodding at his press officer. This is not a congratulation, but an opening jab at labelmates who recently and foolishly lashed out at Liam in NME. “That’s 35 places too high in my book.”
“Hurricane #1?” queries Liam, sauntering over. “He copies my haircut and then slags me off! What’s that about? But I ain’t into this bickering between bands now. I’m a married man. I’ll just blank the c—!”
“No you won’t, you’ll batter the c—!”
“Who’ll I batter? Hurricane #1? Never heard of them. Isn’t that some indie band with the guy from Erasure in them?”

Idha – Still Alive
Nevermind that Swedish import Idha was married to Andy Bell and got a deal on Creation herself, her 1997 album Troublemaker was notable for another Oasis-related album. The album comprised several recording sessions since 1994 and three of the album’s tracks, including this one, featured Alan White banging the drums prior to taking over the sticks from Tony McCarroll in Oasis. These sessions were the first where Noel actually took note of Whitey’s drumming abilities, even though the younger brother of Paul Weller’s magnificent drummer Steve White had already been suggested to Gallagher by Weller himself. When Whitey joined in on sessions for  (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Noel raved about the drumming on “Roll With It” being comparable to Keith Moon. This wonderfully moody track from Idha also features Bell on guitar and backing vocals. 

Ride – Crown of Creation
Caramba, another Andy Bell entry? Well this has to get a mention because it actually features Bell on lead vocals and marks the beginning of his journey down the retro path that would eventually plant him in Oasis. Although Ride’s first two albums were renowned as trailblazing records that set the stage for the shoegazing movement, the band tossed all that aside to mimic their idols on 1994’s Carnival of Light, a move which had many fans screaming bloody murder. The press slated it, essentially calling it a backwards-looking load of hogwash, but ironically would praise Oasis for the same moves just a year later. But there’s a big charm to this song, and it’s something Andy needs to find again, because nothing he’s written for Oasis has been this pure. Just let him sing one like this on a B-side at least, Noel? I mean, surely it’s better than another f*cking remix?

h1

Down and out to no fixed abode where no one can get you.

April 9, 2009

There are some things in life I accept that I will never understand. Card games. Women. The unpredictable life spans of fish. Why I know I will always hear “Like a Prayer,” “Piano Man” and “Sweet Caroline” at any karaoke bar I venture into or any show in which alcohol is being served and the performer is taking requests. How they keep Lenin preserved. 

Fine. Maybe I’m not meant to know. That’s life. Well, except in Lenin’s case.

But as someone who knows and appreciates a lot about music and great songwriting, critical and commercial ignorance of brilliance always befuddles me a little. Eventually I figure it out — lack of promotion, poor transitions between the live and studio settings, lack of promotion, perfectionism gone mad on the part of the artist, lack of promotion or lack of promotion are usually the main things that lead to such ignorance.

But when it happens to a guy who’s already got the world on a string, I just can’t suss it out. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Jeff Lynne’s first solo album. And that preceding mention might be the only mention it gets. 

WHY?!

jeff_lynne-armchair_theatre

Jeff Lynne
Armchair Theatre
Reprise, 1990

01. Every Little Thing
02. Don’t Let Go
03. Lift Me Up
04. Nobody Home
05. September Song
06. Now You’re Gone
07. Don’t Say Goodbye
08. What Would it Take
09. Stormy Weather
10. Blown Away
11. Save Me Now 

Nowadays, it’s in fashion to consider Electric Light Orchestra something of a “guilty pleasure,” which is another thing that confuses me, although I think I have somewhat of a handle on it (the drums in “Don’t Bring Me Down,” right?). 

But when Jeff Lynne unleashed his first solo album in 1990, it should have been sent out to a rapturously awaiting public. Nevermind the fact that it was the first album featuring him at the forefront since his unceremonious termination of Electric Light Orchestra a few years earlier (I think we can all admit most of the 1980s material was cack anyway — apart from “All Over the World,” the only good thing about “Xanadu” and a viciously overlooked song for highlighting sports teams’ championship runs). But certainly the guy had built up enough good will in the 1970s with a string of ELO hits that you can probably sing at least five of without even ever having owned an album. 

But while he hadn’t delivered anything of “Evil Woman” or “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” quality with his voice at the front throughout the 1980s, he’d at least helped other artists write songs just as good and better. Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” and Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” come immediately to mind, and the fact that he produced Petty’s Full Moon Fever, bits of Orbison’s Mystery Girl, George Harrison’s Cloud Nine, and bits of Randy Newman’s Land of Dreams and Brian Wilson’s self-titled solo debut showed that he could run with the best, and the best eagerly sought his council. Hell, even Del Shannon went to Lynne for an attempted career resurrection before killing himself in 1990.

And of course, we can’t discount Lynne’s involvement with Petty, Harrison, Orbison and Bob Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup to end all supergroups, and a rare thing indeed — a supergroup that actually put out an album in 1988 worthy of the complete sum of its parts.

So for Jeff Lynne to do a solo album, it seemed like the time was right. He was either co-writing, producing or playing on several major hits in the 1980s, people still loved the classic ELO stuff and he had some pretty big name buddies. Is it any wonder Warner Bros. took up the solo album deal?

Armchair Theatre is not a classic album. But it’s a very, very good album. It’s the best thing he’d done since ELO’s Discovery (and probably better than that, even), when the songs are on, they’re untouchable, George Harrison shows up all over the place, and Tom Petty gets a co-writing credit on “Blown Away.” It’s really more of a solo Wilbury album as opposed to a Jeff Lynne album. Hell, even former-ELO keyman Richard Tandy is back playing alongside Lynne.

What f*cking more could people want? What on earth went wrong?

For starters, that continuing problem of lacking promotion dogged the album from the start. Why Warners didn’t put a bit more muscle behind it remains a mystery, but then again, it can’t be blamed as the singular pigeonhole considering the guy had a lot of momentum going for him already. If I was an exec at the time, I certainly might have figured the Beatle and Petty connections alone could shift several units, not to mention interest from all the casual music fans who’d kept an eye on his post-ELO career trajectory.

Having said that, I would have also splurged a bit for more posters in music shops and subways, or at least, some decent music videos.

I suppose the idea of letting primitive computer art students take control of the first single’s video wasn’t all bad, but when it became apparent that this was no Peter Gabriel- or (to a lesser musical extent, but no lesser video extent) Gloria Estefan exercise, why in God’s name they decided to reprise the idea for the second single’s video is beyond me. It’s easy to say in 2009 that they’re frustrating to watch, but I can say even as a kid only eight years of age in 1990, I probably would’ve started channel surfing for “Inspector Gadget.” 

Better videos certainly could have snagged him younger fans, but the older ones still have no excuse for not picking up on the record. Both “Every Little Thing” and “Lift Me Up” are glorious songs that stand just as tall as anything Lynne ever wrote for ELO or with anyone else, and “Nobody Home” and “Blown Away” both have simple charms about them that enhance their catchiness and worm their way into the listener’s brain.

Lynne’s covers of “September Song” and “Stormy Weather,” which he dedicated to his late mother are also surprisingly well done considering he delivers them in a very 1990 Jeff Lynne manner as opposed to trying to sound overtly retro. What’s more, both tunes feature some excellent slide work by Harrison.

Only in the uncomfortable stab at eastern-ness of “Now You’re Gone” and the lamentable Earth Day-styled message of “Save Me Now” does the album take horribly detrimental turns, but even so, two stinkers out of 11 tracks isn’t a bad ratio album at all. Hell, if you get that kind of ratio on an album today you automatically go to the top of Spin or Pitchfork’s year end best of list, don’t you?

Maybe Warner was more excited from the imminent Traveling Wilburys follow-up (which also performed less impressively than its predecessor, but still a lot better than Armchair Theatre). Lynne’s solo adventure topped out on the US charts at number 83.

In 2005, rumors circulated of a possible 15th anniversary Legacy Edition-styled rerelease, but even then no record company figured there was enough interest in the long-since buried album to resurrect it. The good news is you can shell out for used copies at Amazon.

Of course the Traveling Wilburys’ rereleases the next year were a huge hit. And Jeff’s production of Tom Petty’s Highway Companion was also revered. 

But I don’t know, I’m still listening to “Every Little Thing” wondering what the hell everyone else missed.

I don’t get it.