Archive for May, 2009

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Look what you did to me, baby.

May 26, 2009

I must say, WordPress is kind of daunting with that daily statistics graphic. It makes you feel bad about taking a long weekend and not blogging, cos you see the numbers just drop off. And I just imagine all you readers coming by and going “Nothing… still?!” Caramba. Well let’s see if we can’t start pulling that line up again.

In a bit of a bored stupor last week, I started killing time on YouTube and watching old Michael Jackson videos. There’s something kind of reassuring about Michael Jackson videos — not those long-ass mini-movies like “Thriller” (I know, I know, it’s sacreligious to say anything bad about that video and album), “Smooth Criminal,” “Ghosts” and all that, but seeing “Billie Jean,” “Black or White” and “Leave Me Alone” again was kind of cool and reminded me of the guy’s power before he started getting a little too content telling people how much he loved children.

And then for the first time, I actually watched the “You Rock My World” video from 2001. I know it was pretty inescapable that year, as an all out media campaign was launched to reestablish Michael as some great musical force, but — “You Rock My World” aside — Invincible was sh*t, and the public took a look at Michael and decided they didn’t really feel comfortable looking at him anymore.

I never watched the full video in college because it was another 15-minute affair, and frankly there were better things for me to do then sit in front of a TV to try appreciating the thing.

Plus it was just awkward to try to watch it. Michael and Chris Tucker “ooooh”-ing after girls for the first minute and looking at this guy and thinking, “Really? He’s gonna get one of those girls?” I mean watch this at the 1:14 mark, where Michael goes into the little girlish “Oh my God, Chris…” routine. This is the same guy who was spouting off about how bad he was 14 years prior.

And aside from following this girl into a club to try to impress her with his dance moves, why does he smash the bar up? Why even get Marlon Brando for that part? Why does he beat the hell out of all these mobster thugs and then scream for Chris Tucker like a little girl when a paltry little fire starts? WTF?

At any rate, the song is much more enjoyable without visual accompaniment. And the single mix is even better, because it drops that whole dialogue between Michael and Chris talking about how Michael can or cannot get the girl the song is apparently about.

Michael Jackson – You Rock My World (Single Mix)

And 10 bucks says he maybe does one of the 1,000 shows or whatever her promised in London later this year. Maybe one. Maybe.

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It’s just like the ocean under the moon.

May 21, 2009

CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR

smooth

Santana (feat. Rob Thomas) – Smooth
From Supernatural

I can remember the first time I heard “Smooth.” It was early in the summer of 1999, and my family was making its way north from the Chicago suburbs to our cottage in Wisconsin’s north woods. We never really listened to radio on these trips — mostly because in driving long distances, we were only able to hold onto a station for 45 minutes to an hour, but moreso because my sister and I always prepared for road trips by carrying with us a host of cassettes or CDs to dissuade my father from resorting to his Steely Dan or Jethro Tull compilations. Although my opinion on the Dan has grown more favorable as I’ve aged, I still don’t like Tull. It’s just the way it is.

Anyway, I had been sleeping for a few hours of the journey, but somewhere around Oshkosh, I woke up and surveyed the area to determine where we were and how much further we had to go. Seeing we were in Oshkosh was a disappointment. Sure, it was pretty much the halfway point for the journey, but it still meant another two to three hours until we reached our destination.

I think the real reason I woke up is because I heard my dad eject my sister’s cassette from the car’s player, and relieved at the thought of not having to endure an hour’s worth of Janet Jackson singles, I started flipping through my traveling music library. In the meantime, the radio played this Latin-sounding track with a somewhat dark undertone to it. My ears perked up when the song came to the “And if you said this life ain’t good enough…”  bridge. I love a good bridge. Always have. Hardest part of the song to master, I think, so if you can muster a good one, you almost immediately have my respect.

Nevertheless, the radio was kind of crackly, so I wasn’t able to put my finger on the voice singing the song. Not interested in waiting through another few songs to hear the DJ reveal the artist’s identity, I reached for a Paul Weller CD and handed it up to my dad. 

If I’d only waited. You see, I’d spent the previous two years uncertain of a lot of things in my life (I was a teenager, after all), but one thing I was absolutely sure of was the fact that I hate, HATE, HATED Matchbox 20. I hated their name, I hated every note I heard from them since I first listened to “Push,” I hated their look, I hated their unceremonious aspirations to sound middle of the road, and I pinned everything on the slightly psychotic looking Rob Thomas. 

I also hated the fact that the girl I was dating at the time loved them.

What this meant was that anytime “Push,” “3 a.m.” or “Real World” poured forth from the radio or MTV, I turned to whoever else was in the room or immediate vicinity and began a pointed diatribe about why Matchbox 20 was precisely wrong with music in this day and age.

When I returned home after the week long trip up north, I was hanging out with some friends and “Smooth” came on the radio. 

“Ah!” I exclaimed. “I heard this one on the radio last week. This is a good tune!”

“I thought you hated this guy, Paul?” one of my friends said.

“How could I hate this guy? I just heard this song the other day. I don’t even know who it is.”

“It’s Rob Thomas.”

“Aww ffffffffffffffffffffffffff*ck.”

Bad enough to openly admit I dug something associated with Rob Thomas, the song proceeded to climb to unbelievable heights in the pop music stratosphere and pretty much establish itself as the dominating force on radio, television and in the general public consciousness for the next four months. Every time the video showed up on MTV or VH1, it was like a recurring kick in my gut. It’s not that my friends pointed and laughed at me for admitting I liked it — hell, everyone liked the song. It was just that I had to live with myself for admitting I liked something associated with Rob Thomas (and worse still, continuing to enjoy the song, albeit on a far lesser level). Rob Thomas. That goofy idiot in the video alternating between a completely superfluous cowboy hat and pulling ridiculous faces during an impromptu street performance in Spanish Harlem that somehow inspires everyone to go out and dance on black asphalt despite the obviously sweltering heat. That Rob Thomas…

Of course, “Smooth” wasn’t really about Rob, despite the fact that he co-wrote it. The song and it’s popularity had a lot more to do with Carlos Santana and the groundwork laid up to that point endearing American audiences to Latino music.

Sure Marc Anthony had had some success. Enrique Iglesias enjoyed even more. And Ricky Martin? Forget about it. But while “Livin’ La Vida Loca” can still bring back nauseating memories for many a white man unable to dance, the Ricky Martin album had nothing on Santana’s Supernatural. 

 

Featuring not only a collaboration with Thomas, but also “duets” with Everlast, Dave Matthews, Wyclef, Lauryn Hill and Eagle-Eye Cherry, the album was a veritable celebration of ’90s music at large. What’s more, it prompted the same enthusiastic response from people who’d loved “Black Magic Woman” 20-odd years prior and were now parents to the budding Dave Matthews and Matchbox 20 superfans.

Finally! An album that could bring the two generations together! Sure, talk about safe sex was still too difficult of a subject to broach and lord only knew why junior decided to dye his hair blue and then cut it like that, but he liked Santana! Just like his old man did all those years before! 

To give you an idea of just how inescapably huge this album was, my Spanish teacher that year actually played it in class while we did workbook assignments. First off, this guy was a football coach and one of the most intimidating physical presences of any of the staff Willowbrook High School. Second off, he seemed to not like anyone enjoying themselves in his class if they weren’t able to conjugate irregular verbs. He actually once made an example of me in class because I was having difficulty with the present participle. 

“You mad that I’m singling you out in front of everybody, niño?” he asked.

“I, I–” I stammered, not so much mad as just hoping to hell one of my classmates would raise their hand and say the right goddamn form of the verb.

“I don’t need more friends, niño,” he continued. “I have enough.”

OK, that kind of bothered me. Not that I wanted to be his friend, but that was just an arrogant thing to say.

Yet there he was playing Santana, and not minding the fact that all the girls in his class were grooving in their seats to “Maria, Maria” and “Smooth” while all a bunch of idiot boys professed their undying admiration for Everlast during “Put Your Lights On.”

The thing I found ironic about all of it is that despite the much ballyhooed Latin explosion of the late 1990s, all it really amounted to was a momentary appreciation of Latin rhythms and a handful of artists of Latin descent. “Bailamos” had a Spanish title, but English lyrics, and at the end of the day, it was just a sappy a piece of crap as “My Heart Will Go On.” “Livin’ La Vida Loca” had a Spanish title, but simplistic English lyrics about a crazy girl that could have been cribbed from any old blues song. Supernatural became a phenomenon, but people only really paid attention to the songs sang by white boys or hip hop artists. 

Which, all added up, only makes me that much more blown away by the success of “La Bamba” in the 1950s, for God’s sake.

But the song’s biggest redeeming quality (aside from that killer bridge) is that it started to break Matchbox 20’s back. Even the band’s biggest singles prior to “Smooth” proved not to be a patch on the track’s popularity, and sure, they had a few hits afterward — “Bent” and “Unwell” come to mind — but again, nothing on par with the impact of “Smooth.”

I’ll be honest, I still laugh very hard to myself thinking about the band’s bassist watching the video for “Smooth” for 300th time in 1999 and bitterly muttering, “F*cker…” as he wonders to himself why Rob couldn’t just have saved that idea for the band.

As it went with so many hits of the 1990s, the continual audio and visual bombardment ended up testing too many people’s patience. Teenagers went back to their Fatboy Slim CDs and dyed their hair different colors. Their parents went back to their Carly Simon and Steely Dan records and wondered if junior’s continual need to change his hair color might necessitate a prescription for Ritalin, if not Prozac.

But hearing the song again is kind of refreshing 10 years later. Even if it does make me have to face Rob again. I tell you, if it weren’t for that bridge…  

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They like to “oooh,” they like to “ahhh.”

May 20, 2009

Longtime readers of the blog will know my unwavering reverence for Johnny Marr, who is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life, someone who deserves a lot of credit for changing the way people think about the guitar and also delivers great and insightful interviews without fail, be it on radio, video or in print.

One of my favorite interviews which highlights all three points came in the BBC series, “The Story of the Guitar,” in which he discussed his style of playing and what influenced his own writing (and also treats us to some lovely performance on a lovely Rickenbacker):

Marr has always been quick to point out his influences, which I find really cool for a guy that tends to be pointed out as an original or individual.

And how astonishing is it that two songs from hugely different eras essentially gave birth to what would become another era’s staple and one of the most well-known guitar riffs of all time? That’s some fantastic math if I do say so myself.

 

Bo Diddley – Mona (I Need You Baby)

+ Hamilton Bohannon – Disco Stomp

____________________________

The Smiths – How Soon is Now?

 

The songs, respectively, can be found on Bo Diddley: The Definitive Collection, Essential Dancefloor Artists Vol. 4, and (much to the chagrin of Smiths purists) Meat is Murder

 

And for anyone else who thinks the Hamilton Bohannon track seems a tad out of place, listen to “Barbarism Begins at Home” on Meat is Murder. The influence found its way into a few of Johnny’s creations, methinks.

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And I feel them drown my name.

May 19, 2009

Hello again. Did everyone have a nice weekend? I sure hope so.

Way back in 2000, when I was starting my senior year at Willowbrook High School I had a Spanish class with my good friend and dearly departed musical compatriot, Brian. We’d usually spend the class talking about music or how much smarter we were than everyone else until the teacher told us to shut up and asked us to say things using irregular verbs and participles and crap like that.

Anyway, one day he was talking to me about wanting to check out Jeff Buckley’s Grace. I hadn’t yet heard it myself — remember that I was only about 18 years of age and coming out of high school. Grace is a bit more for the college crowd. But a lot of the older music snobs that worked with me at the book store had the album and would go on about how amazing it was in a kind of tone that said, “We are ever SO enlightened and privileged to understand the depths of this record.” It always kind of annoyed me — even though Brian and I were essentially doing the same thing in Spanish class.

So anyway, Brian tells me he wants to get Grace.

“Ah, you’re just saying that,” I retort. “Everyone says they’re gonna get that album after they read some list in Rolling Stone, but no one does.”

Well, he went out two weeks later and bought the damn album. And then had to remind me of what I’d said (“Remember how you said I wouldn’t get it? Remember?” etc.) Not wanting him to join the elevated conversations of Jeff Buckleydom with people like my coworkers without me, I ran to Best Buy and got myself a copy.

I liked some of it at first, but I’ll be honest — it took me a lot of continuous play to really get into the album as a whole.

By just a month into my freshman year of college, however, I was hooked. The album spun incessantly, I’d purchased Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk and the Live at Sin-E EP, and was devouring David Browne’s “Dream Brother.”

Then a funny thing happened. Everyone started getting into Jeff Buckley. 9/11 took place and they started using “Hallelujah” in commercials slowing the slow-motion footage of the makeshift memorial events at Ground Zero. “Shrek” came out and used Rufus Wainwright’s less appealing version of the song, which sent every  music snob running for his CD collection after the movie to show his girlfriend how the song should really sound. “Hallelujah” was also used on the season finale of “The West Wing” that year.

“Vanilla Sky” came out and as Cameron Crowe often does, he foisted his CD collection upon all of us, and had Tom Cruise emphatically insist that Penelope Cruz play Jeff Buckley, and we all got a snippet of “Last Goodbye” in that confusing-ass movie which still poses metaphysical dilemmas for me if I think about it too much.

Buckley was everywhere. He’d only been dead about five years, but now he was just like this original beacon for this new wave of falsetto plod-rock bands like Travis and Coldplay.

And Jeff’s mom started to realize she wanted to share as much as she could with Jeff’s growing legion of fans.

In the years since Jeff’s death in 1997, we’ve received Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, the “Everybody Here Wants You” EP, a boxed repacking of the singles pulled from Grace, Songs to No One — the pre-Grace demos Buckley recorded with Gary Lucas, the live Mystery White Boy album, the “Live in Chicago” DVD, So Real — a collection of Buckley’s “greatest hits,” a vinyl edition of Grace, a Legacy Edition of Live at Sin-E (with DVD), a legacy edition of Grace (with DVD) and wa-hey, look what’s coming now:

A visual version of Jeff Buckley‘s Grace album has been compiled to mark 15 years since the album’s release.
Featuring nine previously unreleased live versions of album tracks as performed on TV in the US, England, Germany, France and Japan including the title track on the BBC Late Show, “Last Goodbye” for MTV and “Lover You Should Have Come Over” performed acoustically.
‘Grace Around The World’ will be released on June 22 as a DVD/CD set as well as a deluxe version with also features an hour long documentary called ‘Amazing Grace’. The doc features interviews with the three surviving members of the Jeff Buckley Band, friends, family, colleagues, DJ’s, producers, critics and fans.
The CD features all ten album tracks live, with extensive liner notes.
Grace Around The World will be available as the following versions. Full tracklistings are as follows:
STANDARD VERSION – DVD + CD (2-disc digipak with 16 page booklet)
DELUXE VERSION – 2 DVD + CD (DVD digipak with 24 page booklet, 2-sided fold-out poster, backstage laminate, tour announcement press release, tour dates postcard and three photo print postcards)
CD: GRACE AROUND THE WORLD
1. Grace (BBC Late Show, London, 1/17/95)
2. So Real (Live Aus Dem Sudbahnhof tv, Frankfurt, Germany, 2/24/95)
3. Mojo Pin (Live Aus Dem Sudbahnhof tv, Frankfurt, Germany, 2/24/95)
4. What Will You Say (Live Aus Dem Sudbahnhof tv, Frankfurt, Germany, 2/24/95)
5. Hallelujah (MTV Japan, 1/31/95)
6. Dream Brother (Howlin Wolf, New Orleans, 12/2/94)
7. Eternal Life (MTV’s Most Wanted, London, 3/3/95)
8. Last Goodbye (MTV’s Most Wanted, London, 3/3/95)
9. Lover You Should Have Come Over (JBTV Chicago, 11/8/94)
10. Lilac Wine (MTV Europe, Eurokeenes Festival, Belfort, France, 7/9/95)
11. Grace (MTV’s 120 Minutes, USA, 01/15/95)
12. So Real (MTV’s 120 Minutes, USA, 01/15/95)
DVD: GRACE AROUND THE WORLD
Visual version, same track listing as CD.

Source: Uncut

You know what was so great about Grace? The fact that it was a total one-off. Aside from the original 4-song Sin-E EP and a few singles from the album, that was all that Jeff gave us during his lifetime. You don’t listen to it for the first time and go “Wow. Perfect album.” But you do listen to it again. And then again. And then again. And somewhere around the 16th listen, when you’ve looked a little more into his life and realize that the album essentially is his lone testament to the music business, THEN you go “Wow. Perfect album.”

Now I’m not saying the post-mortem releases have been a bunch of hogwash. Even though Buckley planned on scratching the studio material he recorded for My Sweetheart the Drunk, some of the stuff is phenomenal, and I’m glad we got it. Both the Legacy Editions of Sin-E and Grace gave us stuff that we wouldn’t have had otherwise (“Be Your Husband,” “Night Flight” and the studio cut of “Forget Her” come immediately to mind). The “Live in Chicago” DVD was fabulous. But how many live or acoustic versions of the Grace stuff do we need? At what point does the continual stream of 2Pac-like deathly prolificacy become too much and borderline perverse?

What, I ask, is so wrong with leaving it to one perfect album and letting the fans go mining for the rare or bootleg material and sharing it amongst themselves? Doesn’t that foster the legend more appropriately?

Maybe it’s just me, but every time there’s a “new” Jeff Buckley album celebrating 15-year old live performances, part of me feels an ill wind blow off the Mississippi River.

Jeff Buckley – Grace

And here’s the only live version of “Last Goodbye” you really need to see or hear.

 

 

 

 

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Some people complain.

May 15, 2009

My mom has this tick.

I think it spawns from the fact that she’s a mother of two and aunt of 14. I’m the oldest of all of them, so in her eyes, we’re all perennially young.

If she ever hears someone mention the word “f*ck,” she tenses up and then gives a stern glare, demanding to know what exactly the offending speaker just said.

This made family movie nights at our house a bit tense if the stray word found it’s way into even a PG-13 movie growing up, but I’ll never forget an extended family get together where someone plugged Good Will Hunting into the VCR. No one had ever seen the movie and it was years before TNT, TBS, Lifetime, A&E, Oxygen and umpteen other channels put it into syndication after heavy editing. So the amount of times “f*ck,” or variations on it, poured fourth from the TV that night was enough to leave my mother hitting the table until she could take it no more and turned the movie off altogether after about 45 minutes. Somedays I’m surprised we even made it that far. Although I’ve personally been to Boston in my lifetime, it’s safe to say there were never any family trips there. And even if there were vague plans, that movie probably killed them on the spot.

I, however, use the word with a bit of frequency. I can censor myself in situations of course, but with my teenage years spent devouring Oasis interviews, there was absolutely no way it wouldn’t find it’s way into my vocabulary with utter frequency.

But even with as old as I am now and the fact that it’s been eight years since I lived at home, I still cannot say the word around my mother. What’s more, if I’m in her presence and a movie, show or song comes on that drops the F-bomb, I tense up in anticipation of her whacking a table and demanding I either turn the channel or turn it off altogether. Even if I’m alone and I hear the word said on TV or radio by anyone other than Liam or Noel Gallagher (who don’t get a pass because I’m a fan, but because I honestly don’t think they can say three sentences without using the word), I tense up.

Where the word comes from? No one can seem to say.The Oxford English Dictionary says the etymology is uncertain, but it is “probably cognate” with old Germanic words meanings anything from striking and rubbing to having sex.

My favorite use of the word has not come in movies, shows or any kind of popular culture, but at the hands of two people. One being my great friend, John, who spat a venemous “F*cking sh*t!” after unwittingly resting his arm in a puddle of spilled milk in the cafeteria during high school. The other came at college when I was a safety patroller. My partner and I were taking a break on a frigid night, he stirred himself a cup of hot chocolate. When he went to put the lid on the cup, he applied too much pressure (you lose sense of little things like that when your fingers are frozen from walking around for 4 hours on a Milwaukee winter night) and the cup tipped toward him, pouring hot chocolate all over his clothes. “MOTHERF*CK!” he exclaimed. I think I laughed so hard because he didn’t add the “-er.”

But regardless, the word is pretty funny when used effectively. Case in point being why any version of “My Cousin Vinny” you see on basic cable isn’t going to be as funny as the original, unedited version. Take this scene, for instance, my favorite of the movie.

However, I often find myself surprised at how unnatural the word sounds in rock and roll songs. It’s a very rock and roll word, to be sure, but when it’s used in songs it just seems to be in there for the purpose of “Whoo, look at me! I went and said it!” It’s not to say that I don’t respect John Lennon for dropping it in “Working Class Hero,” but then again, I also think Lennon put it in there for the kick. Now, most people who do put it in songs (and I’m excluding rap here, because I think a lot of rap music just incorporates the word into natural flows) put it in for the kick, but there are few songs that use the word in a way that make me not think, “Ah, you went for the easy shock” instead of “That’s actually the only word that fits.”

But that’s not to say there aren’t times when I believe its use is very well played, and for this month’s Friday Five, we celebrate the “right on” moments when rockers drop the F-bomb.

Infinite cool points if you get this reference.

Infinite cool points if you get this reference.

The Friday Five
F*ck.

 

Arctic Monkeys – Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts
I still say this B-side is miles better than its A-side, “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” despite the fact that that was the song that shot the Sheffield quartet into superstardom. Alex Turner is probably the best writer out there talking about the inbuilt frustration of young love and school yard crushes, because he’s still at an age where he’s not too far detached from it (even though he’s probably raking in much more than the rest of his graduating class). Check “Despair in the Departure Lounge,” “No Buses” and “The Bakery” for evidence of perfectly articulating the feelings we were all experiencing as teenagers, but this one I can almost relate to better than any of the others. Ah, the inherent problems of falling in love with girls out of your league and far more prone to date complete dickheads, and the unbelievable frustration that drives you to call her derogatory things as she skips class to go and mess around with said dickhead. “But she’s not nice — she’s pretty f*cking far from nice” indeed.

Black Grape – Shake Your Money
Everything about Shaun Ryder comes at you like a drunken and ill-tempered bull. The guy’s got enough heft to be physically intimidating, a history of drug-intake that would probably put a combined group of Betty Ford graduates to shame and the ability to spout off some of the most left field Mancunian gobbledygook you’ll ever hear, albeit with a few absolutely genius turns of phrases tucked in amongst the madness. Certainly “f*ck” was showing up on Ryder-led records dating back to the Happy Mondays’ seminal 1980s output, but it was on Black Grape’s 1995 debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah where Ryder truly found the inspired musical backing (and rapping help from Kermit) to give his lyrics the added edge. On paper, “You’re a bleeding motherf*cker now, aren’t you? Go bleed in a different place” just looks crass. But given the right musical backing it sounds as triumphant as, well, “Put down your fist and ‘it ‘im with a shovel!” Eh, I can’t explain the genius of it — just listen. He’s not dropping the word several times here for the shock. He’s saying it because there is no other adjective to use.

Jon Brion – Walking Through Walls
I’m probably more biased about Jon Brion than anyone else on this list, simply because I believe any record this guy puts his hands on as a producer is automatically improved by his musical sense. And when it’s him alone? Forget it. You can’t lose. This is one of the best cuts from his little-known 2001 LP Meaningless and the fact that it sounds like a White Album-era Paul McCartney piano pounder certainly appeals to me, but the brilliance of having his backing vocal parts mutter “motherf*cker…” after he sings “Get out of my way…” always, always, always puts a smile on my face. This is my favorite use of the F-word in a song, ever. And it’s done in such a way that the listener could even miss it if they’re not devoting at least a little attention.

Old 97’s – Over the Cliff
I respect the hell out of Jon Langford. I’ve interviewed him, hung out with him and even got bleary-eyed drunk with him and Ian McLagan a few years ago. Since his days with the Mekons, Jon’s been writing and singing some pointed lyrics, but it’s really when he decided to topple mainstream popular American country music in the mid 1990s — by channeling the spirits of Hank Williams, early Johnny Cash, Bob Wills and other American giants by leading the alt-country movement at Chicago’s Bloodshot Records — that he started to get really good. The Old 97’s were briefly labelmates, releasing 1995’s grossly underrated Wreck Your Life on Bloodshot and covering Langford’s “Over the Cliff” (and even employing him to drop the “Assh*le!” exclamation in the fourth verse). But where Langford’s version of this song delivers audible bile, the 97’s attack it like a bunch of drunken 20-somethings from the outskirts of Dallas. The young, still bespectacled Rhett Miller doesn’t just spit out “Success on someone else’s terms don’t mean a f*ckin’ thing” — he means it.

Paul Weller – Come On/Let’s Go
The second single from Weller’s 2005 album As Is Now is kind of a strange forum for an F-bomb, in that 1.) it’s a single and 2.) it’s actually a song that is quite celebratory and encouraging. But then again, if the sentiment of it equates to “f*ck yeah,” then why not say as much? Weller’s used the word in a handful of songs dating back to his days with the Jam, but this is probably the most effective use — listen to the way he pronounces the offending word when he sings, “Sing you little f*ckers, sing like you’ve got no choice.” Suffice to say, when he does this live, everyone is singing along. Although I’ve wondered if this usage veers more towards the kick than being able to find a better word, I think Weller’s energy here really makes it the only word. “Bastards” wouldn’t fit, wouldn’t it? And as my friend Umaar said yesterday, Weller’s unquestionably a guy that can pull off saying “f*ck” in a song.

And go on then, what songs with F-bombs do you particularly fancy?

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I never felt more like crying all night.

May 13, 2009

Still in the process of bringing a few of the series from the old blog over to these new digs, and while I’m not sure “The Fantastic 45s” will become a monthly staple anymore (likely to be replaced on the monthly clock by “Confessions of a ’90s Survivor”), that doesn’t mean the celebration of 7-inchers (minds out of the gutters, please) should be abandoned either.

I recently stumbled across this 45, and grabbed it because I knew and loved the A-side, but had absolutely no idea who the hell Guy Mitchell was, let alone that he drove this song to the top of the charts at the end of 1956 for a 9-week run. Crikey, that’s almost two months!

My introduction to “Singing the Blues” came many moons ago when I acquired a copy of Paul McCartney’s MTV Unplugged album, where he closed the set with a spirited rendition of this tune (dig the fab whistling interlude). 

But the song was written many years prior by Melvin Endsley and also enjoyed popularity in versions from Tommy Steele and Marty Robbins. In fact, a lot of purists detested the spin Mitchell put on the song, saying the fluffy pop backing compromised the classic country feel that Robbins was able to give the song. You know, like how *NSYNC totally cut the “real” legs out of from Alabama with their version of “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You.” Or maybe not at all like that. Because that song sucks no matter who’s doing it. And “Singing the Blues” is fabulous.

Turns out Detroit-native Mitchell, who was actually born Albert Cernik, found his way into singing in the 1940s, but failed to make a big splash anywhere until Columbia Records executive Mitch Miller took notice of Al around 1950. Taking to heart the importance of a name that lights up a marquee (or maybe just really not fond of Croatian surnames), Miller insisted Guy change his name. The popular story of the how Albert Cernik transforms to Guy Mitchell goes as such: Miller tells Cernik,”My name is ‘Mitchell’ and you seem a nice ‘guy’, so we’ll call you Guy Mitchell.” I haven’t been able to verify that Cernik punched Miller right in the face after he said that, but I still believe it had to have happened.

Nevertheless, Mitchell found success in the charts and (as many of stars of the time did) movies, although the fact that he sounded like so many other stars of the time (read: Elvis Presley) probably doomed his staying power and quickly got him lost in the mix. Which is why when I saw this 45, I asked out loud to no one in particular: “Who the f*ck is Guy Mitchell?”

Well, now I know he had at least one good single to his name.

240338

 

The Fantastic 45s

Guy Mitchell
“Singing the Blues” b/w “Crazy With Love”
Columbia, 1956 

Guy Mitchell – Singing the Blues
Resist the urge at all costs to stop the song immediately upon hearing the questionable whistle/vocal bass intro, because the fact is this song is actually pretty great if you just let it keep playing. Sure, it’s simple and the “aw, shucks”-ness of it all is almost painful, but keep listening and be awed at how insanely catchy this song is and how it stays stuck in your head for hours after listening. Mitchell’s delivery is great, even if the last “Well!” is a bit overexcited, and since I first heard Macca’s version many moons ago, I’ve always thought the “Why shouldn’t I go? ‘Cause I couldn’t stay without you…” line was just brilliant.

Guy Mitchell – Crazy With Love
Not to be confused with the similarly titled Beyonce song from a few years ago, but this song could easily be confused with any number of early Elvis hits like “Teddy Bear” or “All Shook Up.” Guy remains enthusiastic about throwing a “Well!” or forty into the song, and the “Hey sugar! Come ‘ere sweetie! You’re my baby!” intro is also kind of off kilter, but like “Singing the Blues” (albeit to a far lesser extent) this song still carries a hell of a lot of charm. Lyrics are pretty weak, though. Comparing “just gotta have you for me” to fish in the sea and birdie in the tree. I mean neither of those are exclusive relationships, are they? There’s more than one fish in the sea and there are more than one bird in the tree (and I know because they’re all taking dumps on my car parked underneath), so the “you for me” thing doesn’t really work. Unless it’s polygamous. He also refers to his heart spinning. Do hearts spin? I know heads spin. Ah well. Still a good B-side.

Both cuts can now be found on 16 Most Requested Songs. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There’s more than one way to skin a cat, you know.

May 12, 2009

I find myself conflicted at the moment. It’s a thought I’ve been harboring for a while, but I always thought, “It’s just because you’re in a silly mood now, dear boy, listen to this in the proper light of day and it will all make sense.”

It hasn’t and I don’t think it ever will.

I’m ready to officially name another one of life’s great mysteries.

Why is it that Nancy Sinatra’s pop hits — post “Boots” and before the whole foreboding psychedelic stuff with Lee Hazelwood — make straight guys feel gay despite a run of arguably some of the sexiest album covers ever?

I just don’t get it.

Now, you can’t deny “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” Seriously. It’s pop perfection. Killer bassline, and a delivery that says, “Oooh, you screwed up dude. You had me, I’m the sh*t and now your smarter, less lippy friend is gonna be rockin’ this.” Plus it comes in a package bearing this artwork.

bootsRockin’, right? Totally. It’s the reason I bought Emma Bunton’s Free Me album. Great tunes, awesome packaging, can’t beat it. But actually, the rest of the Boots album is cack. So people started thinking the single might be something of a novelty, but what the hell — she looked good (if slightly lacking in rhythm) singing it on TV, and I’d imagine there must have been some kind of excitement in ogling Frank Sinatra’s daughter.

But then the general thought seemed to become, “Hmmm. There are a few different chords in ‘Boots.’ We can rearrange them, keep a strong bassline, and get another hit!” This is where the problem really starts. Where “Boots” verged on cheesiness, the tune was solid enough to give Nancy the benefit of the doubt and the album cover to this day forgives a lot of sins. But “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?” verged on cheesiness and then stumbled right into it like a girl at a frat party who’s let the boys mix too many of her drinks.

Nancy Sinatra – How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?

As much as this song makes me feel like I’m in the midst of some European sailor bar’s playlist, I do really like the thought of Lee Hazlewood in the control room stroking his chin and nodding. And then sniggering his ass off that he got Frank Sinatra’s daughter to sing, “Don’t come looking for your pussycat, ‘cos I won’t be here no how.” And on a record for her father’s label to boot.

But perhaps knowing she could get caught pulling a fast one on the public, Nancy upped the sexy ante for the artwork and surpassed the Boots cover by showing just the right amount of skin for How Does That Grab You?

 

nancy20sinatra20how20does20that20grab20you

Then things got exponentially campier. Realizing “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” could only be turned so many different sideways, Nancy’s tunesmiths knocked together something a bit different, although with a bubblegum hook and limited enough range to guarantee another innocently sexy delivery.

But “Sugar Town” takes you out of the European sailor’s bar and puts you right in Bruce Vilanch’s rec room.

Nancy Sinatra – Sugar Town

But with the music going in an ever more questionable direction, Nancy busted out the clevage for the Sugar artwork and basically gave listeners a Maxim cover 30-odd years before the magazine even existed.

lp.sugar

Her left hand lets you know where things are going if the music should leave Vilanch’s rec room for more rainbow-colored pastures still, so it’s no surprise that Daddy stepped in at this point and did the “Somethin’ Stupid” duet with her. He probably had a word with Lee too — threatening a little bit of ring-a-ding-ding for that bozo if his daughter’s music direction didn’t take a sharp left turn. So, see, the out-there-ness of “Some Velvet Morning” really is explainable.

But for as bodacious as mid-1960s Nancy is, why do I feel so questionable for listening to those songs? It’s so alarming. They’re good enough to make me not want to remove them from my computer, but bad enough to make me pray my guests don’t scroll through the iTunes library and the next get together at my place.

And if there’s anymore question that Nancy is out to totally confuse every one of her male admirers, she waited almost 30 years AFTER the “Sugar” cover shot to pose for Playboy.

Morrissey’s one of her biggest fans. That’s the last I’m gonna say about it.