Archive for June, 2011

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All is good and nothing else is dead.

June 30, 2011

CONFESSIONS OF A ’90s SURVIVOR

The Wallflowers – One Headlight
From: Bringing Down the Horse

I recently read an interview with Keith Richards that Rolling Stone magazine did in 1988 prior to the release of his debut solo album, Talk is Cheap. In it, the interviewer finagled Keith’s opinions on a wide variety of musicians. Keith mentions he likes Ziggy Marley, and describes one of many of Bob’s offspring thusly: “Ziggy Marley I find very interesting because he’s not just ‘the son of,’ He’s avoided being, I hate to say this, Julian.”

Immediately my mind turned to 1996, Bringing Down the Horse, and the Wallflowers, or as you might remember them, Bob Dylan’s son and some other dudes.

OK, I feel a little guilty for writing that. I have a very dear friend who rates the Wallflowers highly and citing someone as the “son of” immediately belittles their own contribution to the musical landscape, suggesting that the only reason they made any dent whatsoever is because of the weight behind their surname.

But if I were to ask you how many Wallflowers songs you could name, how many could you give me? Now if I pared that down further to “How many Wallflowers songs can you name NOT on Bringing Down the Horse, but on one of their four other studio albums?” how many could you give me?

I’m guessing the answer is slim to none. And that’s not me trying to pick a fight, Ben, I know you can probably name ‘em all.

But in the months that covered 1996 and 1997, the fact of the matter is that every biographical clip I saw on the band contained the fact that Jakob is Bob’s son, as if it was the biggest slice of “here’s something you might not know” cool information that year. Even the cover story that Rolling Stone did on Jakob in 1997 carried a picture of the young boy with his father.

Now, sure. The counterargument is, “Hey, the Wallflowers put out an album in 1992—Jakob was Bob’s son then and no one cared a bit.” Fair point. If the boys didn’t have some solid tunes to stand on, would the Dylan name mean anything at all? Probably not. Maybe it would give you some better club gigs than the average Joes trying to get bar gigs any night of the week, but you’ve got to have a cracking tune to top three different Billboard charts for a combined total of 15 weeks, don’t you?

I say this. You’ve got to have a cracking tune to top the charts for two to three weeks. Anything extra is driven by extracurricular interest in the band, and let’s face it, Jakob being Bob’s son and carrying his own set of gravelly, talk/sing pipes added an interesting element for sustained interest.

Interscope Records, for their part, put up a lot of cash for Bringing Down the Horse to reach the heights that it did, too. Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and Counting Crow Adam Duritz both feature on “6th Avenue Heartache” (which, for my money was always the Wallflowers’ best tune), Michael Penn drops in on “Angel on My Bike” and the solo on “One Headlight” is played by none other than Jon Brion.

I’ve talked before about the “this is all up for grabs” aspect of the top of the charts in the 1990s, and so for “One Headlight” to be popular, you must remember it was sharing equal air time on MTV in that stretch with the likes of Hanson, the Spice Girls, Savage Garden and U2. Maybe it was the working man’s rock preference to the other popular music of the era, and certainly a lot of people bought into it (I remember buying my copy of Bringing Down the Horse at a shopping mall during our 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. – who needs souvenirs from the National Treasury?), but there always seemed to be a reticence by the general public to buy into the Wallflowers full stop. After all, we all had bought into Hootie two years prior, and look how that ended up. But even with as much as “One Headlight” incessantly played on radio, MTV and VH1, I was always surprised at how few people really seemed to be actual fans of the song, much less the band.

For example:

Classmate when I made my purchase at the D.C. shopping mall: “Oh is that the one with the song about the engine turning, but the engine doesn’t turn? I like that song.”

Friend at a fast food place when ‘One Headlight’ comes on over the sound system: “Oh, I like this one. This is the “Me ‘n’ Cinderella” song, right?”

A two-word title, a chart-topper on 3 different charts for 15 total weeks and you don’t know it’s called “One Headlight” … Really?

I also think “One Headlight” shirked complete audience buy-in because of the ambiguity in its lyrics. Undoubtedly a trait that had been passed on from father to son, there are a few things you can surmise from “One Headlight,” but a lot you can’t. Someone’s dead, is it a lover or the mother? The town the singer resides in apparently sucks, but he only thinks of leaving without actually doing it, and the chorus well, how does that fit in? There are plenty of people who’ll argue it shouldn’t matter, and the message is what you make of it, maaaaan, but for single geeks trying to deduce whether or not this was an appropriate inclusion on the mixtape for the girl they fancied, well… this was a dilemma.

Eventually the inescapability of the song wore everybody down, and the follow up singles, “Three Marlenas” and “The Difference” hung around for about two weeks apiece before bowing out. And once the Bringing Down the Horse wave ended, so too did the Wallflowers’ reign on mainstream America. Sure, they put out three albums in the ensuing years, and Jakob’s doing solo work now, but most people stopped paying attention. And I have a little theory about why.

Between 1988 and 1993, Bob Dylan released an album each year (with the exception of 1991), and in addition to both Traveling Wilburys records. After 1993, he went quiet for four years until 1997, when he put out “Time Out of Mind” and got himself a Grammy and all sorts of critical acclaim that he’s been riding ever since. In the gap between 1993 and 1997, “The Beatles Anthology” came out and stirred a nation’s collective hardcore reminiscence for the past. If you don’t think Oasis’ popularity stateside was helped by the timing of the Anthology, you’re delusional. So for Dylan to come back in fine form in 1997, well, all the sudden people remembered what a genius he’d been all along too. Sure Jakob was fine and all, but hey, Dad’s still making good music, so we’ll talk later, kid. And when did Time Out of Mind crop up? Right when Bringing Down the Horse receded.

A couple years ago I was at a friend’s house in Madison and we had some satellite music station on that was playing a solo cut by Jakob Dylan. When it came on, my friend identified the voice, but he was caught between trying to finish his sentence and minding a nacho platter he had in the oven. “Didn’t he used to be …” he started, trying to tie “in the Wallflowers” to the fact that he knew it was “Bob Dylan’s son.”

What came out was: “Didn’t he used to be Bob Dylan’s son?”

I just laughed.

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Summer ’92, I remember it clearly, when he choked on the olive in his dry martini.

June 9, 2011

Well, it’s that time of season again. Though the posts have dwindled year to year (I’ve decided I can’t be faulted for developing a life), the summer mix is always here. As it should be. What is summer without a good soundtrack? Just a bunch of hot days designed to make you bitch about heat, that’s what.

I know I’m in that nowhere land of posting a seasonal mix. Perhaps I should have had this ready for Memorial Day weekend, but then again at the time, the Chicago weather was dwindling in the 50s with a lot of rain, and it didn’t quite seem opportune to post then. By that Monday, there was a 40-degree jump and it seemed like summer wanted to make an early statement (the official start is still 12 days away, you know), but as schizophrenic as the weather’s been here, I thought I might as well do it now before the snow decides to make a brief encore (you can never be too sure) and put me off the mixing mood entirely.

This year’s mix goes a bit of a different route thematically. While this is still fabulous road trip or cookout music, it also shifts focus away from hot sunny days and beachside drinks and so on and so forth to the goings-on once the sun goes down. After all, it’s like that Scientologist and that “Physical” Aussie said in that ridiculous movie: “Oh, those summer nights!”

Again, this is not a strictly nighttime mix (seriously, it sounds great during any one of the 24 hours a day allots), but more than any of it’s four predecessors, this year’s summamix pays tribute to summer moon and all that happens underneath it. So, as Krusty the Clown once said (for some reason attributing it to former President Ike Eisenhower): “Let’s get bizzzay!”

summer is a mixtape. vol. V
The “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” fifth annual summer mix

DOWNLOAD PART 1 (Mediafire) (Tracks 1 – 10)
DOWNLOAD PART 2 (Mediafire) (Tracks 11 – 20)

01. The Charlie Steinmann Orchestra and Singers – It is Such a Good Night
I firmly believe that this song rests on different production studios’ shelves for moments when a writer or producer bursts through the door in a panic, going “We got a great comedy bit that we need some bossa nova type kitsch to soundtrack!” Boom. “It is Such a Good Night.” The answer every time. Where it comes from eludes me, the earliest debut my research turned up was an album called Stereo Explosion, but suffice to say, I’m not a Charlie Steinmann Orchestra and Singers-phile, so I failed to dig deeper. However, I think it works as a great opening to a summer mix and actually if this song makes you think of slinging meth around the shadier spots of Albuquerque, I salute your television taste.

02. Raphael Saadiq – Staying in Love
It’s pretty easy these days to point to Raphael Saadiq and say, “That guy’s pretty damn good.” Everyone knows that. What perplexes me is why more “R & B” acts don’t follow his template. Sure, he’s pilfering the Motown sound with more audacity than even Oasis pinched Beatles’ tunes, but when you do it this well, it’s pretty hard to cry foul. Maybe this song isn’t the perfect summer love song, but if it doesn’t stink of truth, then I’ll be damned. But even a hard truth goes down easy when it’s got a 4/4 pocket like this and a fabulous bassline. Check out the rest of 2008’s The Way I See It—it’s all just as good.

03. Harry Connick, Jr. – (I Could Only) Whisper Your Name
I remember when Connick’s 1994 album She came out, and my mother—who roundly enjoyed his career of easy listening piano ballads and big band throwbacks—got a bit taken aback by the updated “funky” sound Connick was producing. As I recall, the album didn’t do as well as others, but it wasn’t without its charms, namely this song and the title track. Even though the album drifted somewhat amiss, this song was saved and put onto the soundtrack for the Jim Carrey vehicle “The Mask,” which garnered it a little more time in the public consciousness, and with good reason. It’s a damn good tune, and I’ve enjoyed it since I was 11.

04. Peggy Lee – He’s a Tramp
For everyone who finds themselves in the proverbial dog pound this summer, here’s one for you from the “Lady and the Tramp” soundtrack. While this tune does well to turn my image of Peggy Lee into a rather spent Maltese who pops Lady’s vision of her man, it’s also got a warm sultry swing to it that—salacious innuendo aside—is pretty damn endearing. May all you Ladies find your Tramps this warm season.

05. Good Lovelies – Crabbuckit
I’ve only just discovered these Canadian lasses, and earlier this year when I ran a series on modern tunes that sound like old timey classics with Grandma Cyd of WSUM in Madison (not nearly enough of you participated in that, by the way, but I hope you enjoyed the music all the same), another track from this year’s Let the Rain Fall found its way into that mix. “Crabbuckit” actually cropped up on my iTunes as I was putting the album together and listening to it, I couldn’t help but think, “Yes. This would sound right at home on this mix.” Hopefully I raise a little American awareness for these girls and help coax them into a U.S. tour sometime. They’re quickly winning me over.

06. John Hiatt – The Open Road
I’ve  recently discovered Mr. Hiatt, thanks to his connection with Lyle Lovett, and every song that floats into my ear from this man sticks there like a good dinner would stick in my stomach. Satisfying, like. This song is the title track to his 2010 album of the same name (obviously), and it always entrances me. Bit of a daytime driving song than a “good night out” tune, but here’s one for the road trips for sure. I also appreciate that he calls the open road a “sonabitch.” I share the sentiment. I have even less kind feelings for a congested road, however.

07. Stereophonics – Have a Nice Day
The runaway hit (at least stateside) from the ‘Phonics’ 2001 album Just Enough Education to Perform. Within the track, the Welsh trio release their inner Beach Boys and while Kelly Jones’ leather voice is not quite reminiscent of Brian Wilson in his prime, the “ba-ba-da-ba-ba-ba-da-da-da” backing vocals and sunny backing track more than compensate. I have a Welsh friend who informs me that the land is not quite as bright and cheery as this song would suggest, so maybe it’s significant that Kelly would use the sunny backing to go awful on a San Franciscan trip. The lyrics aren’t actually all that bright and cheery, but it’s usually the chorus that sticks with you, doesn’t it? And how can you not enjoy a bit of this under the sun?

08. Liz Phair – Never Said
It’s interesting living in Chicago again and getting into discussions about Ms. Phair. If whitechocolatespaceegg didn’t get right up this city’s hipsters’ noses, then certain her highly sheened pop albums since 2003 have left many people more than scratching their heads. But talking to them, you’d think even Exile in Guyville was a knife in the city’s back … something that was theirs but then became consumable for the rest of the country, if not world. I always opine that getting beyond a city’s borders is pretty much every artist’s dream, but some people can’t be convinced. For what it’s worth, people really love Liz in Wisconsin. So there you go. Anyway, I’ll still go to bat for Exile, and as “obvious single” as this is, you can’t argue. If the legend is correct, then this is the answer to the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” and it seems about right to me.

09. Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs – Stay
I blogged about this years ago and implored readers to try to appreciate it outside of its connotations with “Dirty Dancing.” I revive that request right now. Just enjoy it for what it is, a perfect breeze of a pop tune that says everything it needs to say in a paltry 1 minute and 39 seconds and leaves you aching for more. I don’t know how they got that drum sound, and I don’t know why more artists don’t strive for it. Williams wrote this song when he was but 15 years old, and it hit the number one spot 7 years later in November of 1960. There’s a lot to the argument that rock and roll has digressed a bit from its formative days. Proof’s in the pudding?

10. The Clash – Rudie Can’t Fail
For as aggressive as their songs (including this one) were, the Clash knew how to bring a bit of sunshine to proceedings too. Critical as it may be of growing boys that can’t act like responsible adults (or maybe critical of those who are doing the criticizing), it’s all done over a horn-spiked bounce from the seminal London Calling LP and ranks as one of the best moments (if not THE best moment) from that album. Guaranteed to having you moving some part of your body for its duration and more than likely singing along by the end.

11. The Rifles – The Great Escape
This is from the Rifles 2009 album of the same name. I saw these boys open for Paul Weller back in 2008, and I can see why he would be behind them—they’ve got that observational aggression within which he’s so well versed. The lyrics read like a to-do list for summer (the British summertime’s just great—whatever), although I might advise against purchasing a brand new semi next door to the Taliban. The government’s just going to end up getting really annoyed about how you didn’t KNOW they were living so close.

12. The Bird and the Bee – Heard it on the Radio
Longtime visitors to the blog will know of my admiration of Inara George, so putting her voice in this mix should be no surprise. This catchy little ditty is actually an original that they included on a 2010 album consisting (otherwise) solely of Hall & Oates covers. And yes, it captures the H&O framework for a perfect pop chorus nicely. Part of me wishes they’d shot an appropriately cheesy video for it featuring superfluous hamminess from G.E. Smith. But life’s full of disappointments, isn’t it?

13. Dean Martin – Carolina Moon
This is the lead cut from Dean Martin’s first 12” LP for Capitol, Swingin’ Down Yonder, which was released in 1955. As one might guess from the title, all the songs revolved around southern states or cities. New Orleans and the Carolinas got three songs apiece, so maybe Dean didn’t take in as much of the south as he could’ve for a 12-song LP, or maybe songwriters from Arkansas and Tennessee were just a little bit behind the guys putting the likes of “Georgia on My Mind” or “Mississippi Mud” together. Of the three Carolina-based songs, this one’s far and away the best. Actually wants to make me see the moon in North (or South) Carolina. Could it be THAT much better than what I’ve seen over Chicago? Or the Northwoods?

14. Kula Shaker – Moonshine
If you don’t have access to a moon over North or South Carolina, then perhaps this should suit you just as well. Kula Shaker bring a bit of Eastern ambiance to this track, which was a B-side to the “Tattva” single before emerging in the United States as part of the (appropriately titled) “Summer Sun EP.” The guitar solo’s a bit undercooked, but the swelling organ and the catchy-as-all-get-out chorus are more than redemptive.

15. Gruff Rhys – Gwn Mi Wn
This is from Gruff’s solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, which is done entirely in Welsh and makes for cool, but entirely incomprehensible, reading for Yanks like myself. Gruff’s description of the song: “It’s a bit of a long story. It literally means, ‘Yes, I know.’ It’s also a play on words; extended. It’s about this MC called Glyn Kysgod Angau, which means ‘The Valley of Death’ and his mate called D. Chwaeth [Ob Scene]. So it’s kind of biblical. It’s a track about these two fictional MC’s who have a battle with bows and arrows that shoot words, and they pour beer on their cornflakes in the morning. It’s just bragging really.” Beer on cornflakes and MC duals. Summer! Fact is, you’re going to have this thing stuck in your head for eons and we all owe Gruff a debt of gratitude for saving that drumbeat from forever being linked to “Mickey.”

16. Old 97’s – Bel Air
Certainly, the 97’s have written more summer-y themed material (“She Loves the Sunset” and “Melt Show” come immediately to mind), but something about this chestnut from 1995’s Wreck Your Life always reminds me of a night on the town after a sweltering day on the job. I suppose that it starts out in a boiler room gives it that feel, but from fooling around in the backseat to whiskey-spiked Slurpees to scaring kids on motorcycles, it just contains all the debauchery a good summer eve should. Maybe the chorus’ sentiment of “I’ll stomp a mudhole in your heart” doesn’t give a lot of hope for a sunny tomorrow, but hey, seize the moment.

17. Brenda Holloway – We’ll Keep on Rolling
I’m a huge, huge fan of Brenda’s and for the limited amount of material that was actually released during her heyday with the Tamla Motown set, it was all pretty top notch. Thanks be to the big one then, that she also left the vaults pretty well stocked. This cut, which I believe was recorded in 1966 was made available on the 3rd volume of the Cellarful of Motown series. Got everything the great Motown hits did as far as drive, a sharp pocket and sing-a-long-able chorus, but as 1966 went, a lot of potential classics had to be set aside (grave injustice to Tammi Terrell too) for what that label was actually issuing. The problems with having so much good material, you know.

18. Sleeper – Nice Guy Eddie
Ah, that ever present story of the seemingly sweet young British lass who takes up with an elder man with eyes on the man’s fat stacks. Sure he may be old, but he’s rich and kind. And rich. Because I’ve always held a spot of affection for Louise Wener (the video still knocks me out), I’ll assume that the olive-choking incident was purely accidental, but the tragic (or commonplace) story unfolds over an unflinchingly catchy backing track and the coquettish coos over the chorus, well… give me a moment.

19. The Stone Roses – What the World is Waiting For
The Stone Roses were unstoppable in that time surrounding their through-and-through perfect debut album, even stocking the singles with A-level non-album B-sides. So high was the swell after that debut album hit that they wanted to release a follow up single with this song destined for the A-side. The record company brass put on the other side first, however, which just happened to be “Fools Gold.” The rest is history. Even drunk college kids who don’t know who Ian, John and Mani are – let alone would care about the fact that the three recently shared the same room for the first time since 1996 – know this song. While “What the World is Waiting For” did achieve “Double A-side” status, it quickly got washed away in the tides of history too. Reissues of the debut include “Fools Gold.” This one can be a little trickier too find. But there it is … like a splash of cool water on a brutally hot day. Refreshing as ever.

20. Nat King Cole – Walkin’ My Baby Back Home
The perfect way to end the great summer evening … walking the gal back in the wee small hours. This tune was an early hit for Nat and featured on his 1952 album Top Pops, and with all the petting and talcum on the vest and whatnot, it’s amazing those tightly wound execs made any room for it at all it to become such a smash. Maybe they too had affinity for stopping at barbecue stands. The only part of this song I don’t get is when they park. The whole song is about a walk home. Then in the middle of the song they’re in a car for some reason. WTF? Regardless, still a good closer.

And so there you have it. Now load it up, bust the speakers out and get off your computer and into the sunshine (or moonlight).