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Gordon is a moron.

June 30, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the nice things about the UK music scene is the ability of nearly anything to hit the higher reaches of the charts.  Needless to say, this is also one of the downsides.  “Jilted John,” briefly a craze in summer 1978 in the UK, neatly straddles that divide.

If you take your music ideologically, i.e. want it to have more artistic integrity than The Monkees, this song will not satisfy you.  Despite loud guitars and snotty accent, this is completely fake punk – in fact it’s more novelty than anything.   It’s a guy, playing a character, singing about how he’s a loser baby, but why did you dump him?  Kind of like a less flamboyant Buster Poindexter, except as envisioned by the guy who produced Joy Division, Martin Hannett.*

By rights this song should be terrible – they even went on Top of the Pops with it – THREE times, each with increasing levels of camp.  Yet it is absolutely, compulsively danceable, not to mention catchy.  A keeper – and less of a guilty pleasure for me, having not been a hit in the states.

I first discovered it on a compilation of the Rabid and TJM labels bought out of a cutout bin, along with Slaughter and the Dogs’ “Cranked Up Really High.”  Lately as I’ve been assembling a collection of future jukebox 45s, I went ahead and bought the (second pressing) original single.  It sounds like dirt – which would be appropriate for posting except I’m concerned some may have trouble deciphering the lyrics (heavy accent** + crap mastering***).  So I’ll post the CD cut which is more than clear enough for your iPod dance party fun time happy.

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*Dead Kennedys didn’t think much of Hannett – see the intro to “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”

**I’d just like to remind the Americans among us that PEOPLE ACTUALLY TALK THIS WAY.  It’s the same kind of fascinating as an unrepentant Tennessee accent.

***I think the stereo image differs slightly between CD and the EMI Int single – the overall presentation makes me think they just mastered the EMI single right from the original Rabid.  I may get the original Rabid pressing at some point for comparison.

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Categories: Irony, Punk

Need ya, need ya, good god I need ya!

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Mention Bob Seger to someone and the logical response should be contempt.  Most folks don’t know he was a real rocker once upon a time, what with his catalog being mostly out of print – the story officially starts at BEAUTIFUL LOSER and “Katmandu” – with LIVE BULLET being right around the corner.  Everything he did that was important was over by then – his artistic path had finally crossed the mean of popular taste.  Good career move, for sure, but unfortunate for those of us with taste beyond the dive bar jukebox.

Seger, outside of some questionable choices (NOAH) producing temporary sharp dips, had been on a gradual downslope stylistically since the release of “Heavy Music,” the two-sided 1968 stomper classic that is his pinnacle.  “Heavy Music” is neither James Brown nor Spencer Davis, but somewhere in between – and seemingly had been poised to blast out of the musical melting pot that was the city of Detroit and into the stratosphere, until his record company went bankrupt as the single was going national.  Oops.

Allen Klein would eventually sweep up the scraps of the Cameo-Parkway disaster (leading, long afterwards, to a C-P label boxed set which includes the only legitimate copy of several early Seger singles on CD).  Seger, on the other hand, spent the next few years attempting to extend the formula to a larger canvas and headier topic material, leading to his second and third-best singles (“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” and “2+2=?” in no particular order) and his best non-covers album (MONGREL), but also utter troughs of despair (the afore-mentioned NOAH, so bad it’s worthy of a later post of its own).

Still, chances kept coming around for Seger, chances which would never be offered in today’s kill or be killed music industry.  Firstly, he was a critical darling, doing interviews with the likes of Dave Marsh in CREEM and Rolling Stone – articles with a seemingly puzzled tone about why folks outside the midwest didn’t get Seger.  This may have had some influence on Seger’s contractual machinations: Palladium (the independent label he ended up on after MONGREL’s follow-up, an all-acoustic kiss-off to Capitol) was bought by Warner Brothers after the covers’ album “Smokin’ OPS” was released, and I can’t believe it sold enough copies to come to WB’s attention that way.  “Smokin'” is great, by the way, and the only full early Seger album to be in print.**  (As a covers album, though, artistically it lies somewhere around the relevance of J. Geils Band’s LIVE: FULL HOUSE.)

It is to one of the albums that followed SMOKIN’ we now turn.  SEVEN, his seventh album, is completely representative of that downward slope towards mediocrity that Seger was well into by the time of release (1974) – some decent songs, one or two classics, but the rest – eh.  A couple ballads, a couple songs with excruciating lyrics (“Seen A Lot Of Floors,” “UMC”), and all far too MOR for me.

It is with an eye to both the fact that SEVEN is out of print and my opinion that it is overall a mediocre album that I am excerpting here what I think to be its finest song – the rave-up love song “Need Ya.”  I have taken it from the original Warner-Palladium vinyl LP, because the out of print CD is insanely priced and awful-sounding – and I actually don’t have it.***

“Need Ya” features some fine slide guitar work – it and the piano are very LET IT BLEED.  Lots of Seger gravelly voice, but unlike his later stuff, you’re probably not going to put this on a shameless booty call mix tape – the beat is too fast (and not syncopated enough to dance to if you need some help – in unfortunate contrast to “Heavy Music”).  Nonetheless, the song is like a pure energy injection – it’s surprising that it wasn’t a hit.  Like AC/DC, success did not arrive fully for Seger until after the tempo was cut.  Alas.

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**Just don’t take the awful fake-stereoed copy of Heavy Music at the end as the gospel truth of what the song actually sounds like.  It’s amazing that it was allowed to be re-released this way a couple years back.

***Of the early-90s Seger catalog reissue CDs, only RAMBLIN’ GAMBLIN’ MAN has decent sound.  MONGREL and SEVEN suffer from earachey treble boosts, perhaps compensating for overuse of noise reduction, and SMOKIN’ OPS is no prize either.

Categories: Rock

Reverend Al gets funky

June 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I just digitized this and had to share: the B-side of the Al Green single “Let’s Stay Together.”  Green had quite a string of singles that levitated somewhere between sweet soul and funk, always with a romantic bent.  “Together” was in Pulp Fiction, too, wasn’t it?

I certainly didn’t know much about his deeper catalog – this song argues for a much closer examination.  Of course, I should expect nothing less with Willie Mitchell, the renowned Memphis producer, at the controls. The B Side blog (see list on the right) has much more information about Mitchell’s various productions – suffice to say they include some classics.

Tomorrow’s dream consists of just over two minutes of languid drop-beat funk, with the alluring addition of background brass and organ.  Seriously blunted.  Intriguingly, Green eschews his normal high range for something a bit more “standard,” from a soul singer perspective.  He doesn’t really have the grit to pull off an Otis Redding – it ends up sounding like a slightly slowed down Stevie Winwood.  Not that that’s a bad thing!

I have no idea where I got this single.  It might have been in the afore-mentioned I-84 diner-cum-bookstore.  It’s obviously been floating around in my collection for a while in any case.  Can’t believe I never listened to the B before, but that’s part of why vinyl digitization is magnificent.

You see, I can rip 100 CDs without ever having to QC a single track, but in order to do a good job on vinyl, you really have to spend time setting the levels up properly and checking for skips or digital clipping.  And yes, setting levels can constitute work if done properly: I have a phono preamp with a manual volume control.  That means that, instead of recording at a standard low level and using digital tools to eliminate headroom/bring the peaks to digital zero, I can do it in the analog world – thus capturing more data.

Nerdy, yes.**

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**Also from the nerd department and coming soon, hopefully: a more neutral phono cart and a professional A/D converter.  All so I can bring my scratchy David Hasselhoff records to you in the highest fidelity possible.  I’ve been saving them, I swear!

Categories: Funky

The Zombies – The Kind Of Girl

June 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Any way you slice it, the Zombies are a strange story.  Initial, unique British Invasion hits (“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No”) – still fresh today – followed by a fallow period of a few years.  A final album masterpiece (ODESSEY AND ORACLE) which wasn’t released until after the group broke up, and almost wasn’t released at all in the US (Al Kooper intervened).  The hit from the album (“Time Of The Season”) being ironically more dated and overplayed than either of the original hits or the album’s other tracks.  The fact that, other than “She’s Not There,” none of the cuts were big hits in their native UK.

The Zombies haven’t dated as much as other groups of the era because the melodies and singing are great, and frankly pretty middle of the road in orchestration.  You’re not getting a lot of electric guitar – electric bass and organ, sure.  Maybe that’s why they were bigger in the US – a bit less challenging than some of their contemporaries.

I could post almost any song by the Zombies and have it hold up – barring the hits, it’s likely that you’d never have heard it, either.  Unless, that is, you went to some of the mid-2000s reunion concerts.  (I think an awful lot of today’s indie musicians obviously did, or at least are listening to the albums.)  I won’t say they had held up perfectly circa 2003-4, but it was good to see them up there entertaining a room in which the ages varied widely – hell, I wasn’t even born until more than 10 years after they broke up.  They were even nice enough to stick around and sign some things for the diehards – the only time I’ve ever asked for an autograph (and it made me uncomfortable, so I’m not sure if there’ll be a second time).

The selection for today is called “The Kind Of Girl” – especially in its wide stereo mix, the blend of voices and the unusual minor harmonies are otherworldly.

This cut comes from the 1990 “Greatest Hits” on DCC, which shares a cover but not a tracklist with the original Parrot Records pressing of the US debut album (four or five cuts overlap between the two).  There’s been tons of CD releases of Zombies stuff, but the DCC or the easier-to-find-but-uglier-covered “Greatest Hits” on DCC successor label Audio Fidelity have great sound and passable tracklists, assuming you’ll also buy the Big Beat mono/stereo ODESSEY AND ORACLE to cover the gaps.

Or you could invest in a jukebox and buy all the singles – I’m sure at this rate that’s the direction I’m going…yikes.

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Categories: Pop, Rock

The genius of Roy Wood.

June 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Roy Wood may be the most successful and beloved UK pop star never to scratch the surface in the US.  His hits with The Move and Wizzard, as well as several great solo albums and early participation in ELO, have secured him a place in the hearts (and permanent holiday* playlists) of the British.  Due to a combination of bad management, lack of touring, and that his Wizzard act might quite frankly have been too bizarre for US audiences in 1973, he never really caught on over here beyond a cult following.

One of the nice things about this cult is that it’s extremely easy to join – there is no requirement of musical sophistication, nor of liking any particular subgenre.  While The Move’s hits may appeal to you more if you’re a fan of 60’s British rock, and his later stuff certainly has a rockabilly influence, he’s just a good songwriter in general, and his list of influences reads more like a hipster band’s today than a guy who was there back when.

“Forever,” a 1974 solo single, finds Wood consolidating several threads – his then-recent singer-songwriter album BOULDERS, the rockabilly influence that had crept into his music starting with The Move’s “California Man” (or even earlier), and the contemporary Beach Boys (specifically Dennis and Carl Wilson, although the special credit printed on the single’s label for “influence” goes to Brian, as well as Neil Sedaka).

Considering that the post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys were about as reviled as any once-popular artist could be, it’s a bold and brave statement indeed to co-opt them so explicitly.  Starting with the harmony vocals (straight out of SMiLE) and continuing with the (unusually for Wood) un-echoed voice with mimicked Wilson brother tone and enunciation, the song’s almost more Beach Boys than Roy Wood.  His trademark pizzicato strings (and the heavy bowed cellos at the end) remind us that we’re not hearing an outtake from CARL AND THE PASSIONS, though, and the harmony vocals switch from Beach Boys back to Wood’s usual high weaselings** when the echo comes back to his voice on some of the verses.

The Neil Sedaka influence?  Well, first let me say that “Forever” has a lot of similarities to Paul Anka’s “Diana” – maybe too many for a dedication to Anka to be advisable.  Sedaka’s most famous tune is “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” which has not only some musical similarity, but thematic similarity as well.  But take a listen to “Oh! Carol,” also by Sedaka – it really betrays how much influence he had on “Forever” but also on Wood in general.  For an even more direct connection, check EDDY AND THE FALCONS, Wizzard’s second LP – specifically the song “Come Back Karen.”  It is the kid sister of “Oh! Carol” – as well as the spiritual descendent of “Forever,” which preceded it in the market by a year or so.

“Come Back Karen” is almost slavish in its devotion to Sedaka, though, making “Forever” the superior song – for blending the Wilson and Sedaka influences so seamlessly, yet also never feeling dated or exclusive.  I say exclusive because, unlike the whole of EDDY AND THE FALCONS, which seems in retrospect designed to separate the men from the boys in terms of rockabilly and oldies fandom***, “Forever” has many other levels on which to connect.

“Forever” is a beautiful song.  It went to number 8 on the UK charts, but missed the US charts completely.  I’ve taken this MP3 from the US promotional single; a longer version of the song may be found on the CD compilation HARVEST SHOWDOWN, among other places.

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*”I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” is a staple, and rightfully so.

**Frank Zappa coined this word – in jest probably – but I haven’t come up with a better descriptor for high harmony doo-wop vocals, especially when they’re not saying “doo-wop doo-wop” but something else.

***EDDY AND THE FALCONS is basically a love note to rockabilly and oldies – Sedaka for sure, but also Phil Spector, Elvis and Chuck Berry – the influences had been there for some time, but EDDY really went from a “brew” to straight genre exercises.  Hard to sell to a 1974 public, I guess.  If it had been released in 1980 or 1981…I think it could well have been huge.  Ahead of his time, he was!

Categories: Pop

Best song with hump in the title?

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I first became aware of Simtec Simmons via an excellent post by DJ Little Danny of Office Naps – a couple of his experimental sides involving early drum machines.  So when I was digging through the LA bins I was tickled pink to find two(!) copies of Simtec & Wylie’s “Gotta Get Over The Hump” – not knowing whether it would be experimental stuff or some other kind of soulful excursion.

It ends up that Simtec was by day a much more conventional (but not in any bad way) soulster.  In addition to quite a few earlier solo and group sides, his duo with Wylie was styled as a bit of a Sam and Dave/Mel and Tim thing, but (at least on this track) with a considerably rawer funk edge, and a tempo which could be deemed “manic.”

The song, which deals with personal satisfaction, fatalism, missed opportunities with women,  and the usual workaday grind, avoids becoming too depressing with an uplifting “hallelujah” chorus bit – wonder if any church choirs took it upon themselves to cover it?  I’m guessing not.

Random factoids: Both Simtec and the Mister Chand label (along with distributor Mercury) were Chicago-based, and this particular track was recorded at Universal – the Chicago studio that produced some of the Impressions’ hits (“We’re A Winner” being my favorite), along with a host of other great blues, jazz, and R&B over the years.  The “Mister Chand” that the label was named after, as well as the co-producer with Simtec, is Gene Chandler, the singer of “Duke of Earl.”  That’s quite a lineage!  Who doesn’t love “Duke of Earl?”

Like I said, I found two copies – one that was pressed at Monarch on the west coast, and another which might be an east coast cut from Atlantic – less sure about that one.  Must have sold more copies than expected to be pressed twice – I remember reading somewhere that this track charted R&B, but can’t find the link.  The “Atlantic” is in better shape and is the one I’m presenting here***.  The track is out of print on all media, as far as I can tell.

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***Not sure whether the picture is of the Atl or Monarch edition, not that anyone cares but label copy nerds (they exist!) – this is a picture of the B side anyway.

Categories: Funky, Gene Chandler

The perils of rock and roll penury.

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Here’s an obscure one.  Gabriel Mekler, a trained classical violinist originally from Israel, became known (I wouldn’t say famous) for producing Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night hits as an ABC /Dunhill Records staff producer.  Mekler had his own record labels, Lizard and Vulture, for a brief time in 1971-72.  Given his association with the most famous two hit wonder in history, as well as possibly the most popular singles group of the late 60’s and early 70s, you’d think he’d have been a huge success.  Mekler being perhaps more of a creative type than a manager, Lizard (named, reportedly, after his cat – hence the logo) died despite placing a few songs into the lower reaches of the pop charts.

It certainly wasn’t for lack of material.  Here we have a track by a fellow named Nolan Porter, who by himself was a fine, if unremarkable singer.  What makes the track groove is the backing music, led by some ex-members of the Mothers, who had just released/were about to release an album as Little Feat.  Lowell George, Roy Estrada and Jimmy Carl Black (“the indian of the group”) played with Zappa, and they (minus Black and plus Richard Hayward and Bill Payne, who also feature here) were indeed the Little Feat who later (minus Estrada) went on to great things**.   I’m sure the unemployment contributed to their motivation to work as session men (read as: they were broke, dude).  Either way it’s a treat to hear the rhythm section of “Freak Out” and “We’re Only In It For The Money” absolutely kill it, although the material is so much less complicated I wonder how fulfilling it could have been.

So, apparently (and let me say that this is completely according to the internets, I wasn’t there) Mekler hired them to back Nolan, who dropped his last name, but not as a direct result of hearing Roy Estrada sing “In The Sky.”  Nolan and the Feats recorded a full album entitled NO APOLOGIES (with the Feats contributing a song, even!) and, when Lizard collapsed, Mekler re-released it on ABC – with some of the single sides (including “I Like What You Give”) replacing album cuts – as NOLAN.

Sadly, although it scraped the lower reaches of the charts,  it wouldn’t surprise me if the single master of “I Like What You Give” was thrown away (along with the more historically important mono mixes of Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World,” “Shambala,” and the first Steppenwolf album***).  Mekler himself died in 1977, so we can’t ask him what happened.  Update 7/2012 – Nolan is still alive, and in an amazing story of kismet, married Frank Zappa’s sister.  Both NOLAN albums have been re-released, with all the single mixes as bonus tracks – they’re on iTunes, 23 and 24 tracks for 10USD each!  Some pretty rare stuff, like the single mixes of “Keep On Keepin’ On” – a northern soul classic, as well as “If I Could Only Be Sure.”  Consider this a sampler, but go out and support Nolan Porter and buy the albums.

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*The B-side, entitled “Somebody’s Cryin,” is really a steal from Don Covay’s “Mercy Mercy” (you may know it from the Stones’ cover) – changed the verse, but not the chorus, and thus avoided paying Mr. Covay royalties.  It’s also on NO APOLOGIES.

**Legendarily, Zappa fired Lowell George after George played him “Willin,” although history is not sure if it was because of the “weed, whites and wine” refrain or that the song was “too good” for George to be Zappa’s sideman.

***According to industry scuttlebutt, ABC threw away all of their outtakes and mono masters after their purchase of Famous Music’s labels (Dot, Paramount, Famous, Blue Thumb) in the mid-70s.  It’s the equivalent of the BBC wiping Dr. Who tapes, except in this case we don’t even know the full extent of what we’re missing.  Sad.

Categories: Funky