Monday, May 31, 2010

Various Artists - The Best Of The Girl Groups, Vol. 1 & 2 (RS500 - #422)

This is a fantastic compilation of female pop, rock and R&B singers from the 1960s, both famous and obscure. Despite the album's name, it includes a number of solo artists, including Betty Everett, Ellie Greenwich, and a very early, superb song by Cher (produced by Sonny).

This is one of those "oh yeah" albums, where you're sure to hear something that you haven't heard in years, and go "Oh yeah! I remember that!" If you like that era and genre, these are the albums for you. Enjoy:

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The Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole Rolling Stone 500 Project

In November 2003, Rolling Stone magazine published The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, a list based on the votes of over 250 musicians, critics, other music industry individuals. While there are some flaws in it, I believe that its a pretty definitive list of the essential rock, pop, jazz, folk and easy listening albums released in the last 75 years.

I happen to own every single one of them, and from time to time I will post one of them here, with appropriate comments. I hope you all enjoy this feature, and from it get into some music you might not have considered listening to before. Enjoy.

Martini Ranch - Holy Cow

I first heard the song "World Without Walls" in 1988, listening to the old WHFS while driving through Washington, DC. I immediately recognized Cindy Wilson's voice in the chorus, and at first assumed, with no small amount of excitement, that the B-52s were recording again and about to release another album. Mind you, at that time, it had been more than two years since the B-52's last album, Bouncing Off The Satellites, released in the wake of guitarist Ricky Wilson's death in October 1985. A lot of people, myself included, assumed that with the lack of a supporting tour for that album, and the general silence of the band over the intervening years, the B-52s were finished (of course, within two years, that would turn out to be untrue . . .). So it was good to hear what I assumed were noises from that quarter.

I wasn't quick enough to catch the name of the song at the time, so it took me a while to discover that it was not a new B-52s song at all, but one by a band called Martini Ranch. Martini Ranch was started in 1982 by guitarist Andrew Rosenthal, who noodled around the edges of L.A.'s rock scene for a while until
hooking up with a new friend and bandmate, actor Bill Paxton.  Yes, THAT Bill Paxton. In the mid-1980s, Paxton had been making a bit of a name for himself in movies like Stripes, Streets of Fire and, of course, Weird Science. But he wasn't really a huge name in Hollywood yet, so he split his time on both acting and musical endeavors.

The result was Martini Ranch's sole album, Holy Cow. Despite the band dragging in several of their more famous and successful music and Hollywood friends for guest appearances (including the aforementioned Cindy Wilson, members of Devo and Judge Reinhold(!)), or maybe because of it, this album is frankly kind of crap. Its sound, a sort of generic hybrid late-80s LA synth-pop, was dated about two minutes after the album was pressed. And a lot of the ideas behind the songs are too jokey, lame or half-baked. "World Without Walls" is the best song on the album, but that's not saying it's a classic.

With contributions from the B-52s and Devo (two long-time favorite bands of mine), this album should have been right in my wheelhouse. But outside of a couple of songs, it's just irritating. I think that Bill Paxton made the right decision to concentrate on acting. But here - you decide:  

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Steinski & The Mass Media - "The Motorcade Sped On"

A friend of mine gave me this, way back in 1989. He was into different sounds, as I was, and he was a loyal reader of all the important British music magazines - Melody Maker, New Musical Express, etc. This song was a free insert given away in the February 1987 issue of NME, and as such, has never been officially released for sale anywhere.

I've had an interest in the Kennedy assassination since I was eleven years old. In the mid-70s, my parents subscribed to a short-lived liberal muckraking magazine called New Times. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was a kid, and I used to sneak looks at this grown-up glossy as much as I could. One of the last issues of New Times dealt with the controversies surrounding that day in Dallas, a subject that, up to that point, had never entered my conciousness (I was born just after, and I was too young to really remember the assassinations of 1968, so I had no feel for the turmoil and angst of the Sixties). That article gripped me, and from then on, I read anything I could find regarding the assassination, the investigation and the critics. I finally got to Texas in my mid-thirties, when I accepted a job in Irving, near Dallas. So the first thing I did upon arrival there was drive to Dealey Plaza (by that time, I knew the assassination route so well, I didn't need a map to get to downtown Dallas). I practically crashed the car on my first drive through there - I knew I was driving through HISTORY.

During my time living there, I managed to get to all the sites important in assassination lore: I sat up in the railroad tower behind the stockade fence, now reeking of hobo piss, where Lee Bowers claims he saw "something" that day; I walked down the ramp into the parking garage of the Dallas Police Headquarters, and stood at the spot where Oswald was shot (just like in 1963, the cops arrived to roust me, but just like Jack Ruby, they arrived far too late to thwart my plan); I've seen the tiny x-ray room at Parkland Hospital that used to be Trauma Room #1, where JFK died; I've been to Oak Cliff, and walked Oswald's purported route from his old rooming house to East 10th Street, the site of Officer J. D. Tippit's murder (there's no way he made that walk in under ten minutes - either he ran the whole way and no one noticed him (not likely), or someone drove him there (which implies he had help, henceforth a conspiracy)).

What I'm saying is, I KNOW the Kennedy assassination (however, I will refrain from offering up my opinions on it - there's already been plenty of that, by folks more knowledgable than me). And this song is as good a summation of that time in American history as exists. It's a history lesson you can dance to! I hope you like it.

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Various Artists - Ska Beats, Vol. 1

I became a big house music fan back in 1988, after spending six months that year in various places in Europe and witnessing the house explosion there first-hand. One of my most vivid memories from that time is sitting in a seemingly dead and half-empty disco in Dunfermline, Scotland one chilly October night, waiting for something to happen. The DJ there put on D-Mob's "We Call It Acieed", and it was like a bomb went off - people came from everywhere, and in an instant, the place was packed with wild, gyrating Scots shaking the dance floor with a frenetic, tribal stomp that left me sitting there with my mouth wide open . . .

And I was lucky enough to arrive in Antwerp at practically the very beginning of the Belgian acid house wave. I spent much time at those city clubs, dancing it up like a crazy man, stumbling out of there half-drunk, bruised and confused, squinting painfully into the morning sun after many an all-night session there.

The big house music capitals in the U.S. back then were Chicago and New York; Norfolk, Virginia, where I lived, wasn't exactly a hotbed of any type of with-it musical activity. So, to get my house fix on, I usually had to travel three hours up the road apiece, to Washington, DC. The club Empire, on F Street, was probably the center of DC's house scene back then. And as for records, the ONLY place to go in town for the latest house cuts was 12-Inch Dance Records just off of DuPont Circle.

It was at that record store that I first began hearing about a new subgenre of acid house called "skacid", a hybrid of house and ska music. Now, in addition to being a house fan, I was (and still am) a HUGE ska aficienado, both original (Prince Buster, Lee Perry, The Skatalites, etc.) and revival (The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, etc.). Needless to say, I was eager to have my ears sample this new blend. So, when Ska Beats, Vol. 1 came out, I snapped it up.

This album delivers on all levels, providing what at the time was an up-to-date overview of the state of the Skacid nation, with important and popular cuts by Longsy D (probably the name most associated with the genre) and Double Trouble.  I played this album to death, and rabidly looked forward to follow-ups to it ("Ska Beats, Vol. 2", "Vol. 3", etc.). Sadly, they were not to come.

Skacid petered out almost as fast as it appeared. By the end of 1989, the genre had run its course, making Ska Beats, Vol. 1 the sole, definitive document of the era. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years (word of advice: play the first three songs ("Mental Ska", "Just Keep Rockin' (House Mix)" and "Force Ten From Navarone") in order, without stopping - there are few better compilation album openings!).

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Johnny Burnette and The Rock 'N Roll Trio - The Complete Coral Rock 'N Roll Trio Recordings

I recall listening to National Public Radio one cold afternoon in 2004, while driving through Burlington, Massachusetts (for the life of me, I can't remember why I was there - I seem to recall a doctor's appointment). NPR did a long segment on rockabilly legend Johnny Burnette and his band, the Rock 'N Roll Trio, made up of himself on vocals and rhythm guitar, his brother Dorsey Burnette on upright bass and the great Paul Burlison on lead guitar. The radio segment focused on the band's most famous song, 1956's "The Train Kept A-Rollin'", the tune that most rock historians credit for "inventing" guitar distortion.

It was a great segment, and at the end of it the narrator mentioned the reason for airing the story at that time - the complete Rock N' Roll Trio recording on Coral Records were just put out by Hip-O Select on a limited CD release that week. I quickly ran home, went to the site, and ordered my copy. It arrived in about a week, my limited edition number "1128 of 2500" stamped on it in gold.

In addition to "The Train Kept A-Rollin'", there are a number of other gems on this disc, especially the early R N' R Trio releases. Near the end, the band and Burnette veer into more poppy/easy listening territory, and you can see why the band quickly called it a day after only about three years of recording together. But on the whole, this is a great listen and an essential disc for rockabilly fans and folks interested in the history of rock. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Clash - Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg (2-disc version)

I've been a Clash fan pretty much from the get-go. I rank this band up there with the Beatles, in terms of the rapid expansion and improvement in their music progression and depth in the short time they were together.

[Actually, if you think about it, the parallels between the Clash and the Beatles are remarkable. Both were made up of members who had paid their dues in the local music scenes (London and Liverpool, respectively) of their day. Both were heavily dependent on diligent, headstrong managers (Bernie Rhodes and Brian Epstein) early in their careers. Both bands put out double LPs (Sandinista! and The White Album) late in their careers which are considered not only their masterpieces, but some of the greatest albums of all time. Both really only had an active recording life of about six years. And both fell apart due to personal acrimony between the band members.]

But I digress. Simply stated, The Clash are one of the greatest bands that ever existed.

I remember the first time I heard Combat Rock - a friend of mine bought it on vinyl, and I was there when he dropped the needle on the first track, "Know Your Rights". Man, that declaration by Joe Strummer ("This is a public service announcement - WITH GUITARRRRRR!") followed by that guitar kicking in, practically gave me a heart attack! Practically every cut on that album was a winner to me. I've always considered Combat Rock to be their greatest album, superior even to Sandinista! (which, to be completely honest, as great as it was, had a lot of filler on it).

I discovered over the years that a lot of people didn't agree with my verdict on Combat Rock. I heard that, on that album, the Clash went commercial, or got too arty, or forgot how to write songs, etc., etc. A lot of people who I thought would know better had some very negative things to say about this album, and I could never understand why. After a while, I stopped listening to them. I thought it was great, so what do I care about the critics?

I didn't learn until years later that Combat Rock was actually supposed to be a DOUBLE album, just like its predecessor Sandinista! From what I understand, Mick Jones had actually prepared a mix of this double album in late 1981, under the working title Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg. But the rest of the band rejected this first version, mainly due to personality conflicts between Strummer and Jones which would result in Jones getting kicked out of the group in 1983. The band handed over mixing and production duties to Glyn Johns, a former producer for Blue Oyster Cult, and he was the one who mixed it as a single album to everyone (except Mick's) satisfaction.

Here's a great track off of the original double album mix that never made the final cut for Combat Rock - "Kill Time" (also known as "Idle In Kangaroo Court W1"):

 I searched high and low for this original two-disc version, and finally found a copy that included not only the original mixes, but an entire second disc of studio outtakes from the recording sessions.  And thus, I bestow them unto you:

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Various Artists - Athens, GA, Inside/Out: Music From The Movie

The soundtrack to the 1987 documentary film about the burgeoning mid-80s music scene in Athens, Georgia, released by the late, lamented I.R.S. Records. At the time, I had been a long-time B-52s fan, and I knew about R.E.M., although I wouldn't really get into them for a couple more years. So I was semi-aware of what was going on down in Athens. But the film and this soundtrack were eye-openers, detailing both the major and minor acts playing in that town.

As luck would have it, later that year I would find myself living in Athens for a time. My house was a tiny, ramshackle shitbox down past the University of Georgia sorority houses, on an extension of Milledge Avenue. But I didn't care - I was young, wild and free, and in the midst of some cutting-edge music. I discovered that the documentary only scratched the surface of what was going on there. I visited the main spots (Uptown Lounge and the 40 Watt) numerous times during my short stay there, and saw some awesome bands: X, The Beat Farmers, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (one of the best live shows I ever saw anywhere). Michael Stipe used to hang out at the bar across the street from the Georgia Theater; most people were cool enough to leave him alone. All in all, Athens was a really great place to live.

I've had this album on cassette for forever; to the best of my knowledge, it's never been released on CD. So this burn won't be 100% high fidelity . . . but it's not too bad, so enjoy.

[20 Feb 2014:  Since this post was written, the powers-that-be have finally seen fit to release this soundtrack on CD, with bonus tracks; I've upgraded my links accordingly, with the updated file - enjoy!]

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Severed Heads - Rotund For Success

Severed Heads was an Australian band formed in Sydney in 1979, and as such, they were one of the longest-lasting Aussie post-punk bands, not really calling it a day until 2004. Despite their longevity, this band has always been sort of roundly hated in certain music quarters. Why? Well, I believe mostly because for most of their existence, Severed Heads was categorized as an industrial band, although their music started off more appropriately thought of as "experimental", utilizing found sounds and tape loops. Later in their career, they drifted into more commercial and dance music territory. But the "industrial" tag never really went away, and I suppose that with that, a lot of people categorized them as frauds and sellouts.

This is my favorite Severed Heads album, Rotund For Success, released on Nettwerk Records in 1989. I recall seeing a video for the song "Big Car" (off of the album) on MTV in the States (back when MTV not only showed videos, but occasionally put a semi-cool/off-kilter one on once in a while) and liking what I heard:

Have a listen, and see what you think. Just keep an open mind, and try not to think of them as "industrial".

The DCMA jerks pinged me on this one, so I've modified the message here - they can suck my balls; no 'infringment' here! Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply as soon as possible:

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Laurels - L

I saw these guys at TT The Bear's Place in Cambridge, Massachusetts during the summer of 1996. In between my grad school years in Virginia, I had a summer internship up in Cambridge with Polaroid Corporation. After a rough few years in the early 1990s, Polaroid was on a temporary financial upswing, so at the time it was a pretty solid place to work and consider for a long-term position after graduation (unfortunately, this feeling was short-lived - a couple of years later, the company began a financial death spiral that ended with bankruptcy and dismantling of most of the firm).

Anyway, like I said, it was a pretty good place to work for the summer, and a great place to live. I sublet an outstanding place from some Mexican guys who were attending MBA grad school at MIT and went home for the summer - it was a three-level townhouse, brand-spanking new with a garage underneath, and only two blocks from work. It was also within walking distance of MIT (a school that was cool enough to let me use their gym facilities for free during the summer - as opposed to Harvard Business School, who completely restricted all grad school facilities from anyone who wasn't an HBS student, including other Harvard students), and Central {thank you, tinpot!] Square, location of some great music clubs (including the aforementioned TT The Bears and the Middle East). I was incredibly lucky to get the place, and felt sorry for some of my fellow classmates who also had internships up in the Boston area, who were living like dogs in dank, dark basement hovels. I was living pretty large.

I saw some great bands in Cambridge and Boston that summer - the Cocteau Twins (on their final tour), the Sex Pistols reunion tour, etc. But the best show I saw that summer was at TT's, where Trona and the Laurels opened for the Kelley Deal 6000. I went there to see Kelley Deal, formerly of the Breeders (who I saw in Christchurch, New Zealand about 18 months earlier). But all three bands turned out to be great; I ended up buying all of their CDs for sale either that evening or shortly thereafter.

The Laurels were out of Rhode Island, and consisted essentially of Jeff Toste on bass (also principal songwriter) and a rotating cast on guitar (Ryan Lesser and Damen Champagna) and drums (Dare Matheson and Joe Propatier). Their lone album, "L", was released in 1996 on Thick Records out of Chicago. It's a shame these guys never made it, but its not for lack of effort. Several songs on this album (including "Cut You Down To Size", "Ruby", and "TV Whore") were produced by the legendary Steve Albini (who also helmed one of my favorite albums of all time, The Pixies' Doolittle). All in all, a pretty good effort - too bad they didn't make it.

Enjoy the link:

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Hawaiian Pups - Split Second Precision

The only album by this woefully obscure 1980s New Wave band, released in 1983 on Portrait Records. The song "Baby Judy" off of this album used to get a lot of airplay on WUOG in Athens, GA - that was where I first heard and loved it.

It took me years to find this album - this band is THAT obscure. I have no information regarding the history of current whereabouts of the members of this band. There was a rumor a few years ago that this album was going to be released on CD, but so far nothing has come of that.

I've never seen this posted online, so enjoy this link (painstakingly roasted off of glorious vinyl):

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The Crabs - Sand And Sea

My first offering to my blog is the final album by the nearly forgotten Washington State band The Crabs, who recorded for K Records in the mid-to-late 1990s. I happened upon this band almost a decade ago, mainly due to one song, "End Of The World".

I first heard this song about nine years ago while driving late one evening on I-95 in southwestern Rhode Island, on my way to a rendezvous with the poker tables at Foxwoods in Connecticut. Radio, on the whole, kinda sucks in Rhode Island, with the once-mighty WRIU, the University of Rhode Island's student-run station, a pale shadow of the awe-inspiring and cutting-edge alternative music power it wielded in the '80s and '90s.

(Just as an aside, someone should do a study of the sorry state of college radio in America nowadays. I don't know whether it's the Internet, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, video games, Ipods or general student lackadaisical-ness (is that a word?) that can be blamed. But I think it can safely be said that, in general, college radio ain't like it used to be. Most of the stations seem content to play Top 40 crap you can hear on any Clear Channel station, or watered-down "alternative" bands (like Coldplay or Fall Out Boy). What happened to the groundbreakers, the experimentalists? College DJs broke tons of good bands in this country, bands that went on to become HUGE. Examples? Gee, I don't know . . . how about R.E.M., U2, The Pixies, The Police, The Chili Peppers and The Smiths, for just a small sampling? I remember the first time I heard Gang of Four's "I Found That Essence Rare", on a college station out of the Boston area - I just about died! Even my alma mater's sorry-ass little low power student-run station, WRNV at the Naval Academy, had in its day a fair share of open-minded, hep midshipmen who weren't afraid to play some crazy shit and have some fun doing it. Nowadays, that sort of spirit at ANY college station appears to come along very rarely. But I digress . . .)

Anyway, like I said, WRIU sucks now, and sucked back then too. I started scanning the radio dial, looking for ANYTHING that sounded new and interesting. Somehow, my tuner found a cool little college station called WHUS, run out of the University of Connecticut at Storrs. The song the station was playing was simple but engaging, carried along by a charmingly nagging little Farfisa organ melody and boom-splat drumming. The singer didn't have a classically trained voice, but for some reason, his plaintive tone seemed to fit the song to a T:
"It's not the end of the world, but it sure feels like it when you can't find the words;
It's not the end of time, but the store is closing, and you're locked inside . . ."
I was transfixed for those three minutes, staring out into the night and zooming down 95, all the while taking in every note and word. At the break, the organ launched into a sweetly sad, chiming little thing that just about slayed me! Wow.

The moment the song was over, I grabbed my phone and dialed the station to find out who that band and what that song was. The female DJ who answered told me the song was called "End Of The World", done by a band from the Pacific Northwest called The Crabs.

When I got home from Foxwoods the next day (yeah, I won), I did a little research on the band. The Crabs were originally Jonn Lunsford and Lisa Jackson, who started the band in 1992 in Portland, OR and were signed to K Records, Calvin Johnson's Olympia, WA label best known for being the home of the renowned indie/twee pop band Beat Happening (I think that Beat Happening's drummer, Bret Lunsford, is Jonn Lunsford's brother). The band released three albums (Jackpot, Brainwashed, and What Were Flames Now 
Smolder) as a duo, with Lunsford on guitar, Jackson on drums, and both sharing vocal duties. For their fourth album, Sand And Sea, issued in 1999, they added a new member, Sarah Dougher on keyboards, an addition which radically expanded the band's sound, without entirely changing it. Dougher's organ and harmonies with Jackson on Sand And Sea are brilliant, especially on tracks like "Bricks Of Gold" (another gem) and "I Surrender". "End Of The World" was off this last album, and it is truly the highlight.

Well, that song really got to me, to the point where every time I drove in that part of the state (which was fairly frequently, as I was doing well at the casino poker tables at that time), I would call WHUS to request the song. They almost always honored my request. About a year later, I called the station to make my usual request. The DJ played the song a few minutes later, then after it was over, mentioned on the air that "End Of The World" was probably the most requested song in the station's history! Hopefully it wasn't just me asking for it! Maybe other people heard it and, like me, were captivated enough to ask for it again and again.

The Crabs broke up soon after this last album was released. Nowadays, I understand that Lunsford works as an administrator for the Portland Parks Department, and is an outspoken and controversial environmentalist. Sarah Dougher has a PhD in Comparative Literature, and in addition to being a professor, has released several solo albums. Lisa Jackson? I have no idea what she's doing now.

This is the first in a series of comments on tunes that I own and have feelings about, either good or bad. I'll add more as the mood strikes me. Feel free to comment on this first posting, or suggest other tunes you'd like me to comment on. Thanks for reading!

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