Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to leave a special note to all of my readers out there, both the old troupers who've been with me from the beginning, and those of you who stumbled over my little corner of the Internet in the past year:

It makes me happy to know that there are so many of you out there that are interested in the same sorts of music that I like. I commend you all on your exquisite musical taste! But seriously - thanks to all of you for taking the time over the past 366 days to check out and comment on my little screeds; knowing that there are folks out there who actually read my stuff is very gratifying, and very humbling. I look forward to hearing from you all in 2013, as Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole begins another year posting new stories and new tunes I hope you like.

I'll leave you all with the video to one of my favorite songs of the past year, Japandroids' "The House That Heaven Built" - enjoy, and see ya next year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Joe Strummer - Earthquake Westher


The Clash posts this week were all lead-ups to today, the tenth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news: I was in Rhode Island, driving into work two days before Christmas and listening to National Public Radio. The announcement of his death was one of the top news stories; it was brief, and provided no details other than the basic journalistic "five Ws". But it was still a huge jolt to me. The Clash were about to be inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in just a few weeks, and I was eagerly looking forward to a reunion. While still on the road, I instantly called one of my buddies and fellow band mates, a big Clash fan like myself. He hadn't heard the news; when I broke it to him, he was just as shocked as I was.

I spent all day a work in a funk, listening to Clash tunes on my Creative MP3 player. Later that day as I drove home, I listened to the NPR afternoon show, which had a more in-depth report on Joe. It was a very well-done overview/tribute to Strummer's life, and at the end of it, they did something extraordinary - they played "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" in its entirety.




I remember being amazed and grateful that a news organization such as NPR devoted so much time and showed so much respect to Strummer's life and music - they didn't just treat him like some dirty punk rocker, but as a serious artist and visionary.

After the collapse of the final version of The Clash following the disastrous and widely-panned release of 1985's Cut The Crap, Strummer spent the next few years working on musical collaborations with other partners - I think that the reception of the last Clash album rattled him a bit, and he began working on projects to get back his confidence in his music-making abilities and skills. He first teamed with filmmaker Alex Cox and contributed two songs to the soundtrack of his 1986 film Sid & Nancy. Strummer then ended his feud with former Clash band mate Mick Jones, and collaborated with him on Big Audio Dynamite's second album, No. 10 Upping St., producing the album and co-writing most of the songs. He then went back to work with Cox, contributing another two songs to the film Straight To Hell. Cox was so pleased with Strummer's input that he asked him to score his next movie in its entirety. The film, Walker (released in 1987), was widely panned and flopped at the box office (Cox never worked for a major Hollywood studio again). But the film's soundtrack received much critical praise, with Strummer's mix of reggae, rock, calypso and South American music receiving high marks.

The positive reception of the Walker soundtrack gave Strummer back his 'mojo', and in 1988 he began working on his own material again, this time with no collaborator. He put together a backing band in Los Angeles (which included former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons) and spent a year with them in the local studios, working on his new project and also cutting songs to contribute to another movie, Keanu Reeves' Permanent Record. The album Strummer and his band (now known as The Latino Rockabilly War) released, 1989's Earthquake Weather, was a return to form for him. I purchased the album the instant it came out, and played songs like "Shouting Street" and "Dizzy's Goatee" to death. It's not his finest work, in my opinion. But it was good to see Joe Strummer back out there, doing what he did best, and most critics seemed to agree with that sentiment. The album was well-reviewed, but sold relatively poorly.

Frankly, I don't think Strummer cared one way or another. Earthquake Weather is Joe dipping his toe back in the musical water, to check the temperature and to see if it was worth it for him to jump back in again. Apparently, he found that it was. Strummer gradually made his way back into actively performing, eventually putting together The Mescaleros and releasing three superb albums with them before his death.

So, in honor of and in tribute to the great Joe Strummer, here's Earthquake Weather, released by Epic Records on September 20th, 1989. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

 Rest well, Joe.  

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Clash - Nakano Sun Plaza, Tokyo, Japan (1982-01-28) (Discs 1 & 2)


More Clash bootlegs . . .

Here's the two-disc version of The Clash burning down the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo as part of their Far East tour in early 1982, playing some pre-release versions of songs that would eventually appear on Combat Rock three months later. In terms of quality, this set is hit and miss . . . But even in its muddied glory, you can still hear the power and musicianship of the band shining through. You can even sense some remaining rapport between the band members here - probably the last of it, as the band was touring in the midst of the contentious recording of that album. Mick Jones was unhappy with the rest of the band rejecting his Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg mix, and Glyn Johns was about to be brought in at the end of the tour to remix the album in London. Jones was especially pissed at Joe Strummer; their acrimony would lead to Jones leaving the group less than eighteen months later . . .

(but I've already covered the story behind Combat Rock, haven't I?)

Anyway, what I'm saying is, despite the iffy quality in places, it's still an essential listen for Clash fans with a hankering to know what the band sounded like live. So, here you are. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Whoa - lookie here at what I found; some enterprising young raascal has taken the liberty of uploading a major portion of the Nakano Sun concert onto YouTube. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Clash - D.O.A. (Demos, Outtakes, Alternates) (Discs 1 & 2)



Starting with this post, I'm kicking off what I'm calling "Clash Week '12" - nothing but Clash-related albums for the next few days.

And here's the first offering: the ultra-rare two-disc bootleg of Clash rarities, D.O.A. (Demos, Outtakes, Alternate Mixes). I have ZERO information on who put this excellent collection together, or even when it was first released - but no matter. This thing is the balls. I was going to write one of my usual long-winded reviews of this outstanding compilation, but instead I'll direct you to the blog of someone who's already written one a lot better than I ever could have come up with, Sharoma.net. His opening line says it all regarding this set: "Perhaps the ultimate collection of Clash rarities" (the link also provides a breakdown of all fifty-four tracks by source).

These discs are well-nigh impossible to find out there now - it took me over two years of diligent effort to track this thing down myself. But I'm a generous man, and thus I share my good fortune with you; if you love the Clash as much as I do, get ready for a real treat! To quote Sharoma's review, "All Clash fans MUST have this!" Enjoy, and as always, please let me know what you think.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Various Artists - The Time-Life Treasury Of Christmas: Holiday Memories

Well, I thought it over . . . and figured, heck, it's no use in offering half of something. Here's The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas: Holiday Memories, the companion to my previous post, The Time Life Treasury Of Christmas (Christmas Spirit and Christmas Memories).

Just like its sister, this two-disc set is chockablock with nothing but holiday classics by the original artists! Just check out this great tracklist:
Disc 1:

1. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Nat King Cole
2. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Dean Martin
3. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Bing Crosby
4. The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) - Nat King Cole
5. Little Saint Nick - The Beach Boys
6. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) - The Chipmunks
7. Merry Christmas Baby - Charles Brown
8. White Christmas - Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters
9. Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt with Henri Rene & His Orchestra
10. It's Not The Presents Under The Tree (It's Your Presence Right Here Next To Me) - Eva Cassidy
11. I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Luke
12. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy - David Bowie & Bing Crosby

Disc 2:

1. A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
2. Frosty The Snowman - Gene Autry
3. Christmas Is A Feeling In Your Heart - Andy Williams
4. It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas - Perry Como & The Fontane Sisters
5. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland
6. This Time Of The Year - Brook Benton
7. Christmas Auld Land Syne - Bobby Darin
8. Feliz Navidad - Joes Feliciano
9. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
10. Silver Bells - Earl Grant
11. I'll Be Home For Christmas - Bing Crosby
12. Silent Night - Dinah Washington
There's nothing else to say here about this album, other than enjoy, happy holidays, and as always, let me know what you think!

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Since "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" is part of this collection, I might as well include this superb video with this post - one of the all-time great holiday collaborations, Bing Crosby & David Bowie on Bing's annual (and final) Christmas TV special, November 30th, 1977 (the show was taped that September; Bing died less than a month later in Spain). People forget nowadays, but back in the mid-70s Bowie was considered to be an out-and-out freak by most of Middle America . . . so it was somewhat of a shock and an enlightenment for a lot of people seeing the friendly, polite, 'normal' family man Bowie warbling Christmas carols with Mr. Wholesomeness himself. This is a stone classic:



And on a lighter note - here's Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's spot-on parody of this TV moment:



Saturday, December 8, 2012

Various Artists - The Time-Life Treasury Of Christmas (Christmas Spirit and Christmas Memories)

Here it is - the Christmas collection by which all others should be measured: the classic and legendary Time-Life Treasury Of Christmas. I used to LOVE the TV commercial for this album; it would run on local channels starting around mid-October. To me, nothing said "Christmas is coming!" and got me pumped about the upcoming holidays more than seeing this ad:



Time-Life's big selling point for this album was that (at the time) it was the only compilation available which included Bing Crosby's immortal "White Christmas". But there are tons of other 'must have' holiday songs here as well - Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Home For The Holidays" by Perry Como, Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree", "The Little Drummer Boy" by the Harry Simeone Chorale - this thing is chock-full of the original classics!

I initially acquired this set on cassette in 1986, the year it was first released. Over the years, Time-Life has rereleased this album several times, in various formats, all with varying track lists as well. The original release had forty-five songs, spread over two CDs/cassettes. But in 2001, in an apparent effort to milk more money out of purchasers, the company modified the collection, splitting the compilation into two separate double-disc albums of 24 songs apiece (The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas and The Time-Life Treasury Of Christmas: Holiday Memories), removing some artist's tracks and adding new ones. While some of these changes were questionable and annoying (I, for one, liked Dolly Parton's "Winter Wonderland/Sleigh Ride" medley and the Beach Boys' "Santa's Beard" and miss seeing them on the record), overall the mods didn't impact the overarching quality of the discs. Still, it would have been nice if they kept all 40-something songs together on one release, instead of splitting them up.

Here's the lineup:
Disc 1: Christmas Spirit:

1. Home For The Holidays - Perry Como
2. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
3. Jingle Bells - Ella Fitzgerald
4. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Andy Williams
5. Carol Of The Bells/Deck The Halls - The Robert Shaw Chorale
6. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day - Harry Belafonte
7. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
8. My Favorite Things - Eddie Fisher
9. Joy To The World - Julie Andrews
10. Here We Come A-Caroling - The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
11. March Of The Toys - The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
12. O Holy Night - Luciano Pavarotti

Disc 2: Christmas Memories:

1. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry
2. It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year - Andy Williams
3. The Twelve Days Of Christmas - Roger Whittaker
4. Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy - The Boston Pops Orchestra
5. Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte
6. I'll Be Home For Christmas - Elvis Presley
7. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
8. Sleigh Ride - Johnny Mathis
9. Tennessee Christmas - Alabama
10. Baby's First Christmas - Connie Francis
11. The Little Drummer Boy - Harry Simeone Chorale
12. Auld Lang Syne - Guy Lombardo
I may post Holiday Memories here later (or maybe not - I have to save something to post for next Xmas!). But for now, enjoy this one! I guarantee that THIS is the holiday album you will be playing the most during your Christmas season!

So, for your listening pleasure, here's The Time-Life Treasury Of Christmas double-disc set, first released in 1986 and updated in 2001 by Time–Life Music in cooperation with BMG Music. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Further Out

I don't usually write timely posts related to recent news items . . . but in this worthy case, I'll make an exception. Dave Brubeck, who died earlier this morning, was a GIANT, not just in the world of jazz, but in popular music as a whole, and as such he deserves heartfelt acknowledgement and profound tribute.

Brubeck was already a highly experienced and hugely successful musician when he formed his legendary quartet in 1951.  The group established its headquarters at San Francisco's former Blackhawk club, but during the Fifties made an effort to expand their audience through concerts of college campuses nationwide and during the decade releasing a series of popular recordings based on these tours: Jazz At Oberlin, Jazz Goes To College, Jazz Goes To Junior College, etc. He formed what is now considered the "classic" quartet lineup in 1958, with Joe Morello on drums, Eugene Wright on bass, the great Paul Desmond on alto sax, and himself on piano.

The following year, the group released Time Out, a jazz album featuring songs with unusual/rarely used time signatures, like 5/4 and 9/8. Brubeck's record company wasn't thrilled about putting the album out, and the release got creamed by critics at the time, but nevertheless Time Out became one of the most popular and best-selling jazz albums of all time, peaking at #2 on the US pop album charts (unheard of for a jazz disc), with the great 5/4 tune "Take Five" off of it becoming a chart hit and popular standard.

I'd heard "Take Five" a few times before in my life, but it wasn't until 2000 that the song really took hold of me. I was out in Los Angeles for a few days late the spring, attending my younger sister's graduation from USC's grad school, along with meeting up with old friends and running around the city. By that point, I'd been to L.A. enough to know the places I liked (like Pink's Hot Dog stand, Lola's Martini Bar in West Hollywood and the Formosa Cafe) and the places to avoid (basically, most of the touristy stuff like the Chinese Theater or the Hollywood sign), so I spent a lot of time at the places I preferred, just grooving to what the city had to offer.

Early one morning, after a long night of fun in out in Santa Monica, I found myself seated over a pastrami & rye in a booth at Mel's Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard. In the heart of that built-up and relentlessly modernized area of L.A., Mel's felt like an anachronism, a throwback to the American Graffiti, "Happy Days" era - it had that sort of vibe working, with its old-timey look, red pleather seats and general atmosphere. Each booth had a small coin-operated jukebox attached to it, containing songs from that bygone age - stuff like "Mr. Sandman", "Splish Splash" . . . and "Take Five", a song I hadn't heard at that point in years. I dropped my nickel, punched in the Brubeck song, and it was like BAM! The power, the smoothness, the overall coolness of that tune just hit me right between the eyes, right then and there. I sat there and played that song three more times before I settled my check, and with each play, "Take Five" took hold of me more and more. I walked out of Mel's that morning a Brubeck fanatic; later that day, I went down the street to the old Tower Records and bought Time Out.

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Time Out, it was a long time before I discovered that the Dave Brubeck Quartet had released a followup/sequel to this classic. Time Further Out was released in 1961, and repeated the pattern of the previous success, showcasing tunes with strange beats (for me, a lot of the fun in these albums is trying to wrap my head around the time signatures when listening to the songs, trying to determine exactly what the beat is for each tune). While at first glance it may seem that the group was resting on it laurels and repeating its popular success, that is definitely not the case. Time Further Out is the equal, if not superior, to Time Out.

Why? Well, as good as the latter was, in a lot of ways Time Out feels sort of like a music experiment, with the quartet trying out the different signatures and arrangements in almost a detached, clinical fashion, just to see if they can do it - a scientific musical exercise, if you will. But to me, on Time Further Out, the music seems to have more heart and feel behind it. It's as if during the two years after the release of Time Out, the band got more and more comfortable with working with different timings; they didn't have to THINK about it as much, what went into a 9/8 or a 7/4, and as such they could concentrate more on the playing, the infusion of character and soul into their music, rather than in making sure they all stayed in time. Listen to songs like "Maori Blues" or "Unsquare Dance", and you can HEAR the fun the band is having in playing these songs together (listen to them laugh together at the end of the latter song!). Time Out is brilliant on a technical level; Time Further Out is brilliant on a musical level - and as such, the two albums complement and complete one another. Both are essential jazz recordings.

The classic Dave Brubeck Quartet broke up in 1967, but Brubeck continued to record and play live shows, both solo and with other groups, up until his death today, the day before his 92nd birthday. In the years before his death, he has been justly and widely recognized as one of the towering figures in jazz and popular music, and the music and legacy he leaves behind will keep his name alive far into the future. Thanks for everything, Mr. Brubeck, and all the best to you in your current journey.

Here's the Dave Brubeck Quartet's classic jazz album Time Further Out, released by Columbia Records on May 3rd, 1961. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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