Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Just want to take the time here to say thanks a lot to all of you who've stopped by here to visit over the past few months. I hope you've enjoyed my posts and the screeds that come along with them. Music is a personal thing, I think, and it's my feeling that the impression or memory a song imparts to you is just as important as the song itself, if not moreso.

So I hope that the holiday music you've been listening to this week has put you all in a happy, festive mood. Merry Christmas, and I hope to be seeing more of you here in 2011!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Well . . .

You people never cease to surprise me! Lolita Storm's Girls Fucking Shit Up, the worst-reviewed album ever on this site, has had the highest download rate of anything I've ever put up here, with acquisitions quickly eclipsing those of albums that have been posted here for months! I'm completely amazed, and somewhat amused - I'm thinking maybe I should write crappy reviews for everything here!

Just out of curiosity, can someone explain to me what exactly IS the attraction of this album, and why so many people want it? It can't be my writeup - I savaged it (unless, of course, the concept of reverse psychology is actually valid here . . . )! Please let me know in the "Comments" section below - thanks!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Various Artists - By Golly Get Jolly!

Here's another Starbucks Christmas compilation for you, By Golly Get Jolly, available during the 2002 holiday season at stores nationwide and picked up by yours truly at their Providence, Rhode Island Wayland Square location that year.

This one is full of a lot of great pop and easy-listening renditions of popular Christmas songs. Standouts include Dean Martin's "Let It Snow", Nat King Cole's smooth and flawless rendition of "Silent Night", and the classic version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by the immortal Bing Crosby.

Here's the complete lineup:
1. Diana Krall - Jingle Bells (3:25)
2. Lou Rawls - The Little Drummer Boy (2:50)
3. Ella Fitzgerald - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (feat. The Frank de Vol Orchestra) (2:56)
4. Johnny Mathis - Sleigh Ride (2:59)
5. Nancy Wilson - That's What I Want For Christmas (1992 Digital Remaster) (2:19)
6. Dean Martin - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1:54)
7. Peggy Lee - The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You) (2:30)
8. Frank Sinatra - The Christmas Waltz (feat. The Ralph Brewster Singers) (3:03)
9. Chet Baker - Winter Wonderland (4:24)
10. Nina Simone - Little Girl Blue (Live Stereo (1964/New York)) (2:32)
11. Lena Horne - Jingle All The Way (2:36)
12. Bing Crosby - Do You Hear What I Hear? (2:45)
13. Nat King Cole - Silent Night (1:28)
I've always thought that this was the sort of Christmas compilation you'd play as background music at holiday parties at your home, or at similar gatherings. It's light, jazzy and sets just the right tone for the festivities. So I hope I'm providing this to you before your big party this year! If not, take it and save it for next year, or just listen to it yourself - I know you'll like it!


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lolita Storm - Girls Fucking Shit Up

. . . or as I like to refer to it: "The Worst Fucking Album I Ever Bought".

And that's saying something. Over the years, I've laid my hard-earned cash out on some truly reprehensible garbage - Julian Lennon's Valotte, Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club, Andy Summers' XYZ and It's A Sunshine Day: The Best Of The Brady Bunch, just to name a few. But at the very least, these albums I just named have a dollop of something within to redeem themselves - one decent song, the nostalgia factor, whatever. Girls Fucking Shit Up has ABSOLUTELY no redeeming qualities whatsoever that I can find.

As per usual, I blame the British music press. Those lyrical limey lunkheads fooled me once again.

Back in the late 90's/early 00's, English magazines like NME and Melody Maker (which merged with NME in 2000) were on a roll. Practically everything cool or cutting edge that I listened to back then, the Brits had discovered first, and championed long before anyone in the U.S. got wind of them. The Smiths, The Madchester sound, The Pixies and the stuff 4AD was doing - they were the ones who let the world know about these new and important sounds. And with that, I became a devoted reader, my thought being that if Q or the NME said it was good, then who was I to argue?

Lolita Storm was formed in 1999 by four working-class girls, who performed under the nom de plumes of Nhung Napalm, Romy Bonilla Medina, Jimmy Too Bad and Spex. They put together a demo tape of their material, which made its way to influential UK DJ Steve Lamacq. From that initial contact, they were quickly signed to a small independent label, Rabid Badger, and released a single ("Goodbye America"/"Get Back I'm Evil") later that year. NME immediately latched on to this band, making their first 45 release their "Single Of The Week", and championing the band as "Modern Age Riot Grrls" and "the logical descendents of Bikini Kill".

Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast, pardner. Lolita Storm's sound was nothing close to what Kathleen Hanna and company were doing out in the Pacific Northwest. The band's sound has been described as something called "digital hardcore", but that's bullshit - to paraphrase Wikipedia, their music is basically "chanted [shouted] punk lyrics about sex, bondage, drugs and feminism . . . put to a backdrop of generally highly aggressive [digital breakbeats]" at a maximum BPM. It's essentially noisy, toneless, mindless shit.

Still don't believe me?  Here - have a taste:

NOW are you convinced?

Still, however, I didn't know that's what this band was all about. So, in 2000, when Lolita Storm released their first LP, Girls Fucking Shit Up on Alec Empire's Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR), the April 21st, 2000 issue of NME gave it a decent review, giving them points for effort rather than execution. My dumb ass read this review, and like the Pavlovian music dog I was at the time, I immediately responded to this outside stimulus by running out and buying this album at my first opportunity.

Big mistake on my part.

From that point on, I began to question the objectivity and wisdom inherent in NME/Q/Uncut's music reviews, and to take their recommendations with many grains of salt. In the meantime, I listened to this album once or twice, just to make sure I didn't miss out on any redeeming qualities that might have been buried within. Then I stuck this CD up on the shelf, in a section I call the Island of Misfit Tunes, where it has remained unplayed for the past decade.

So again, in case you missed it - here's the Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole review of Lolita Storm's first album:

Xxxxx Fucking Shit Xx

I'd like to thank the band for seeing fit to include the gist of their music in the album's name.

But hey - that's just my review. Like I said above - don't take my word for it. If you feel up to it, here it is - have a listen. Just don't say I didn't warn you:

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Wiggles - "Unto Us, This Holy Night"

OK, OK . . . I can almost see the looks of incredulity on your faces with this entry. But bear with me, while I explain its inclusion here (and no, I am not insane).

Frankly, it's hard to write a good modern-day Christmas song. I think that most people have a pretty set list of images and ideas in their heads as to what Christmas is and should be all about. These things include stuff like sleigh rides and snowflakes: Santa Claus and reindeer: Jesus, Mary and Joseph; presents and bells and Christmas tree lights; heading home to see the folks in their nice, warm house and having holiday dinner with the family; etc. You know what I mean. The problem that holiday songwriters have nowadays is that, musically, all of these themes have been covered and recovered, ad nauseum. There are literally dozens of songs about sleigh rides, scores of songs referring to Santa, hundreds of songs addressing the subject of Christmas snow or holiday weather, and thousands of song celebrating Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. It's all been done.

In addition to theme, a holiday song has to set the right tone - sincere without being sappy, real enough without seeming contrived. Think of the best lines in the greatest Christmas songs - "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire; Jack Frost nipping at your nose"; "For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home!"; "Oh the weather outside is frightful; but the fire is so delightful"; "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas; just like the ones I used to know". All of those songs conjure up and reinforce cherished Christmas images and ideals, even for people who have never roasted chestnuts in their lives or have never experienced a white Christmas. [For example, it was always sort of weird hearing these traditional holiday tunes played and sung when I lived in New Zealand, where Christmas falls in the middle of the austral summer there. And yet, the people there cherished this music as much as folks in the Northern Hemisphere did, so while it seemed odd, it still felt right and natural.}

Unfortunately, all of this hasn't stopped contemporary songwriters from trying over and over again to create up a new bit of holiday musical magic. Most of the latest results have been embarrassingly trite or maudlin - prime examples include Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" from 1979, Leann Rimes' "Put A Little Holiday In Your Heart" from 1996, 2000's "My Only Wish (This Year)" by Britney Spears, and Faith Hill's 2008 song "A Baby Changes Everything". Even worse have been the spate of Christmas novelty songs released in the past generation - the worst of which being the reprehensible "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"; I could live just as long and die just as happy never hearing a note of that stupid song ever again.

With all of this in mind, you could quite easily make the argument that there hasn't been a great, sincere, classic (not novelty) Christmas song written since the mid-1960s. I'm referring to beloved tunes like Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" from the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas special, Andy Williams' 1963 classic "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year", and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1962 (I'd include Burl Ives' "Holly Jolly Christmas" and Thurl Ravenscroft's "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in this group, but I consider these more as novelty holiday songs).

Now, I'm not a big Wiggles fan. They were huge around my household back in the early part of this decade, when my children were still toddlers. Their TV show was rarely missed in my house, and more than once I stood in line overnight to buy tickets to the Australian group's local live shows. But the popularity of The Wiggles waned as my youngsters approached school age, relegating the piles of Wiggles DVDs, toys and other paraphenalia to boxes in the storage area.

I bought the album Wiggly Wiggly Christmas for my one- and two-year-old daughters in 2002, although it was released in 2000. The majority of the material on the disc is kiddie fodder - reworkings of traditional Christmas tunes alongside bouncy, silly original music usually referring to a character on the band's TV show: "Henry's Christmas Dance" or "Wags Is Bouncing Around The Christmas Tree", for example.

But there was one song on this album which stood out from the rest: "Unto Us, This Holy Night". On this one, the band played it straight, and offered up a superb Latin-tinged melody about the birth of Jesus, subtlely highlighted with tasteful horn arrangements. The song is so glaringly good, that it's hard to believe that it's stuck unheralded in the middle of an album like this.

Here's a clip of the Wiggles from their Wiggly Wiggly Christmas video, playing this song; it starts at about 1:32 after the chatting with the children:

It's almost shocking to admit this, but I have to say, in my opinion, that The Wiggles' "Unto Us, This Holy Night" is simply one of the best Christmas songs written in the past twenty-five years. But I'll let you all decide for yourself. I have mercifully taken this one song off the album (and believe me, if you knew how bad stuff like "Let's Clap Hands For Santa Claus" or "Go Santa Go" really was, you'd be thanking me for not posting the rest of the disc) and attached it below. Check it out, and let me know what you think of it, or of any of what I've written above.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Fantastic Dee-Jays - The Fantastic Dee-Jays

I don't think I ever mentioned this before, but from 2001 to 2007, I was in a band, a decent band at that. The group was made up of high-level executives, my colleagues, at the financial institution where I worked in Rhode Island - the drummer was the Chief Financial Officer, the bass player was Lead Syndicator, etc. The group was already going semi-strong before I joined the company, just doing instrumental jam sessions in someone's basement. One day they told me that they were looking for a singer, and asked if I was interested in the job. Now frankly, at the time, I couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle on it. But I went and auditioned for them one night, and I guess I was passable enough; they let me join up.

Our band did nothing but rock, garage rock and blues covers, stuff like "Devil With The Blue Dress", "Stormy Monday", "Burning Love" - nothing original. But we practiced a lot, and got competent enough to begin playing small local gigs, company parties and Open Mike Nights around Providence, stuff like that. We didn't take our group too seriously - it was just something to do, a way to blow off steam after work. However, as it turned out, we went a lot further with that band than we ever dreamed, and achieved some small measure of national success (on the amateur level, of course). But that's another story that I may tell later on down the line. All in all, it was really fun, and a dream come true for me. One day, maybe I'll post a recording of one of our songs too, for you all to have a laugh over.

We were a pretty close bunch, the group of us, often eating lunch together or going our for after-work drinks on the days we didn't practice. In addition to our regular jobs around the office, we were collectively known there as "the band", which got us a lot of attention in the building, both positive (in that people from work would flock to our gigs, a major selling point we used when negotiating fees with club owners) and not-so-positive (a few folks resented our insular, tight-knit combo, thinking that somehow our membership in an unofficial company band somehow gave us a Teflon coating). Fortunately, there wasn't much of that latter attitude around.

One day, an acquaintance of mine there in the office who often came to our shows handed me a CD of tunes he thought the band might like enough to take a swing at (in addition to being the lead singer, it was the bass player and I who came up with the majority of the group's material). The CD contained songs by an old '60s group called The Fantastic Dee-Jays. I'd never heard of them before, but the guy who gave me the recordings had an affiliation with the band - way back when, his dad was their rhythm guitarist.

The Fantastic Dee-Jays were a Pittsburgh-area (actually, out of McKeesport) group founded in 1964 by three 16-year-old high school students: Denny Nicholson on lead guitar, Dick Newton on rhythm guitar and Tom Juneko on drums (note that the band used an unusual bass-less setup). They were a straight-up, literal garage band, practicing at Newton's house after school; just a bunch of kids goofing and having fun.

However, in early 1965, a local radio DJ caught wind of the band's sound and began recording them after-hours on the station's equipment, then playing the songs on the station the following day. These singles began building the band a rabid local following, with kids flocking to their shows. And it generated enough of a buzz to lead to the recording of their one and only album, The Fantastic Dee-Jays, in early 1966, released on Stone Records. Later that year, on June 25th, the band played its biggest gig, opening for the Rolling Stones at the Pittsburgh Civic Center Arena during the Stones' second American tour (in support of the album Aftermath).

But, as things usually happen, the band began to unravel as the members got older and graduated from high school. By the end of 1966, The Fantastic Dee-Jays were history. Members of the original band stayed active, eventually evolving into another local garage band, The Swamp Rats.

It's an old story, told many times before - group gets together, has some level of success, breaks up and moves on - end of story. Sounds like That Thing You Do!, eh? Well, The Fantastic Dee-Jays should have fallen to that level of extreme 60s obscurity. However, the five singles and lone album they cut have long been celebrated by serious collectors of mid-Sixties garage rock, so much so that in 1996, Millennia Records obtained the license for their sole album and rereleased it on their label. In addition to their excellent original songs, the album includes a couple of notable/noteworthy tunes:
- A cover of "Fight Fire" by The Golliwogs, a band that would eventually evolve into Creedence Clearwater Revival;
- "What You're Doing", a Lennon/McCartney obscurity, and
- "T & C Lancers", a song the band recorded for a advertisement for a local shoe store!
We (that is, my band) never used any of the songs on this album, but I came to appreciate and enjoy the energy and simplicity inherent in these tunes. Shoot - I was in a garage band myself, so I could relate.

And I hope you all can relate too - here it is:

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Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fall - (We Wish You A) Protein Christmas EP (plus a bonus Fall Christmas song)

I'm jazzed about this posting - it lets me combine my whole Christmas schtick with the rabid fandom I have for my favorite band, The Fall.

Here's The Fall's EP (We Wish You A) Protein Christmas, released by Action Records in 2003. Only one song on this CD, the title cut, has anything to do with Christmas. The other three songs are taken from the Country On The Click sessions from earlier that year ("Mad Mock Goth" would later appear on 2004's stopgap LP Interim). Here's the lineup:
1.  (We Wish You A) Protein Christmas 3:32
2.  (We Are) Mod Mock Goth 4:44
3.  (Birtwistle's) Girl In Shop 3:54
4.  Recovery Kit 2 # 4:04
Here you are:

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And as a special addition to this posting, I'm including The Fall's song "Christmastide", included on the bonus disc added to select editions of 1997's Levitate. I personally consider this one to be the best Fall holiday song - not that they have that many to begin with (although "Protein Christmas" isn't bad either). Enjoy.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John Lennon - Lennon (Boxed Set)

At just after 9 pm on the evening of December 8th, 1980, I arrived home from my after-high school job working in the kitchen of Santa Catalina (a very ritzy private girls school located near my house in Monterey, California) to find my family crowded around the TV, watching a special news report on NBC. When I asked what was going on, my dad told me that John Lennon had been killed in New York City earlier that night. That was how I first learned about it.

Lennon's death took place in the days before most families had cable TV, so the concept of 24-hour news was all but unheard of in 1980 (CNN had just started broadcasting in June of that year, but the fledgling network wasn't seen by most people). I sat in the family room and flipped channels for the next few hours, from ABC to CBS and back to NBC, following the reports and trying to gather what little information was available. The networks ran footage of crowds beginning to gather in the dark near the Dakota, Lennon's home and the place where he was murdered, and showed people crying, praying, singing and mourning. And for the first time in my life, I wished that I was in New York City, there with them all, being part of the crowd, instead of sitting in a little house 3,000 miles away. It truly felt like something was passing with his death - not just a man, or his talent and genius, but it was as though an entire era was ending. In many ways, Lennon's death was the true end of the Seventies.

The Beatles had broken up even before I'd entered first grade, but I was very much aware of them as a child, and loved their music. When I was in elementary school in Norfolk, VA, during the summer the school district would sponsor weekly discount matinees at a local theater, where they showed classic kid's movies like The Phantom Tollbooth and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. But my favorite of all those summer movies was
Yellow Submarine. At the time, I didn't realize how arch and subversive the film was - I (and many of the other kids attending) just liked the animation, the characters, and especially the music. Later, in my early teens, I actually paid to see the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton schlockfest Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (I must be honest, and provide full disclosure here - I paid to see it TWICE), simply because I loved the Beatles' music.

In terms of the band's solo output, Ringo was an early favorite. I remember when I was eight or nine, his self-titled album was HUGE, and "Oh My My" and "Photograph" were always on the radio. Later during the 70s, my allegiance moved towards what Paul was doing, by himself and with his band Wings. I can recall a family trip we took from Maryland to Niagara Falls and Toronto one summer - "Let 'Em In" and "Silly Love Songs" were played constantly on radio stations all the way up to Canada and all the way back. I didn't have much of a feel for what George Harrison or John Lennon were doing then. When you're a kid, you tend to gravitate toward the more accessible, "poppier" sounds, like the ones Paul and Ringo were making. The introspection, mysticism and acid commentary of most of John and George's music during that period just sort of went by me. So when Lennon died, I mourned it more as the passing of a Beatle, rather than the passing of a singular artist.

I really didn't fully get into Lennon's solo career until well into my twenties. In 1990, my ship left for a six-month deployment to South America, an exercise called UNITAS (which, needless to say, was a whole lot of fun, with visits to amazing places like Chile, Argentina and Rio). I had a new enlisted guy working for me down in the office. He was a music buff like myself, and brought plenty of CDs along for the trip. One day early on, he began playing some Lennon music on the office boom box, stuff I had never heard before. When I asked him about it, he handed me this boxed set, Lennon, released by Capitol Records earlier that year.

In my opinion, this is the best John Lennon compilation EVER assembled. It includes not only all of his hits, but also large chunks off of all of his solo albums and later work with Yoko Ono, the best tracks, filtering out the filler and dross. The songs for this collection were personally compiled by Mark Lewisohn, a British historian who is considered the world's foremost authority on The Beatles. So it's not like some record company drones picked the tracks for maximum commercial potential - there was some serious thought put in behind every selection.

This collection was perfect for someone like me, who wanted to know more about Lennon but didn't own any of his albums. If you're looking for rarities or alternate tracks to familiar songs, this is not the compilation for you. But if you're looking for something that has essentially everything you want/need to hear/know about Lennon's solo career, this is truly the only box set you need.

As such, it's a crime that Capitol deleted this set from Lennon's catalog sometime in 1998, replacing it with the decidedly inferior John Lennon Anthology. Forget that crappy set - Lennon is the one you want. Trust me on this.

In case you're curious, here's the track lineup:

Disc One
1. "Give Peace a Chance" – 4:53
2. "Blue Suede Shoes" (Carl Perkins) – 2:38
3. "Money" (Bradford-Berry Gordy) – 3:25
4. "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" (Larry Williams) – 3:23
5. "Yer Blues" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) – 3:42
6. "Cold Turkey" – 5:02
7. "Instant Karma!" – 3:23
8. "Mother"– 5:35
9. "Hold On"– 1:53
10. "I Found Out" – 3:37
11. "Working Class Hero" – 3:50
12. "Isolation" – 2:53
13. "Remember"– 4:36
14. "Love" – 3:24
15. "Well Well Well" – 5:59
16. "Look at Me" – 2:54
17. "God" – 4:10
18. "My Mummy's Dead" – 0:53
19. "Power to the People" – 3:18
20. "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)" (Ward) – 3:56
Disc Two
1. "Imagine" – 3:04
2. "Crippled Inside" – 3:49
3. "Jealous Guy" – 4:15
4. "It's So Hard" – 2:26
5. "Give Me Some Truth" – 3:16
6. "Oh My Love" (John Lennon/Yoko Ono) – 2:45
7. "How Do You Sleep?" – 5:36
8. "How?" – 3:42
9. "Oh Yoko!" – 4:19
10. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (John Lennon/Yoko Ono) – 3:34
11. "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (John Lennon/Yoko Ono) – 5:15
12. "New York City" – 4:29
13. "John Sinclair" – 3:28
14. "Come Together" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) – 4:25
15. "Hound Dog" (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller) – 3:02
16. "Mind Games" – 4:12
17. "Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)" – 4:44
18. "One Day (At a Time)" – 3:07
19. "Intuition" – 3:09
20. "Out the Blue" – 3:21
Disc Three
1. "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" – 3:25
2. "Going Down on Love" – 3:54
3. "Old Dirt Road" (John Lennon/Harry Nilsson) – 4:09
4. "Bless You" – 4:37
5. "Scared" – 4:39
6. "#9 Dream" – 4:48
7. "Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)" – 2:55
8. "Steel and Glass" – 4:37
9. "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)" – 5:10
10. "Stand by Me" (Ben E. King/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller) – 3:28
11. "Ain't That a Shame" (Fats Domino/Bartholemew) – 2:30
12. "Do You Wanna Dance" (Bobby Freeman) – 2:52
13. "Sweet Little Sixteen" (Chuck Berry) – 3:00
14. "Slippin' and Slidin'" (Penniman/Bocage/Collins/Smith) – 2:16
15. "Angel Baby" (Hamlin) – 3:39
16. "Just Because" (Lloyd Price) – 4:25
17. "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night (Live)" – 4:19
18. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) – 5:58
19. "I Saw Her Standing There" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) – 3:28
[Tracks 17-19 recorded live at Elton John's Madison Square Garden show on 28 November 1974]
Disc Four
1. "(Just Like) Starting Over" – 3:56
2. "Cleanup Time" – 2:57
3. "I'm Losing You" – 3:56
4. "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" – 4:01
5. "Watching the Wheels" – 3:31
6. "Woman" – 3:32
7. "Dear Yoko" – 2:33
8. "I'm Stepping Out" – 4:06
9. "I Don't Wanna Face It" – 3:21
10. "Nobody Told Me" – 3:33
11. "Borrowed Time" – 4:28
12. "(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess" – 2:27
13. "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him" (Yoko Ono) – 3:31
14. "Grow Old With Me" – 3:07
So, on the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, a poet, genius and all-around great man, I offer you, in its entirety, his best collection. Enjoy, remember . . . and imagine.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Various Artists - A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (RS500 - #142)

Many months ago, I posted three discs from the Phil Spector: Back To Mono (1958-1969) box set on this blog (posted here). What I didn't mention was that this compilation was a FOUR-disc set. Here's the fourth disc, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, originally released on Philles Records in 1963 (unfortunately, on the same day as the Kennedy assassination) and reissued with the box set in 1991 on ABKCO Records.

This is arguably the greatest Christmas album of all time, and one of the first compilations of classic holiday tunes interpreted by modern artists. Every one of the Christmas albums you can find nowadays, from the likes of The Rat Pack, Herb Alpert, The Stylistics; various soul singers and Motown artists; country Christmases, jazz Christmases, polka Christmases, etc. - all of these albums can trace their origins back to A Christmas Gift . . . This is pretty much what started all of that.

Each and every song version included here is a bonafide, stone-cold CLASSIC holiday song. Frankly, there's really nothing else for me to say about this offering. This is the one by which all other Christmas compilations are measured, and well-deserving of its inclusion on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

And thus, here you are. Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Inch Feat. Mark E. Smith - Inch EP

Found this one at the late, lamented Virgin Megastore at Grapevine Mills Mall in Grapevine, TX in 1999, during my weekly search through the Fall stacks for any new releases. I miss that store - they were always 'Johnny-on-the-spot' regarding new music, and always had the latest/rarest stuff available. Back when I lived there, there were only two decent music stores in the Dallas area - Virgin and Bill's Records in Dallas. The only problem with Bill's was that I found it to be overpriced, compared to Virgin (plus the mall was only a couple of miles from where I lived). So must of my music purchases were made at Virgin.

Sort of a convoluted history behind thie release, the facts of which I didn't know completely until last year, when I read The Fallen, Dave Simpson's excellent book regarding his search for all of the forty-odd former members of The Fall (BTW, I highly recommend this book for all Fall fans). Here's the scoop:

Kier Stewart was a guitarist and studio engineer in Manchester who, with his studio partner Simon Spencer, worked with Fall leader Mark E. Smith on a one-off track called "Plug Myself In" in 1996 (the two billed themselves as DOSE - and BTW, the track can be found on my earlier Fall posting, A World Bewitched). The track was pretty well received, and Stewart and Spencer were eager to produce The Fall's next album (which eventually became 1997's Levitate). When guitarist Adrian Flanagan (a short-term fill-in for the recently departed Brix Smith, on her second and last go-round with the band) left the group in early 1997, Stewart was offered the slot and a chance to join the band. He initially refused, but Spencer talked him into it, thinking that it might lead to their being tapped as producers - which they were (sort of).

The band began recording in West Hempstead, but the sessions did not go well, mainly due to Smith undergoing personal problems that made him extremely paranoid, to the point where he'd sometimes refuse to do any vocals. Coupled with this was Smith's refusal/delay in signing a producer's agreement with Stewart and Spencer, and ongoing lack of payment.

The two finally got fed up and quit the sessions as both producers and musicians; they even went so far as to wipe the tapes of the little that had been recorded up to that point. And they decided to play one last practical joke on Smith: during the sessions, Stewart and Spencer had recorded a track with Smith, "Inch", as a side project apart from what The Fall was doing. After their departure from the Fall sessions, they carefully packaged up the single and shipped it out to John Peel and various major record companies, along with a letter claiming to be from Mark E. Smith, but full of un-Smith like language along the lines of "Golly gee - we really made a super cool record! Have a listen!"

Smith arrived home to find his answering machine full of messages from recording companies, asking about the "new record" that he didn't know existed. While Smith remained confused, Spencer and Stewart got a deal for the track with EMI themselves, only later bringing Smith in to work out the final details.

So, here it is, the Inch EP, released on Regal Recordings (a subsidiary of Parlophone, itself a subsidiary of EMI) in 1999. A version of this song, titled "4 1/2 Inch", made it onto Levitate. But I think the EP version is superior. This EP includes the original song and four longer remixes, all of which are superb. All hail Mark E. Smith!


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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Poll Results - "Who is the greatest Canadian rock group/singer?"

OK, so I forgot about Joni Mitchell - I've heard it enough from you guys already. Mea culpa. Either way, I don't think anyone was going to beat Neil Young for Greatest Canadian Rock Group/Singer, with the remote exception of Rush. Young led all other names three-to-one (a group that included Broken Social Scene, k. d. lang, the aforementioned Rush and The Guess Who. He led "Other" (which I assume was a vote for Mitchell) by two-to-one. Others receiving at least one vote included The Tragically Hip, The Arcade Fire, Feist, Martha & The Muffins and Alanis Morissette.

Thanks for voting! A new poll will be posted soon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Various Artists - Hi-Fidelity Holiday

Here's another one to add to my holiday selections:

I've long been a sucker for those Christmas compilations that Starbucks has for sale every year about this time. I've got several of the doggone things. Why? Well, say what you will about them, but most of them are actually pretty good collections of classic and modern holiday music.

Here's one I picked up during the Christmas season back in 1998 when I lived in Texas, Hi-Fidelity Holiday:
1. Jingle Bells - Esquivel
2. Jingle Bell Jamboree - Keb' Mo'
3. Winter Wonderland - Cocteau Twins
4. Baby, It's Cold outside - Dean Martin
5. Sleigh Ride - Combustible Edison
6. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
7. Thanks for Christmas - Three Wise Men (XTC)
8. Christmas Wish - El Vez
9. Merry Christmas Baby - James Brown
10. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - The Alarm
11. Little Drummer Boy - Temptations
12. I Like a Sleighride (Jingle Bells) - Peggy Lee
13. Christmas Must Be Tonight - Robbie Robertson
14. We Four Kings - Blue Hawaiians
16. Christmas Auld Lang Sang - Bobby Darin
Favorites include the songs by XTC and The Blue Hawaiians, but pretty much every song here is a winner.

So here you go - bon appetit:

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blur - Girls & Boys EP

By May of 1994, I had been living and working in New Zealand for a year. I had a ton of leave saved up, so I requested and received permission to head back to the States for a monthlong vacation.

Flying back and forth between New Zealand and the U.S. was prohibitively expensive, but I had an ace in the hole - each week, the U.S. Armed Forces ran a C-130 cargo plane shuttle across the Pacific between Honolulu and Sydney, Australia, with stops in between, as part of the Air Mobility Command. If space was available among the supplies and other personnel aboard the plane, I would be able to grab a seat (known as flying "Space-A") and get to where I was going - eventually. I say 'eventually', because while the weekly shuttle had to leave from Hawaii on the same day for the westward trek of its weekly schedule, the points and destinations in between were flexible and subject to change, as were the layover times in those places. On an AMC flight, I might get to the States lickety-split, or it could take me a while. But it was of no matter to me - I had a month to burn, so I wasn't in any great hurry. Plus, it was free, so why complain?

The Air Force officer stationed in Christchurch in charge of the local air detachment and all U.S. military flight operations there was a good friend of mine, and he completely hooked me up. The C-130 made a brief stopover in New Zealand on a Wednesday in mid-May, headed west (there was to be no Christchurch stop on its return trip east, so I had to go with them to Australia first). After I boarded, I discovered, to my surprise and delight, that my Air Force buddy had amended my travel orders to essentially make me part of the plane's crew, as long as I was with them. I wasn't fully appraised of the benefits of this designation until we landed near Sydney. It was to be a two-day layover there, and for situations like that, the military provides for accommodation for the crews somewhere. So I ended up staying with the C-130 gang in my own room at the Panthers World Of Entertainment, a resort complex owned by the local top-level pro rugby team, the Penrith Panthers, and located in Penrith, a western suburb of Sydney.

We had a lot of fun over those two days. During the flight there over the Tasman, I learned that the pilot was a woman who graduated from the Air Force Academy the same year I graduated from Navy. We found that we had a number of mutual acquaintances. And I also spent a lot of time yapping with a couple of the enlisted crew members during the ride (overall, I found that the Air Force didn't appear to strenuously enforce constraints of hierarchy and separation between officer and enlisted - it was more like, they were all on the plane together to do a job, and so be it, which was cool by me). After we landed, one of those crewmembers, the pilot and I sort of joined forces, and we spent a lot of time together during our stay in Sydney.

It was my first visit to the city (outside of passing through the airport en route to New Zealand the year before), and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Sydney completely lived up to its advance billing; to put it in an American perspective, it's like a cleaner, friendlier New York City, in a more attractive setting with sizzling, tanned blonde Australian chicks everywhere you look (and you can drink beer on some of the streets without the cops hassling you). Our activities ran the gamut from lowbrow (we of course HAD to see the Kings Cross area, and I wanted to visit some of the great Aussie music stores I'd heard so much about) to highbrow (we made a long visit to the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)). We visited many bars (including one on George Street called Jacksons on George, a place that would figure prominently in another Australian adventure I'd have a year later, when I discovered EXACTLY how much they love Americans over there. . . but that's another story (heh heh)) and had great stuff to eat. And the highlight of our time there: on a suggestion from the female member of our group, we hurriedly bought tickets and were treated to an evening performance by the city's symphony orchestra within the absolutely stunning confines of the world-famous Sydney Opera House [to attend the Opera House show, I passed up seeing a band that was performing at the Panthers World of Entertainment that same evening - The Hoodoo Gurus. As good as seeing the Hoodoos would have been, I still think I made the right choice].

Late the next afternoon we left Sydney, headed northeast towards Honolulu. We were in the air for what seemed like most of the day, the only excitement occurring when the door latch to the plane's toilet broke, trapping me inside for almost an hour until the crew figured out a way to open it. We were flying over tropical regions, but at 30,000 feet in the air in an unheated C-130, it was getting pretty cold. I spent the remainder of that leg of the journey in my seat, hunkered down in army blankets, reading a book of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories I'd brought along with me.

It was somewhere well after 2 am when we finally landed in Pago Pago, American Samoa. That was a very weird stopover. We landed at a location which appeared to have been hacked out of the surrounding jungle; I couldn't see any city lights blazing anywhere. As we taxied towards the terminal, I looked out past the field lights to see mobs of people gathered on the edge of the airstrip - children, men and women, many wearing the traditional lava-lavas, all staring intently at the cargo plane. It struck me that life in Pago Pago must be stultifyingly boring, if watching a plane land in the wee hours of the morning can draw that kind of crowd.

I had to get off while the plane refueled, so I sauntered into the waiting area of the terminal. It looked more like the waiting area of a Greyhound bus terminal, with dull brown Formica-tiled floors, a couple of rows of hard-backed wooden chairs, and a black-and-white TV playing from a ceiling corner. There was also a sorry-looking snack bar there, stocked with a paltry selection of stuff that I didn't want to buy [I did notice one thing there, though: the only cola drink they had for sale was New Coke, the reviled and ridiculed soft drink that had been introduced and quickly withdrawn in the States three years earlier. So if you ever wondered what the Coca-Cola Company ever did with their leftover stock of that crap - now you know]. I sat in that terminal for an hour, watching some docudrama about John Gotti on the no-color TV, until it was time to reboard just as light was reappearing in the eastern sky.

I discovered as I took my seat that I was to have additional company - other folks were flying Space-A as well, headed back to Hawaii from what appeared to be short vacations in tropical Samoa. These people sat across from me wearing Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals, jabbering about how great Pago Pago was. Hours later, as we crossed the Equator during our 3,000 mile flight to Honolulu, those same people were suffering, quivering in their beach clothes under blankets and piles of newspapers as the temperature dropped inside that plane. I was dressed a little better/smarter then they were, and by then knew what to expect, so I was good to go.

We arrived in Hawaii about noon, where I said goodbye to my friends among the crew (never to see them again), and made my way over to the AMC office to see about a connecting flight to the mainland. There was going to be nothing available for a day or so, so I was left to fend for myself. Mind you, this was my very first visit to Hawaii, I didn't know my way around and had no place arranged to stay while I was there. But I was young and fearless; that didn't worry me a bit. I merely made my way over to the main airport and rented a Jeep. I figured that, worst case, I could store my luggage in the car and sleep in it that night.

Upon leaving the airport's rental car area, I remembered that a girl I used to see when I was stationed in the DC area a year earlier was now stationed somewhere in Honolulu, so I figured I'd try to look her up and see what was what. But that plan was almost immediately put on hold as I eased up at the first stoplight - for there, on my right, was a Tower Records, the first I'd seen in more than a year.
[Quick aside: There were some pretty good record stores in Christchurch, well stocked with local product and some semi-cutting edge rock and alternative acts (they had plenty of Nirvana and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it took them almost four months to get the Fugazi CD I ordered through them). But the thing with NZ music stores is that they GOUGE the locals. At the time, standard prices for CDs were between NZ$28 and NZ$34. With the New Zealand dollar equal to about 60 cents U.S. at the time, that equates to somewhere between $17 and $21 per CD, at a time when CD prices back home were moving steadily towards the $11-$12 range. The prices there didn't faze me that much, because I was paid in U.S. dollars, I already had a huge music collection, and I could find a lot of stuff at the base exchange. But I felt bad for Kiwis - no one there really owned a whole lot of stuff (upon coming over to my house for the first time, one of my buddies there was astounded at all the music I owned). I was happy to be back in an area that had (relatively) cheap music.]
I skidded that Jeep to a halt in front of Tower and ran inside. I bought a ton of stuff that day, things I'd wanted to hear for a while (like Bjork's debut album, appropriately titled Debut) and things I bought . . . well, not sight unseen, but the aural equivalent ("ears unheard"?). The store was playing a song with a thumping discofied beat over the intercom; it tickled my fancy enough to inquire of the counterperson what I'd been listening to. When she told me it was "Girls & Boys" by Blur, I went back and picked up that single as well, to add to my pile.

Well, this EP, with the cover picture of a frolicking couple on the beach, and lyrics celebrating tropical holidays in Ibiza, sort of set the stage for the rest of my stay in Hawaii. I met up with that girl I knew, and she was very happy to see me. I took her out to dinner in town that night, wearing my hybrid Miami Vice/Magnum P.I. 'cool' summer gear, and we went to some of the beachside bars there in town. At one point, we sat out in the sand under a palm tree with our drinks, with a warm, gentle tropical breeze blowing and the surf roaring at intervals, but not loud enough to drown out the Hawaiian band playing at the nearby bar. I can recall thinking that NOW I could relate to what Blur was singing about, and how my time in Honolulu couldn't get any better than that moment . . .

(Well, actually, it DID get better ;) . . . but that's a story that won't be elaborated on here. Leave it be said that we had fun.)

I left Honolulu on an AMC flight a day or so later, and after additional layovers (and more good times) in San Francisco and Charleston, SC, I finally made it home to Virginia a week after I started. But the journey was just as fun as the actual vacation, if not moreso. I often think back on that time and those adventures, and smile.

So in honor and in memory of my wonderful first visit to Hawaii, I offer you Blur's Girls & Boys EP, featuring two superb remixes of the original song (off of Parklife) produced by the Pet Shop Boys. Enjoy, and mahalo!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Various Artists - Holiday Freak Out (Disc 1 & 2)

Well, it's that time of year again . . . time to:

- sweat over what to get the special persons in your life, trying to balance to desire for giving an amazing gift against the reality of a not-so-amazing bank account; time to

- brave mall traffic in the freezing cold and having to park six miles away from the shopping center because some bitchy old lady in a Cutlass cut in front of you and stole the parking spot you'd been patiently waiting for, then proceeded to give you shit about it when you complained; time to

- get jostled by dead-eyed shoppers laden with bags and packages of their own, as you race from store to store to find that the item they swore up and down they "had plenty of" when you talked to them on the phone two hours ago was now sold out, with no plans to replace their stock before January 10th; time to

- race around, looking for the perfect Christmas tree, only to find that every one you look at seems to have a flaw - and when you finally find a good one, you end up paying an arm and a leg for it, only to have the fucking thing fall off of the car and destroy itself as you travel down the highway, because the dumbass who sold it to you didn't properly tie it onto the roof rack; and time to

- spend Christmas Day in a flurry of present opening and stuffing ripped Christmas wrapping into big green trash bags, visiting nearby relatives you really don't like very much but have to go see because "it's the holidays", watching heavily hyped and stultifyingly boring college football games hunkered down on the sofa, eating and drinking WAY too much, then putting your head on the pillow that night and wondering where the day, and the holiday, went to so quickly.

I know, I know - I sound like friggin' Ebenezer Scrooge here, with all of that. Believe it or not, though, I really love Christmas. It's just that the fantasy we have of Christmas - snowflakes and mistletoe, sledding and Santa, caroling, cookies and gingerbread houses - seems to always get trumped by the actual REALITY of the holiday season, all of the stuff (and more) that I mentioned above. In this age of braying hucksters urging us to "Buy! Buy! Buy!" and the nonstop commercialism that now has the holiday "shopping season" beginning in late September, Christmas is becoming just another major reason to worry and stress and fret over the state of our lives.

And it really shouldn't be that way. Christmas should be about fun, and laughter, and happy children quivering with nervous excitement under the bedcovers on Christmas Eve, trying (and failing) to stay awake long enough to hear Santa's sleigh on the roof of the house. It should be about Charlie Brown, and Mr. Magoo, and Rudolph on TV as close to the holiday as possible (this crap about airing these classic holiday specials in November and early December irks me to no end). And it should be about silly, sappy, dopey, funny Christmas music, the songs we heard and loved as kids - and I'm not referring to the classics, like "White Christmas" or "The Little Drummer Boy".

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to try to bring a little bit of that type of zany holiday spirit back into your lives, by posting some of the many Christmas compilations I have in my possession.

And here's the first in this series: Holiday Freak Out, posted on a site called Otis Fodder back in 2002. I can't remember how I happened to stumble over this site or this music, but I'm glad I did - Holiday Freak Out is two discs of wacked-out Xmas gold! If you're the sort of person who thinks that "Hooray For Santa Claus" from the so-awful-it's-now-a-cult-classic movie Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is a misunderstood classic; or who sheds a tear as Jim Backus, in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, laments his sad childhood in "All Alone In The World"; or who knows and loves Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster's Holiday", his less-well received follow-up to his smash hit "Monster Mash" - then this is the album for you! These two discs are full of sad, funny, weird, off-kilter - yea, 'freaky' (hence the name) Christmas songs that will put a smile on your face and on that of anyone else who hears it!

The Otis Fodder site has been defunct for quite a while now, making this compilation pretty hard to find online. It's too bad - the guys who compiled this collection were straight-out geniuses. So, here you are, for your listening pleasure - Holiday Freak Out, Discs 1 and 2! Enjoy the start to your holiday season, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hunters & Collectors - Hunters & Collectors

I'd never even heard of Hunters & Collectors until about ten years ago. I was browsing through one of my old reliable music books, the Trouser Press Record Guide, and happened to come across their name. I can't remember what most of the article about this band said; the main thing I recall was that the TPRG mentioned that the band's sound was similar to that of England's The Fall.

Being a HUGE Fall fan, that was all I needed to hear. I instantly became more interested in what this band was about.

Hunters & Collectors was formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1981 by a bunch of local college students. They named themselves from a track on an album by Can. The band lived up to its naming source by creating a post-punk sound heavily influenced by 1970s German experimental groups like Faust, Tangerine Dream and, of course, Can, filtered through an Australian rock sensibility (Mark E. Smith's love of Krautrock was a primary early influence to The Fall's music as well; hence the comparison between The Fall and Hunters & Collectors in TPRG). The band's lead singer and principal lyricist was a guy named Mark Seymour, whose younger brother Nick later became bassist for Crowded House.

Hunters & Collectors were quickly signed to a subsidiary of Mushroom Records, and their first release, a 3-song EP called World Of Stone, was released in January 1982. Their debut album, Hunters & Collectors, was released by the label the following July, and reached #21 on the Australian charts. Another EP, Payload, was released on Mushroom in November of that year. In early 1983, the band began a six-month tour of the UK and signed to Virgin Records, who combined the band's LP and the Payload EP into a UK LP rerelease of Hunters & Collectors. Another album, The Fireman's Curse (recorded in Germany and helmed by renowned Krautrock producer Conny Plank), was released on Virgin in September 1983. But a multialbum deal with Virgin fell apart after the band publicly insulted the manhood of the managing executive of the label. By November, Hunters & Collectors had disbanded.

But by early 1984 the members had returned to Australia and reformed, at the same time revising their sound, moving away from post-punk and arty German rock pretensions towards a fuller, 'pub rock'-ier, bass-&-horn-driven attack that brought them nationwide fame. Hunters & Collectors' breakthrough album was 1986's Human Frailty, featuring their most popular song, "Throw Your Arms Around Me". The album was their first Australian Top Ten LP, and from then on, the band was one of Australia's top live draws, a 'bloke's' band that recorded several other popular songs, such as "Back On The Breadline", "When The River Runs Dry", and "Where Do You Go", before finally calling it quits in 1998.

Hunters & Collectors didn't do diddley-squat in America, but it's not for lack of trying. In 1986, they signed a parallel record deal with I.R.S. Records to release their albums in the States, but found little mainstream success ("Back On The Breadline" did make the Top Ten Modern Rock charts here, however). They were the support band for Midnight Oil's 1990 U.S. tour (The Oil's were touring on their American breakthrough record, Diesel & Dust), but failed to make any headway. I think that I.R.S. considered the band to be "too Australian" (whatever the heck that means), and as such, didn't know how to properly market the band in the U.S.

[Of course, that rationale makes absolutely no sense - Midnight Oil was a hell of a lot more "Australian" than H&C, and so it stands to reason that Diesel & Dust, a song cycle dealing almost exclusively with the plight of the country's aboriginal population, should have tanked here - instead, it was the album that made them in the States. So go figure.]

It's too bad that H&C couldn't find a U.S. audience. It's also sort of a shame that they changed their sound after 1983. Their debut self-titled album is absolutely superb. The 'hit' off of this album was supposed to be "Talking To A Stranger". But my favorite song off of Hunters & Collectors is "Run Run Run", an absolutely mesmerizing song that starts off as a bass-and-nagging guitar motorik hybrid, before suddenly, in the middle of the song, changing into a hypnotic chug that modifies yet AGAIN near the end into a grinding guitar workout. A completely amazing work.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the album for you to judge for yourself. As always, let me know what you think:

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe (RS500 - #134)

I got into Pavement sort of ass-backwards, but as it turned out, it was exactly the right way to understand the band.

I learned about the band during that six-month period back in 1993 that I mentioned in my earlier post on The Starlings, just before I left for New Zealand [in hindsight - damn, but there was a lot of good music floating around back then!]. I don't recall hearing them on the radio; I must have read something about them in one of the music magazines I regularly perused back then, like Spin or the NME. Or maybe there was something about them in the DC City Paper that I saw - I just don't recall. Back then, more than now, there were music critics and commentators whose judgment I trusted implicitly; if they said something was good, that was usually good enough for me. So I must've come to the band through something like that, because I purchased the first Pavement album I came across, Westing (By Musket & Sextant), before I'd ever heard a note of their music.
[or, at least I THINK I'd never heard one of their songs up to that point . . . I say this because back in October 1991, my friend Camob came out from California to visit the DC area, and we ended up doing the town a couple of nights, hitting the old college bars along M Street that used to cater to Georgetown students (all of them now long gone) and checking out our old music haunts. We spent a couple of hours in the old 9:30 Club on F Street one evening, listening to some no-name band play . . . and it was years later, after thinking about it, that I became pretty sure that, during their set, those guys played a version of Pavement's "Texas Never Whispers", a year before it came out on the Watery, Domestic EP. I could be wrong . . . but I don't think I am.]
As far as I knew, Westing was Pavement's first album. I listened to it constantly that spring and summer, at home in the DC area and at my new home in New Zealand. Several songs entered heavy rotation on my personal playlist, including "Box Elder" and "Forklift".

Christchurch, New Zealand is pretty well off the beaten path, as far as American acts are concerned; when a Stateside act arrives down that way, it's pretty big news (which explains why I inexplicably paid my hard-earned money to see Tina Turner, of all people, play at Lancaster Park during my first month there . . .). So I felt incredibly lucky when, browsing the local paper one day about two months into my Kiwi residency, I noticed a small ad announcing that Pavement was actually coming to play a show in town. I was so shocked, I stopped, went back and slowly scanned the ad again, just in case I had misread the name. But no, it turned out to be true - a decent indie band that I was just getting fully into was heading my way!

At about the same time I heard about the upcoming show, I discovered that Westing wasn't the band's first album - it was just a compilation of early singles and EPs. Their first official disc was Slanted & Enchanted, released by Matador Records in April 1992 (although copies had been distributed to selected DJs and music critics as early as the spring/summer of 1991 - which makes my conviction that I heard "Texas Never Whispers" a year before its official release not as far-fetched as it appears . . .). I found a copy of the album at Echo Records downtown and took it home to begin absorbing it.

As much as I loved Westing, Slanted & Enchanted COMPLETELY blew me away. EVERY song on the album was strong, and I quickly discovered several new Pavement favorites that began being played constantly around the house and in my car - "Perfume V", "Two States", "Summer Babe" (which sounds almost identical to the one on Westing), and especially "Here", in my opinion one of the three best songs Pavement ever did (along with "Shoot The Singer" and "Box Elder").

By the date of their show in town, I was fully conversant in their music.

However, I still didn't know much about the band, or the players themselves, outside of their names. So I went to the packed show, fought my way to a space near the front, and suffered through the opening band, some no-name Christchurch locals. The following band, who I assumed to be Pavement, came on and started playing. And all through the first part of their set I'm shouting out song names for them to play - "'Box Elder'!" "'Two States'!" The band is giving me dirty looks all the while, and it finally dawned on me that they weren't Pavement; they were Bailter Space, a rightly renowned Kiwi band that, at the time, I knew nothing about. I'd never been to a show that had two opening acts before the headliner, so I made an assumption - a poor one, as it turned out (hell, I didn't know - it's not like there were band pictures in the CD inserts!).

Pavement finally came on, and of course they were absolutely great. The crowd there was going wild - say what you will about the assumed provincialism of New Zealanders, but I gotta tell you: Kiwis KNOW their music. They played everything I hoped they'd play, and more. I left that show a rabid Pavement fan, and from then on was on a mission to track down all of their EPs and obscure 7"s. And to add to this embarrassment of Pavement riches, the band RETURNED to Christchurch less than a year later, for a show at the Caladonian Hall down the street from the Park Royal Hotel - another great show.

For me, this album was Pavement's peak. Their following releases - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Wowee Zowee, Brighten The Corners - have all been critically acclaimed, but to me they all seem to lack the grit, spark and urgency of their earlier material. Others seem to think so as well - in 2002, Slanted & Enchanted was the first of Pavement's albums to get the Deluxe Edition treatment, adding a second disc of B-sides and live versions from that era to the original release. I'm frankly stunned that Rolling Stone would rank this album as high as it did - in my mind, it's more than deserving of this recognition, but I never thought the band's music was 'commercial' enough or accessible enough to warrant widespread recognition like this. Guess I was wrong again . . . and thankfully so this time.

Here it is - the Deluxe Edition, for your listening pleasure. As always, I appreciate your comments:

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Triple Gang - This Nation's Saving Grace (Cover Version)

In the summer of 2000, a short-lived pickup band composed of national and local recording artists residing in the Bay Area played two shows three weeks apart at small venues in San Francisco. Normally, events like this happen all the time in cities around the globe, and are little noticed nor long remembered, even by the participants and attendees. What made this particular pair of concerts so memorable was that the band, Triple Gang, decided that instead of playing a set full of hoary rock chestnuts, they would challenge themselves and their audience by mastering and covering, in its entirety, The Fall's 1988 magnum opus, This Nation's Saving Grace.

This Nation's Saving Grace is one of my favorite Fall albums, a release from the band's heady mid-80s period, when they could do no wrong (at least as far as their fans were concerned) and pumped out classic album after classic album: Hex Enduction Hour, The Wonderful & Frightening World Of The Fall, Bend Sinister. TNSG is the apex of the band's output during that time, but it's also one of their densest and most challenging recordings, sonically and lyrically. It's very much a product of Mark E. Smith, The Fall's founding member, lead singer and quasi-dictator, and as such, one would think that it would be pure hubris and/or insanity for any band other than The Fall to cover it.

And yet, that's just what Triple Gang set out to do.

Triple Gang was composed of: Matt Jervis, the ex-lead singer for local S.F. band Kingdom First; Billy Gould, the former bassist for Faith No More; Alex Newport, who used to play guitar for Fudge Tunnel; drummer Jon Weiss, formerly of Horsey; and keyboardist Miya Osaki. The two shows they played that summer were at Kimo's that July 14th and at the Covered Wagon on August 3rd (both venues still exist, and still showcase local music almost nightly).

I can't remember how I heard about these shows. I was living in Texas at the time, and as such had no chance of getting out to San Francisco to see these events - would have loved to have attended, though. I probably got wind of them through the Fallnet message boards active back then.

The SF Weekly ran a long article about Triple Gang and this project in an issue released prior to the first show - here's the link, in case you're interested.

These two shows were the only performances ever conducted by this band lineup. Immediately afterwards, Triple Gang broke up, and the band members moved on to over things. Jervis currently lives in Berkeley, doing illustrations and producing the occasional concert poster. Weiss and Gould are currently collaborating with Jello Biafra on one of the latter's latest projects, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. Newport owns a recording studio in New York and is an in-demand producer, working with such names as Death Cab For Cutie and Japan's Polysics. And Osaki has worked with a number of small Bay Area and L.A. indie bands.

The Triple Gang shows were never officially recorded for release. But fortunately, someone had the foresight to tape one of these events for posterity (specifically, the first show, at Kimo's), and as fortune would have it, I obtained a copy of the bootleg. But for a bootleg, the sound quality is actually pretty good.

I suspect that the audience for this posting will be extremely limited to folks with knowledge of/nostalgia for the old Bay Area music scene, as well as hardcore Fall fans interested in a different take on a classic Fall album. If you count yourself a member of one of these groups, well, here you go - enjoy. As always, let me know what you think:

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Poll Results - "What is the worst rock song of all time?"

Well, hell . . . you guys scared me for a minute. Up until the day before the poll closed, "All That She Wants" and "We Built This City" were actually TRAILING in the "worst song" competition. Fortunately at the last minute, enough of you had the good bad taste to make the right choice. Here are the results:

- "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" - 1 vote
- "My Humps" - 1 vote
- "Kokomo" - 1 vote
- "I'm Too Sexy" - 1 vote
- "Live Is Life" - 2 votes
- "The Final Countdown" - 2 votes
- "Achy Breaky Heart" - 3 votes
- "All That She Wants" - 4 votes

And the champion, the consensus Worst Rock Song of All Time:

- "We Built This City" - 5 votes

I congratulate you all for participating. I'll put together another poll soon, when I think of a good topic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Who - Live At Leeds: Complete

I hesitate to mention this, for fear of committing rock blasphemy and losing my credibility with you musicophiles out there . . . but frankly, The Who have never done that much for me.

True, I like some of their songs, and I enjoyed seeing them play their abbreviated "greatest hits" set at the Super Bowl last year. But I've never had any interest in delving that deeply into their individual albums, searching for that obscure gem buried on, say, Side Two of The Who Sell Out or The Who By Numbers. I'm happy just listening to my copy of the hits collection Who's Better, Who's Best, and leaving the rest unplayed. To me, their concept albums, like Tommy and Quadrophenia, just seem a bit over the top. IMHO, in the late 60s, there were better bands than The Who putting out more superior concept albums addressing the state of the world and life in Britain (um, The Kinks, and The Village Green Preservation Society (for starters), anyone?).

And over the years, the whole hagiography of the band, and Keith Moon in particular, has seemed a bit overblown to me. Yes, I was sad when John Entwhistle died (I give him props, though, for going out like a true rock star - in bed in a Vegas hotel, a naked hooker to his left and a pile of blow to his right), but it wasn't as affecting to me as it was to a lot of other, bigger Who fans. I have a lot of bands that I'm really into and have made the time and effort to know more about - The Who are not one of those bands. They're a classic rock band, and rank right up there near the top . . . but so do Led Zeppelin and Cream, and those bands don't get half the quasireligious worship that The Who seems to engender.

My buddy Ed is a HUGE Who fan, though, and knows the band's music and history back and forth. He can tell you which one of the numbered guitars Pete Townshend played at which point during the Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals, and exactly how much gunpowder was loaded into Keith Moon's drumset during the infamous Smothers Brothers show explosion in 1967 (BTW, if you've never seen it, it's an instant classic:)

Ed's all-time favorite album is Live At Leeds. Many years ago, he began hearing rumors that what was released on Live At Leeds was not the band's complete set recorded at Leeds University on February 14th, 1970. He assumed that with the release of the expanded Live At Leeds: Deluxe Edition in 2001, he would finally be hearing the full show. But even that release had issues, specifically in that it wasn't fully 'live', but "augmented" in some places in the studio to either expand the sound or hide some of the flubbed notes and sloppy riffs. Ed was still itching to get his hands on the complete, unadulterated set, complete with errors and extended stage banter. I told him I'd help him track it down. A friend of mine in the Rockies had a copy, a bootleg released on Midas Touch Records a few years ago, and at my request he immediately sent one to me.

The two-disc Live At Leeds: Complete was all that Ed had asked for, and more - the complete set from that fateful day in 1970, from start to finish. The song sequencing is different from the earlier releases of this album, and the length of the individual tracks varies according to how much studio wizardry and elimination of stage chatter was done to the originals. There's also an infamous static hum through some of the songs, a noise that was eliminated on the earlier releases, but a sound that told Ed that he was getting the original, unadulterated goods. He was completely flabbergasted and fascinated with some of the obvious (to him) changes evident on Complete, compared to the originals. He tried to point out some of them to me, but I was oblivious - shit all sounded the same to me. Still, I know he spent hours listening and relistening to each track . . . as many others have done. There are literally entire websites set up that meticulously analyze every song on this one album and track the modifications. That's getting a little too nitpicky for me, but more power to guys who are into stuff like that.

If you're one of those types of Who fans, then I guess this posting will be right up your alley. Have a listen, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think:

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The B-52's - Bouncing Off The Satellites

[Well, I'm back . . . sort of. I'm cheating a little, by backdating this one. I originally started it early in October, but never finished it in time for the anniversary I was trying to commemorate. Sorry for being away from this thing for so long. I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to post, but a combination of more pressing matters, time spent away, and simply my own general sloth kept me from creating actual words from my thoughts. No promises on how active I'll be in the next few days/weeks - I made that mistake last month! But, for now, here you go - enjoy:]

If you read my earlier posts, you know that I absolutely love The B-52's. I've been a fan of theirs for over thirty years (God, have they been around that long (and a more pertinent question - am I THAT old?)?), and have attended a countless number of their live shows (has to be somewhere around 12-15 now). I know this band back and forth, and can speak knowledgeably about band minutiae such as the name of Kate Pierson's pre-B-52's hippie band (The Sun Donuts), and as the relative quality of their opening acts over the years (The Bongos were pretty good, Royal Crescent Mob sucked). I briefly lived in Athens, GA, the band's hometown, and while I was there I used to go to Allen's for a beer (no longer 25 cents though (and this was before "Deadbeat Club" was even recorded, so gimme a break)), and on the way into school every day, I drove by the house at the far end of Milledge Avenue where the band played their legendary first concert, out on the back porch.

Probably my favorite of all the B-52's shows I've seen was the one they played Providence in March 1982, in support of their latest album Mesopotamia (I think it was called the "Meso-Americans Tour"). At the time, I was living and going to school in Newport, RI, and I had recently turned one of my new buddies there (we'll call him "Camob") onto the band. Camob came to Rhode Island straight out of the San Fernando Valley of suburban Los Angeles, and though he did his best to hide it, his unconscious mannerisms and vocal inflections pegged him as a straight-up early '80s "Valley Boy". He was like a bigger, beefier, less aggro Billy Zabka - only if Zabka had brown hair, no karate skills and a more normal, formative childhood. Camob was also smart as hell, although he was doing his level best to murder his cerebral cortex every weekend by liberally dousing it with as much ethanol as he could procure (the man had a stinging, insatiable yen for stinkwater that was truly remarkable for someone of his tender years, and positively hair-raising for a teetotaling geek like myself back then). Couple all of that with his Devo fandom, and it's no wonder we quickly became fast friends.

Anyway, after his first taste of their music, Camob dug the Bee-Fives pretty much from the get-go, and as such, he and I decided to go to the Providence concert. He talked one of our classmates into going with us as well - not that we were particular buddies with the guy, but mainly because he had a car we could use for the trip (well, that HE could use - I still couldn't drive just yet). The evening of the show, Camob and the other guy loaded up the car with brown-bagged "supplies" (I didn't bother to ask what they were), and we all headed across the Newport Bridge, en route to the state capital.

The sold-out show was at the Providence Performing Arts Center, a beautiful old opera house-type venue with red velvet seating and a huge balcony hanging over a third of the floor seating. We got to Providence early enough to find good parking close to the theater. But instead of running right in to claim our seats and settle in for the opening act, the other two guys with me insisted on breaking into their bags of "supplies", which basically consisted of several cans of semi-cold Busch beer and a contraption consisting of a long flexible plastic tube about an inch in diameter, with a funnel at one end. Being a nondrinker, I had no idea what the thing was for - looked like some sort of mouth douche to me. But I soon found out what the deal was, as the guys plugged up one end and began pouring can after can of brewski into this contraption, which they called a "beer bong". I watched in amazement as Camob held the bong high, raised the nonfunnel end to his lips, and in a flash emptied the equivalent of four cans of beer straight into his belly, without losing a drop (my boy was very proud of his ability to "open his throat" to make that happen . . . and we'll just leave that line alone . . .).

Needless to say, by the time the show started, Camob was roaring drunk. Our driving buddy, who didn't partake as liberally as Camob did, seemed to be holding his own; of course, I hadn't had a drop. I had more than a bit of concern regarding how we were going to be able to drive back to Newport later that night, but my worries were momentarily forgotten as the curtain came up. Like I mentioned earlier, the opening band, The Bongos, were pretty good. I'd never heard of them before that show, but a lot of their songs stuck with me, including "Number With Wings".

But of course, the main reason I was there was for the headliner, and they did not disappoint. The place was going apeshit as the B-52's played classic song after classic song. Outside of "Mesopotamia", I don't recall them playing anything else off of their latest album. The set was concentrated on the big hits from their first two discs: "Private Idaho", "52 Girls", "Rock Lobster", "Dance This Mess Around". People were out of their seats the entire time, dancing in the aisles and causing such a ruckus in the PPAC balcony that Fred Schneider paused the show momentarily to implore the people up there not to bounce around so much, lest they cause the balcony to collapse on the rest of the audience! Just a great, great show.

(And as for our return trip, Camob's friend had danced and sweated off enough booze to become sober enough to get us back to Newport. I rode shotgun, still petrified, ready to grab the wheel at the first sign of the guy slipping into a sudden alcohol coma, while Camob lay prone in the backseat, mumbling to himself in a profound liquor stupor - another TKO victory recorded by the infamous beer bong. Thank God he made it back there without booting - that would have made a bad ride THAT much worse.)

I've been there and back again with this band, long before their mainstream popularity, so the death of Ricky Wilson back in 1985 was particularly affecting. The guy was a guitar genius, and while Keith Strickland has definitely picked up where Ricky left off (and saved the band in the process), to this day the band is still missing the spirit that Ricky brought to their music. I'll always be a fan, though - as will Camob, who after all of the these years is still one of their #1 acolytes.

So on the 25th anniversary of his death, I offer you the last album recorded by all five original members, Bouncing Off The Satellites, released in September 1986 on Warner Brothers Records. This album doesn't quite have the loose, party-hearty feel of their earlier albums, but there is still enough in the way of goofy ideas and good music to make up for the overall stiffness and broader lack of imagination.


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