Saturday, June 19, 2010

Various Artists - Something Wild (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

You know, in the 80s, Jonathan Demme could do no wrong. Here's a guy who started off the decade directing one of the most original, classic films ever made (Melvin and Howard), then later in the decade proceeded to put out what is essentially the greatest concert film ever made (Stop Making Sense) and one of the 80s' most well-received comedies (Married To The Mob). In between, he still found time to direct music videos for classic New Wave bands like Suburban Lawns and New Order. Even with all of that, the guy was just gearing up for the next decade, with his first film of the 90s, The Silence Of The Lambs, nailing down practically every Oscar award available, including one for him for Best Director. The guy was and is a master (not so much in recent years, but hope springs eternal . . . ).

Something Wild was done during his 80s period, released in 1986, right after Stop Making Sense. It's odd, but in the present day it's not really as heralded, or even remembered, as much as the other movies Demme did back then. Which is too bad. Something Wild is a superb movie. I've never been a big fan of Melanie Griffith, but in this movie she's great as Lulu/Audrey, the "wild thing" who breaks Jeff Daniels out of his straightlaced life. The movie starts off lighthearted and funny, but near the end takes a very dark turn as Ray Liotta's character is introduced. I'm trying not to give away any spoilers for this film - if you've never seen this, go out, find a copy and watch it. You'll be very entertained and pleasantly surprised.

I saw this movie in Maryland when it came out, and as much as I liked the film, I was more intrigued by the eclectic soundtrack, which featured several of my favorite artists from that time - David Byrne, Fine Young Cannibals, UB40, New Order - along with a generous helping of reggae/Caribbean music from artists like Jimmy Cliff and Sonny Okussun. As varying as the music is, it all fits together and it all fits the film, which is what a good soundtrack is supposed to do.

I don't know why this soundtrack is so hard to find - it took me a long time to find a CD version to replace the cassette copy I've had for so long. Anyway, enjoy, and let me know what you think - comments (well, at this point, ANY comments) will be appreciated.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Pleasure and the Beast - "Dr. Sex"

Centuries from now, when whatever the dominant form of media there is at that time is airing the show "What Were They Thinking?", poking fun at the styles and customs of humans in the past, they will undoubtedly have an episode concentating on the Los Angeles synthpop scene in the early 1980s.

Even today, one can look back at wonder at that time and think incredulously, "This shit was POPULAR back then?" Yes, I know that synthpop didn't originate in L.A. - you can trace its history back to artists like Kraftwerk, Eno and Mike Oldfield, on into Tangerine Dream, early Depeche Mode and whoever the hell did that "Popcorn" song. But in L.A., it seems, they really grabbed the ball and ran with it.

I'm sorry to say that the L.A. band that led the way was my good old beloved Devo. Synthesizers had been creeping slowly but steadily into their music beginning with their first album (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!) and moreso in their second album, Duty Now For The Future. Their third album, Freedom of Choice, was very heavy on the synths . . . and it was also their biggest success to date, carrying them into the mainstream on the strength of essentially one song, "Whip It". I'm not disparaging the sound of Freedom Of Choice - I think, overall, it's their best and strongest release. I just believe that Devo learned the wrong lesson from the success of this album.

For their fourth album, New Traditionalists, they seemed to be concentrating less on the "de-evolution" message in their music, and more on the sound of the music, specifically the sythesizer-driven sound that had brought them mainstream fame. And that's where the problems began. New Traditionalists is ALL synth . . . and in it, you can hear the sound of the wheels beginning to fall off of the Devo bandwagon. However, it took ten years and four more albums for the end to finally come, and during that time a lot of other bands heard that synthpop siren song and also decided to work that rocky, thin musical soil. When one of the local followers, Missing Persons, also hit it big with that sound in 1982 with their album Spring Session M, the floodgates really opened.

But for every later band that succeeded (like Berlin, for instance), there were hundreds of others that slogged it out on the fringes, trying to make a name for themselves in an oversaturated band market, working the L.A. clubs and hoping for that big break. Pleasure and the Beast was one of those 'hundreds'. The band was formed by a woman named Lowri Ann ("L.A." - now THAT was lucky!) Richards in the early 1980s, and gigged constantly in Southern California. Their hard work paid off (somewhat) - in their entire lifetime, Pleasure and the Beast released two singles, which I guess makes them more fortunate that most. The singles went nowhere here in the States, but the first release, "Dr. Sex", was a minor European club hit in 1984.

Given my disdain for the genre and the general obscurity of the band, by rights I never should have heard of Pleasure and the Beast. However, late one night in the mid-1980s, MTV (of all places) actually showed a video for "Dr. Sex" - and I happened to be watching. THIS video, to be precise:

It was probably the only time they EVER showed it - in terms of production quality, it wasn't exactly "Thriller" . . . Anyway, back then, my interest in the music was piqued juuuuuust enough for me to go out and find the song I just heard. Now, this is no masterpiece - at best, it's a relic of a justly forgotten time. But still, it's pretty hard to find. So, for good or ill, here you are:

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Chills - Heavenly Pop Hits: The Best of The Chills (and Ice Picks EP)

I'm disgusted with myself that I didn't get into this band when I first went to New Zealand.

I didn't know anything about The Chills until I returned to the U.S. from Christchurch and entered grad school in Virginia. One of my classmates there, Stuart, was a native New Zealand who was born and bred in Christchurch, but who had spent several years living and working in the U.S. Word had gotten around the school that there were "two Kiwis" enrolled (one real, one adopted), and after being introduced, Stuart and I discovered that we had several mutual friends in and around Canterbury. We became fast friends.

One day, Stuart (knowing what a Kiwi music fan I was) brought a couple of CDs to school for me to sample and evaluate. One was by the Bats, which really didn't do anything for me, I must say. But one of the others was Heavenly Pop Hits, a greatest hits compilation by The Chills. That was the one that really hit home for me.

The Chills were formed in Dunedin, New Zealand (home of the aforementioned Chug and The Clean) in 1980 by Martin Phillips, a talented musician and songwriter who formed his first band, The Same, in 1978 (his other claim to pre-Chills fame was that he played the organ on The Clean's 1981 debut single "Tally Ho", Flying Nun Records' first New Zealand hit song). The Chills cranked out several memorable singles in the early 1980s, including "Pink Frost" and "Rolling Moon" (both included here), but the band didn't release a proper album until 1986.

The band's long delay in putting out an LP can be attributed to two things: lack of money (Flying Nun wasn't exactly rolling in dough in the early '80s) and, more significantly, the failure to maintain a consistent lineup. Dunedin bands are notorious for this (see my earlier entry for Chug), but The Chills were the poster child for this type of band turnover. Since its inception, the band has gone through (at last count) nineteen different lineup changes, with Martin Phillips being the only constant member (sounds a lot like The Fall, eh? Although I understand that Phillips isn't nearly the tyrant and band dictator that Mark E. Smith is reputed to be . . .). Former Chills members have pollenated several other bands throughout New Zealand (including Straitjacket Fits, The Clean and The Verlaines) and the rest of the world (Justin Harewood ended up in Luna, and Martin Kean resettled in England and became an early member of Stereolab).

Such band turmoil, of course, led to sporadic releases, which is why Heavenly Pop Hits is so great, and so important. It collects all of the band's best songs in one place, a one-stop shop for a concentrated dose of what makes The Chills so superb.

Like I said, after listening to this album, I was kicking myself for not getting into them sooner. I could go through and tell you, song for song, why every tune is so outstanding. I'll let you find that out for yourself.

However, the thing I want to convey to you about these songs, and The Chills in general, is that they SOUND like New Zealand . . . It's hard to explain, really, unless you've lived there or spent any significant time in the country. But to me, every song brings back a time, or a place, or a feeling I had when I lived there. Listening to "Double Summer" reminds me of summers I enjoyed there; in "Doledrums", I can relate to some of the lethargic Sunday afternoons I spent in town.

I know I'm not explaining this well . . . But it seems that the essence of the country is contained in the words and music of this album. I consider The Chills to be the definitive New Zealand band.

But I'll let you listen for yourself and decide. Also posted here is the Ice Picks EP that was included with select editions of Heavenly Pop Hits - good songs here as well.


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And here's the one for the Ice Picks EP:

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stereolab - Rose, My Rocket-Brain! EP

Here's a three-song EP by Stereolab, made available on a 3" CD at shows during their 2004 Margerine Eclipse tour. I got mine at their show at DC's 9:30 Club that year - great show, by the way. To the best of my knowledge, these songs haven't been released on any subsequent Stereolab compilation. And since the band called it quits a year ago, I don't expect to see this released on anything anytime soon.

All three songs are superb, especially the last, "University Microfilms International". I like the first one too (apparently, there was an error on the CD label, as the names of the first two songs, "Rose, My Rocket-Brain! (Rose, le cerveau électronique de ma fusée!)" and "Banana Monster ne répond plus" were transposed in error - "Rose" is first). Listen closely to the lyrics of "Rose" - I love how Stereolab inserts pointed political commentary into their songs!

Here ya go - enjoy:

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kate's Project - Wuthering Eights EP

When I first got to Christchurch, New Zealand, a new acquaintance provided me with a couple of free passes to The Club, an upscale "members-only" booze-and-dance palace located in the old Courts Buildings on the corner of Armagh and Durham Streets, right on the Avon River and just down the street from the Park Royal Hotel and the then-under construction Christchurch Casino. From those first visits, The Club quickly became my locale of choice every weekend. I made friends with the manager and all the staff, and as such, although I never was a member of the place, I never paid a nickel to get in during my time there. The Club was MY place, and I brought a lot of people along to check the place out, who also became regulars.

In the early 1990s, The Club was the preeminent dance club in Christchurch, due in no small reason to the DJ there, Sam. Sam was a black dude from Los Angeles who remained in New Zealand after the end of his Navy duty in Christchurch. In his years there, he had established himself as the top DJ in town, with his regular weekend gig at The Club and a thriving DJ-for-hire business he started there, working weddings and other events. Sam had connections all over town and back home in the U.S., so this guy always had the hottest cuts as soon as they were available, a key factor in a country were new music took weeks or sometimes months to arrive. Sam and I got to be pretty good friends over the years there; I eventually served as one of the groomsmen at his wedding.

Anyway, one night in 1993 at The Club, Sam played a thumping, Hi-NRG remix of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights".

The song completely rocked the house - everyone there loved it, and it became a semi-regular staple of his set in the following months. I never thought to ask him about who the artist was; I just enjoyed the music.

I left Christchurch in 1995, but returned in 1998 to visit my old home and see all of my old friends. Sam was still in town, and still doing his weekend gig at The Club, so of course I went over to see him as a surprise. He was very happy to see me, and in between changing music, he and I had a very long conversation about our lives over the past couple of years. After an hour or so, I had to leave. But before I did, I remembered to ask him about that long-ago Kate Bush remix. He laughed, reached into his stacks, came up with the CD and handed it to me with a smile, saying "It's yours now." That Sam was a good man.

Anyway, here it is, the Wuthering Eights EP, a three song remix done in 1992 by a group called Kate's Project. I know nothing about this band, although from the sound of the music, I would venture to say they were European, most likely from Italy (that Italian house vibe runs throughout the songs). If you liked Utah Saints' "Something Good", which sampled Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting", this'll be right up your alley.

To quote my friend Sam, "It's yours now!" Enjoy.

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The B-52's - The B-52's (RS500 - #152)

The first album I ever bought with my own money, and one of my favorite albums of all time, The B-52's debut album, released in July 1979 on Island Records and distributed by Warner Brothers.

The first time I ever saw or heard The B-52s was on NBC's Saturday Night Live in January 1980. By mid-1979, both Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi had left the show, and SNL was definitely on a downhill slide. But Saturday Night Live's saving grace during its fifth season was in the quality of its musical guests. In that year, the show featured famous, iconic appearances by David Bowie (backed by future recording artist Klaus Nomi, in definitely one of the weirdest yet most fascinating network TV performances of all time), The Specials (they did :"Gangsters" and "Too Much Too Young", which absolutely SLAYED me), Gary Numan and Blondie. Frankly, due to the uneven writing of that season, the musical guests were practically the only reason to watch the show that year.

Anyway, I watched the episode featuring The B-52s from my home in Massachusetts, and thought I had just witnessed one of the greatest bands in the world. I couldn't get "Rock Lobster" out of my head!

When I went back to school the following Monday, I was eager to hear my friends' reaction to this New Wave band from Georgia. So I was surprised when nearly everyone who saw the show began running the band down, talking about how 'weird' and 'crappy' they were. Mind you, this WAS during the end of the 70s, in a small conservative town in New England. The popular bands for people at my school back then included Styx (it's always surprised me that multiple hearings of "Babe" and "Come Sail Away", which played constantly that year, didn't lead to more teen violence and suicides . . .), Foreigner and ELO. The more 'rebellious' kids were into The Cars. But overall, in 1980 there were very few guys or girls there who would admit to liking punk or new wave, 'weird' music that would get you classed with a very select and nongrata group of students.

So I was sort of on my own, and kept my love of that type of music to myself. The SNL performance was the only time for many months afterward that I heard "Rock Lobster", but I kept the song in my head and looked forward to hearing it again.

That spring, we got the word that my dad was going to be transferred from Massachusetts all the way across country to California. This was very exciting to me and the rest of my family. I had never set foot in California up to that point, but from what I read and saw, it was a land of constant sun, palm trees and movie stars, where every kid wore OP shirts and carried surfboards to school, so they could hit the waves after the final bell. My Massachusetts friends were extremely jealous of our upcoming move, and I was completely jazzed. In July, we loaded up the Chevy van, said goodbye to New England, and made a long, epic cross-country journey to the Monterey Peninsula, arriving late one evening.

On our first morning there, my brother and I leapt out of bed and raced for the door, eager to see bright, sunny California with our own eyes. We got outside to find it grey, cold and dreary, not like what we pictured at all! It stayed that way all day. Oh well, we thought - the next day will be better. But the following day was just as foggy and cold and the first, and that trend continued for most of the summer. We didn't realize that Northern California was nothing like the Southern California of TV shows and Beach Boys fantasies. That cold water running down along the coast from Alaska, past San Francisco and into Monterey, leads to some hellacious fog that usually doesn't burn off until late morning/early afternoon. It was definitely not what I had expected, and it was depressing.

School started there that September, and between the stresses of getting acclimated to new surroundings and dealing with the cold, damp weather every morning, I was pretty miserable. My sister (who was in the same grade) felt the same way, and for the first couple of weeks she and I sat out on the stone bleachers overlooking the football field during our breaks, looking out across the bay towards Seaside and wishing we were somewhere else. I could see or sense nothing special about my new home . . .

Until one afternoon in late September. I was once again sitting out on the bleachers, mired in a funk, when suddenly a student I didn't know drove up in a beat-up Mustang, music blaring. His nearby friends walked over to talk to him. It was then I realized that the song blasting out of his car was "Rock Lobster", the first time I had heard it since SNL in January! It would have been unheard of for someone at my old school to be caught with a B-52's song thundering out of his car. I don't know why, but hearing that song again, in the place were I was, made me think to myself "See, this place is going to be all right."

I worked up the nerve to walk over to introduce myself to the guy, and we eventually became good friends. He introduced me to his buddies, and suddenly I had friends all over the school. Later that week, out of the blue, I got a job working after school at a ritzy girls' school down the road from where I lived. With the first paycheck I received, I went down to the record store at Del Monte Mall and bought the Yellow Album, which I played to death on the family stereo with the volume turned low - my parents didn't 'get' this crazy new music at all! But overall, things were suddenly a whole lot sunnier, funnier and happier; I didn't even notice the morning fog anymore.

From the point I heard "Rock Lobster" again, things at school got better; life in general there was a whole lot better. Now, I look back fondly on that time, and consider Monterey, California to be the best place I ever lived. And that's why I love and enjoy this album to this day.

I'm sure you already own this - if not, here you are:

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chug - Kisser EP

One hot and sunny summer afternoon in January 1994, I was driving past the Dux De Lux (near the Arts Centre in Christchurch) and listening to RDU, the student-run University of Canterbury station (and in my opinion, one of the best radio stations in the Southern Hemisphere). Suddenly, the station played this buzzy, frenetic guitar-and-drum-driven track that made me sit straight up in my seat. I remembered that it was the "Local Music" time slot at the station, so I waited anxiously to the end of the song to find out who the band was (RDU was and is good about IDing every note played, unlike a lot of other stations). Sure enough, the announcer said the song was "Flowers", by a band called Chug.

That was all I needed to hear. I immediately turned the car east, towards the center of town and most importantly, towards the two main music stores in the City, Echo Records and Galaxy Records, located just down the way from one another in the Cashel Mall area. Galaxy didn't have anything by Chug, but Echo had an EP, Kisser, with exactly the song I was looking for. Within ten minutes of hearing that tune, the CD was in my hand.

Chug was formed in 1991 in Dunedin, the birthplace of such well-known and acclaimed (well, in certain quarters) bands as the Chills and the Clean. They quickly signed to Flying Nun Records, and the Kisser EP was their first release on the label in 1993. They recorded an album for Flying Nun, Sassafras, in 1994, and another EP, Little Things, in 1996, before leaving the label for Alias Records in late 1996. Alias roped them into a seven(!)-album deal, which included a rerelease of Sassafras on the label and a new album, Metalon, in 1997. Both of the band's albums and both EPs went exactly nowhere.

Chug's major problem was that they could never keep a consistant lineup going, apparently a familiar problem for Dunedin bands (see "Chills, The"). No less that three different lead guitarists and three drummers passed through the band in its first four years of existence. That's what murdered them in 1995-96, just after Sassafras was released - they spent all of that time rehearsing with another new member, and by the time they were ready, their moment had passed.

The stresses of constant lineup changes, relentless touring, and that humongous record deal hanging over their heads caught up quickly with Chug, and by the end of 1998, the band was history. It's too bad that the band could never again put out anything as strong as "Flowers".

Epilogue: I moved back to the U.S. in mid-1995, and a year or so later, I was watching Nickelodeon on cable, for some ungodly reason. The network's "Coming Up Next" promo came on at one point, and I instantly recognized the background music - it was an instrumental snippet of "Flowers"! It was stunning to see that at least one person in the U.S. was hip enough to find that one cool song by an obscure band from New Zealand, and put it on TV (although I used to laugh to myself, considering what would have happened if Nickelodeon accidently played the vocal part, which prominently features the "F"-word - don't think the parents of the kiddies watching at that time would be too pleased . . . )

Here you go:

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The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night (RS500 - #388)

Now here, in my opinion, is a case where Rolling Stone screwed up, and screwed up royally. The soundtrack to the greatest rock 'n roll movie of all time, by the greatest rock group ever, ranked at #388? That's insane.

This album has no less than SEVEN stone-cold Beatles classics on it, including two ("Can't Buy Me Love" and "A Hard Day's Night") number one hits in the U.S. The U.S. version was the number one album for over three months in the summer of 1964, sold four million copies - and was so popular that a second album released a month later, Something New, that included EIGHT songs taken directly off of A Hard Day's Night, itself sold ANOTHER two million copies, and was the #2 album for nine weeks that summer, just behind its predecessor . . . and it's STILL only the 388th best album ever made?!? Ridiculous. A travesty.

My kids love this movie. I started showing it to them when they were just toddlers, and before they were three years old they could name all of the Beatles and could baby-sing all of the songs (I recall one time, while waiting in line at the grocery store, my two-year-old sitting in the cart stunned a man wearing a Meet The Beatles t-shirt by correctly pointing out and naming each member pictured on his shirt). It's still one of their favorite movies. And no wonder - it's smart, hilarious and fast-paced, with some great music. They'll have time enough to get into the Disney kid bands later on - for now, let them know about the classics - that's how I feel.

Yes, these are the 2008 remastered versions, both mono and stereo. I should know - I paid enough for them. Enjoy:

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Turn On - Turn On

A one-off side project featuring Tim Gane and Andy Ramsey from Stereolab and Sean O'Hagen of the High Llamas, released in 1997 on Duophonic Records (Stereolab's label). Instead of a meld between the sound of the two bands, this record sounds totally like a Stereolab instrumental album, circa 1992-93 (think The Groop Played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music" or Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements). But that's not a knock on the music - it's actually a pretty good album, and a required listen for devoted Stereolab fans.

This album got no airplay or support whatsoever when it came out - I found it almost by accident in a bin at the old Virgin Megastore in Grapevine, TX. But it was a fortunate find. Here - have a listen, and let me know what you think:

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Sam Cooke - One Night Stand: Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 (RS500 - #443)

It has often been said that the best live album ever released was James Brown's Live At The Apollo (1962). A very close second, in my opinion, is Sam Cooke's One Night Stand: Live At The Harlem Square Club, recorded a year after James Brown's legendary album but (inexplicably) not released by RCA until 1985. If you've never heard this album, you are definitely in for a treat, and a shock.

Since his death in 1964, Sam Cooke's legacy has been that of the soulful crooner, the man who used his gospel-trained voice to smooth out the rough edges of the R&B of the fifties to create transcendent romantic ballads and radio-friendly teenage pop songs that appealed to both black and white. The constant replaying of his standards, such as "You Send Me", "Cupid" and "Another Saturday Night", to name a few, have served to reinforce this image. But in reality, Sam Cooke was a man of great artistic depth, with fierce passions and convictions. At the risk of losing his white audience, he was an early and vocal public supporter of civil rights. Late in his career, he focused all of his passion for equality and songwriting skill into the single "A Change Is Gonna Come", the greatest of all Civil Rights era songs.

Cooke was frustrated by the constraints of his contract with RCA, which all but required him to continue banging out frothy ballads and fluff like "Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha", songs that played to Cooke's white audience. But he had another audience that knew a different Sam Cooke than the one usually presented. His main contact with black audiences was in his tours of the small clubs and dance halls located mainly in the South, both on and off the old 'Chitlin Circuit'. On those tours, Cooke was free to ignore the restraints imposed on him by society and the industry, and allow his ferocity and power to burst through.

Live At The Harlem Square Club is the only recorded evidence of the 'real' Sam Cooke, the one that black audiences knew and loved. In his set at the Miami club in 1963, you can almost FEEL the heat and sweat in the joint, as he roars and tears through classic after classic, presenting them in a way you've never heard before. Once you hear his versions here of "Twistin' The Night Away", and especially "Bring It On Home To Me", you'll never listen to the originally recorded versions (the "pop" versions) the same way. He sounds more like Wilson Pickett than the Sam Cooke we've been used to.

Final word: this is an amazing record that presents a different, unfamiliar yet exciting side of a legendary artist. And is it a must-have. So here - take it:

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Kelley Deal 6000 - Boom! Boom! Boom!

I first met Kelley Deal in 1995. I was in my final few months of living in Christchurch, New Zealand, when I read in the local music paper that the Breeders were headed to town on the Asia/Pacific leg of their world tour in support of their blockbuster album Last Splash. Being a Pixies fan, I idolized Kim Deal, so I was fully into the Breeders at that time. In fact, I went to their show (for the Pod tour) at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC just before I left for NZ. New records were always slow to get to New Zealand, so I had a friend mail me a copy of Last Splash the moment it came
out in the States. So I was practically the only person in town who had fully absorbed their new album by the time they made their swing through Christchurch. I was so jazzed about seeing them, that I took the morning off of work to rush down to the box office (in a converted theater in Cathedral Square, around the corner from Lochinvar's Irish Pub), arriving early for what I just KNEW would be a huge line for tickets to the show. However, when I arrived early that morning, there wasn't another soul in sight, and in the couple of hours that passed as I stood there, not a single other person joined the ticket line behind me. When the window opened, I quietly paid for tickets #0001 and #0002 (don't know why I bought two - my girlfriend at the time was not a fan, and I couldn't think of anyone else who might have wanted to go - I guess I wanted a souvenir) and left.

On the day of the show, a week or so later, I arrived extra-early, in order to get a good place in front of the stage, and (hopefully) to meet some of the band members and get some autographs, especially Kim's. As I approached the bar in the back of the place, I immediately recognized the Breeders' bassist, Josephine Wiggs, standing with one of the Deal twins, who I assumed to be Kim. I sidled up to them, trying to act all cool and nonchalant, and spouted off a "Hi Josephine! Hi Kim!" greeting. Of course, I was wrong - it wasn't Kim I was talking to, but Kelley. Anyway, she turned out to be as super-cool and nice as could be - I think that she was just happy to be talking to an American in the middle of New Zealand. We spoke for a long time before the show, talking about the tour and life on the road and all. She called her sister Kim over and introduced me to her, and just before they went on, the whole band signed my copy of Last Splash with the pen I brought. I stood in the front row the entire show (which was packed - I guess the line appeared AFTER I bought my tickets), and at the end of it, Kelley leaned over and handed me her guitar pick. Overall, it was a great night.

In the following months, I moved back to the U.S. from New Zealand, and the Breeders imploded, helped along by Kelley's problems with the law, related to her getting busted by the feds after receiving a half-pound of Black Tar heroin in the mail. I entered grad school, but still found time to see bands now and then. Kelley did a drug rehab stint, and started a new band, the Kelley Deal 6000. It seemed that everywhere I went for the next year of so (I traveled a lot during the second semester, interviewing for summer intern work), Kelley and her band were there as well, so I ended up seeing a lot of their early shows. DC: New York: Cambridge, MA - I went to all of those performances, and made a point of trying to say Hi to her at each one.

After grad school, I got a job with a company in Texas, and moved the the Dallas area. Sure enough, a month after I got there, the Kelley Deal 6000 came to town, to play a funky little bar in the Deep Ellum area. Of course, I went to the show, and got there early enough to speak with Kelley. I said hello to her, mentioned that I had first met her in New Zealand, and talked about all the other places I saw her band. She looked hard at me, and said "****** [my name], right? I REMEMBER you!" From then on, we became friends. We exchanged addresses that evening, and every once in a while I would hear from her from her home in Minnesota. She came to Dallas twice more in the first year I was there, and each time we hung out together before and after the show. The last time, I brought my girlfriend along, a big Breeders fan who didn't really believe that I knew Kelley Deal that well. Her doubts were extinguished upon our arrival at the club, where Kelley was standing outside the door. She looked up, shouted my name, and ran over to hug me. Later that night, during the encore of "I Wanna Be Your Dog", Kelley pulled me up on stage to sing backup with the rest of the band. It was a pretty cool night, to say the least, and my girlfriend was most impressed.

At that time, the band was touring on its second (and last) album, Boom! Boom! Boom!, released by New West Records in 1997. I've always considered this album superior to the band's
debut, Go To The Sugar Altar. The song structures and sequencing seem to be a lot more focused here, and the band even experiments with some different sounds and arrangements, as can be heard in songs such as the all-drum "Total War" and the warm but eerie "Scary". I would have loved to have seen what the Kelley Deal 6000 would have done on subsequent albums. But the band went on indefinite hiatus in 1998, and Kelley rejoined the Breeders in late 2002, where she remains.

Many years have passed now, and Kelley and I have long since been out of touch. It's doubtful that after all these years she even recalls my name or who I am; if she does has any recollection, it's probably just that of another fan getting into her face. Oh well. For a brief moment in my life, I was happy and proud to call someone as cool as Kelley Deal my friend, and I wish her the best in everything she does.

Here's the album:

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Various Artists - Phil Spector: Back To Mono (1958-1969) (RS500 - #64)

OK . . . so it turned out that Phil Spector was crazier than a barrel of snakes. Fair enough. I heard enough insane stories about him prior to the Lana Clarkson murder (for instance, pulling a gun on the Ramones during the recording of End Of The Century - those guys, who weren't strangers to violence and life on the streets, were legitimately scared of him) to know that the guy had a serious screw loose, and bad stuff would come down on him sooner or later.

But with that said, the guy was, frankly, a musical genius, and the music he produced throughout the 1960s isn't just classic, but part of the overall soundtrack of America during that time. Sadly, until this album set was released in 1991, there was no collection available that grouped together all of the songs and artists he produced, and provided a thorough overview of his career. That's why this set is so important. Through these three discs, you can see the development of Spector's famed Wall Of Sound, and see how it was effectively and devastatingly used in such hits as "Be My Baby" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". Practically every song on this collection is a stone-cold classic.

In my opinion, this is one of the best boxed sets EVER released, and a must-have for any music lover. Enjoy:

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Various Artists - Squares Blot Out The Sun

Here's another great compilation of (mostly) 1980s Athens music - Squares Blot Out The Sun, released by DB Records in 1990. DB Records was run by a guy named Danny Beard, who was there at the beginning of the Athens music scene. It was his label that released the B-52's first single, "Rock Lobster", back in 1978. He was also the first to record legendary Athens band Pylon, producing their single "Cool" in 1979.

The guy was a visionary, with a good ear for music. But alas, he was no businessman. DB Records sort of wobbled through the 80s, putting out releases by Love Tractor, Guadalcanal Diary, The Swimming Pool Q's, and other bands that followed in the immediate wake of Athens' first wave. A lot of these bands were college and independent radio staples back then, but that didn't really translate into album sales.

Squares Blot Out The Sun was supposed to have been released in late 1985, but due to the label's financial problems, it didn't hit store shelves until 1990, when DB Records was on its last legs. The late release was both a blessing and a issue for the album. A curse in that, instead of focusing on a specific period, what was happening in Athens in the early years (from about 1979 to 1985), the record is all over the place, featuring bands from as far back as 1978 and as recent as 1990. But the blessing of this is that more songs are included on the disc, including some gems by some pretty unknown/unheralded bands.

Pylon has two cuts featured here, but there are also songs by other important but obscure Athens bands, including Oh-OK (Michael Stipe's sister's band), the Brains, and the Fans (quick side note: the Fans were the band who, in the late 1970s, were the ones who were supposed to "make it", and were setting
themselves up for major label recognition . . . until suddenly, out of the blue, the B-52's appeared on the scene and completely stole the Fans' buzz. Read the book Party Out Of Bounds by Rodger Lyle Brown for the full story of this rivalry). Some of my personal favorites here include the party anthem "Neat In The Street" by the Side Effects, Coolie's "Richard Cory", and "Bidin' Time" by the Reivers.

This album is a good companion to Athens, GA: Inside/Out (posted earlier), as the two together will provide you with a pretty good overview of what was happening musically in the town during the 1980s. Enjoy, and let me know what you think:

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brian Eno - Here Come The Warm Jets (RS500 - #436)

Brian Eno has been one of my favorite musicians for a long time now, but this was mostly due to his collaborative work with other musicians. He is rightly renowned for his work with David Bowie on Bowie's famous trio of Berlin-era albums (Low, 'Heroes' and Lodger). He played a similar role with Talking Heads, acting as the producer and virtual fifth member of the band (to the reported chagrin of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz) on their own trilogy (More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music, and Remain In Light). In between all of that, he still found time to produce Devo's stunning debut My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, a truly groundbreaking, ahead-of-its-time album that is one of my personal Top Ten records ever.
album and release, in collaboration with David Byrne,

But for a long time, Eno's solo work has left me kind of cold. Back in the 80's, I was a big Bauhaus fan, and their cover version of "Third Uncle" led me to Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), the source of the original. But overall, that album did nothing for me, and from that negative reaction, I shied away from Eno's solo work for many, many years.

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend about Eno. The conversation initially centered on Bush Of Ghosts, which we both agreed was a masterpiece. When he began addressing some of Eno's early solo work, I told him about my reaction to Taking Tiger Mountain. He was stunned that I hadn't fully gotten into the whole Eno back catalogue, and the next day he sent me this album, Here Come The Warm Jets.

All I have to say about this album is . . . WOW. Here Come The Warm Jets was recorded in the immediate aftermath of Eno's departure from Roxy Music, where he had an acrimonious relationship with that group's leader Brian Ferry and was frustrated with the constraints of the band's glam rock sound. Warm Jets can almost been viewed as Eno's reaction to being released from those constraints, while also flipping a big middle finger at his former band, and Brian Ferry in particular (listen to Eno's vocals on songs such as "Cindy Tells Me" and "Some Of Them Are Old" - he appears to be purposely emulating Ferry's singing style!). But this isn't just a "taking the piss out of Roxy Music" record. Eno has some great ideas and melodies on this album, and even today this work sounds fresh and innovative. Some of my favorite tunes include the fantastic "Needle In The Camel's Eye", "Dead Finks Don't Talk", and one of the best songs of Eno's career, the dreamy, transporting "On Some Faraway Beach".

Here Come The Warm Jets reopened my mind to Eno's solo work. I gave Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) another listen, after ignoring it for several years, and now found that it is nearly Warm Jets' equal. And from there, I began investigating his ambient works and later stuff like Nerve Net. All in all, Brian Eno is a fascinating, innovative artist, and his complete catalogue (both solo and with others) is worthy of review and appreciation.

If you don't own this album, I heartily recommend giving it a listen. You won't be disappointed. If anything, Rolling Stone ranked this one too low.

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