Friday, August 27, 2010

The Cure - Disintegration (RS500 - #326)

(We haven't done a Rolling Stone 500 album in a while, so let's do this one . . .)

I'll open this one with a bold statement: In my opinion, The Cure have been milking it for far too long.

I knew nothing about The Cure until I got to school in the early '80s, when my buddy Rich, a good ol' country boy from South Carolina, loaned me a mix tape he owned that had the band's "The Lovecats" on it. Now, that probably wasn't the best song to be introduced to The Cure, but I thought it was great. Another school friend of mine there, Pat, had most of the early Cure albums - Seventeen Seconds, Pornography, The Top - and that's when I really got into the band, so much so that by the time the band's career-spanning compilation Staring At The Sea: The Singles 1979-1985 (and its companion B-sides collection Standing On A Beach) was released in May 1986, it was one of the most highly anticipated musical highlights of that year for me.

Even moreso than The Head On The Door (released the previous August), Staring At The Sea/Standing On A Beach was really the album that broke The Cure into the American market. The album was their first Top 50 U.S. disc, sold over two million copies, and got rave reviews from nearly every American reviewer. And that's where the wheels started coming off . . .

What is it with the Double-Album Curse? More often than not, the release of a double-disc usually marks the band's high-water mark - from there it's all downhill. The list is long: Wheels Of Fire, Songs In The Key Of Life, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, The Downward Spiral, Double Nickels On The Dime - all of these albums marked the creative peaks of their respective bands (Cream, Stevie Wonder, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and The Minutemen, for those of you keeping score). But few bands have the sense or foresight to recognize the top of the mountain - of the list above, only Cream made their double album their last. They just keep slogging away, putting out product after product as they trudge slowly downhill, away from their peak . . .

In my opinion, The Cure should have ended it right there - they had nothing left to prove. Frankly, this would have been the perfect place for the band to call it a day, after ten years of great music. Unfortunately, it appears they read those glowing reviews and let that heady American success go straight to their heads. When they were young and hungry and playing to a mostly English audience, The Cure didn't seem to give a damn about 'art' or 'expressing themselves' - they were making good music for themselves, not for the critics or their audience. But after Standing On A Beach, it seems that they abandoned that ethic, and started playing more to the crowd.

It started in 1987, with their first post-compilation studio album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Prior to 1986, The Cure were known for catchy, punchy, concise bursts of distilled New Wave gold. All of their most well-known songs from that period - "Let's Go To Bed", "The Caterpillar", "The Upstairs Room", "Primary", "Three Imaginary Boys" - clock in at no longer than 3-1/2 minutes. Heck, "Killing An Arab" and "Boys Don't Cry" are barely TWO and a half minutes long. But starting with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the songs began to get longer and more heavy-handed - but not because The Cure had anything weightier or more profound to say. The best songs on this album - "Catch", "Just Like Heaven", "Hot Hot Hot!!!" - were the shorter ones, coming in at around the 3:30 mark as usual. But Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is full of long, meandering, ponderous shit - "The Kiss", "How Beautiful You Are", "The Snakepit" - that essentially say nothing and go nowhere, despite their length.

However, this album was also a huge success in the U.S., their first American Top 40 record, selling over a million copies and moving them into the mainstream over here. And all of that - the sales, the American acclaim, etc. - apparently told The Cure that that formula worked. Which all led to Disintegration in 1989 . . .

Frankly, this is a dreadful fucking record - full of pompous, drawn-out, self-indulgent crap. Only ONE song on this album, "Lovesong", clocks in at under four minutes. The other eleven songs just drone on and on and on for forever - the last four songs on Disintegration ("The Same Deep Water As You", the title cut, "Homesick" and "Untitled") take over 30 minutes to get through - longer than some the band's early ALBUMS. There are some interesting melodies and good ideas contained within these interminable dirges, but it takes so long to get through them, that you either forget about the good parts or get bored waiting to get to them. [By the way, guess which song was the only U.S. hit off of this album? That's right, the short one - "Lovesong" made it to #2.]

Disintegration was the beginning of the end of my Cure fandom. I bought the follow-up, Wish, in 1992, and even bought tickets to their show at DC's Capital Centre that May, no doubt taken in by what was widely billed as "The Cure's Farewell Tour". But I haven't paid much attention to the band since that time. Since 1992, the band has had a couple more "farewell tours", and yet show no signs of quitting anytime soon. The studio albums are fewer and farther between, but they still keep cranking them out - four more since Wish, with diminishing chart success. Marching downhill . . .

In the years that have passed, Disintegration continues to garner critical acclaim, with some calling it "The Cure's artistic peak" and "the culmination of the Cure sound", and inclusion on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. I agree that it's a peak for them, all right - a commercial peak, but nowhere near an artistic peak. The Cure left their art behind, somewhere around 1986 - unless your definition of art is something leaden, turgid and directionless. I'll take the pre-1986 Cure for my 'art' any day.

And that's my two cents - you are more that welcome to disagree. In the meantime, here you go:

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Young Marble Giants - Salad Days

I found this one in, of all places, Nashville, Tennessee.

I was in Nashville for the very first time for a conference back in 2002, staying at the Opryland Hotel. Back then, I had no strong affinity for country music. I don't know if you've ever been to Nashville, but if you haven't, let me let you in on a little secret - practically the ENTIRE TOWN is devoted to country music. It's everywhere, especially where I was staying - banjo music is piped nonstop through the building, the lobby features exhibits from the Grand Old Opry (stuff like Minnie Pearl's hat), and that country theme is even embedded in the décor of the place. Needless to say, after a day or so there, I was starting to freak. A little of that kind of music goes a long way for me, so being immersed in it was getting to be a bit much.

On the second day of the conference, I fled the building, desperately trying to find anywhere, anyplace that had that whole country schtick toned down even a little bit. I found myself at, of all places, Opry Mills Mall nearby - maybe not the best choice, but all that I could get to at that moment. The place was fairly generic, as far as malls go, except for, once again, the hillbilly Muzak that was apparently ubiquitous with the region. However, I saw a store in the mall that appeared to offer some salvation - the local Virgin Megastore. I practically ran there, figuring that if there was any cool music being played in Nashville, it would be in there.

And sure enough, stepping through the door was like stepping through a bubble, shutting out the countrified outside world. Stereolab was being played over the store speakers, the cashiers all had visible tattoos and/or piercings - I felt like I was back in 'civilization' again, or what I considered to be civilization . . .

I killed some time by going through Virgin's stacks (guess what was the largest section in the store . . .). I wasn't really looking for anything, but as I ran through the "Y"s in the Rock section, I recalled that one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands was a short-lived Welsh post-punk group called Young Marble Giants. Shockingly, the store had a single copy of one of the band's albums available, Salad Days. I really didn't know anything about them, but Cobain's word was good enough for me - I purchased it.

Young Marble Giants was formed in Cardiff, Wales in 1978, and was made up of brothers Stuart (on guitar and organ) and Philip Moxham (on bass) and singer Alison Stratton. Being from the comparative outback, as far as music was concerned, Young Marble Giants developed their own distinctive, stripped-down sound, far removed from anything coming out of London's post-punk scene at the time. They first appeared on a local compilation album, Is The War Over?, in October 1979, and from the strength of their contribution, were immediately signed to Rough Trade Records. Their only album on Rough Trade, Colossal Youth, was released the following February, followed by two EPs, the Final Day EP in June 1980 and the Testcard EP in March 1981. But by the time Testcard was released, Young Marble Giants had broken up.

The album Salad Days was released on obscure label Vinyl Japan (UK) Ltd. in 2000. The fifteen songs contained on this album are essentially demos and home recordings of songs that eventually ended up on the band's album and EPs. Salad Days is Young Marble Giants distilled down to their essence. The sound of these recordings are not as full as the final products would be, but their very primitive, lo-fi quality makes them more immediate and intimate. For example, of the two versions of "Brand New Life" I own on Colossal Youth and Salad Days, I prefer the latter version - the minimalism of the Salad Days version, in my opinion, strengthens the song. Usually a band's release of early demos is pretty useless, and of interest only to hard-core fans; this album is one of the few demo collections that stands toe-to-toe with the band's other recordings.

Since the breakup of Young Marble Giants in 1981, Stuart Moxham has continued making music in the indie genre, both solo and with other artists (most significantly with Barbara Manning in her 1993 release Barbara Manning Sings With The Original Artists). Alison Stratton and Philip Moxham recruited other musicians and quickly formed a jazz-influenced combo called Weekend, which released an acclaimed album, La Variete, in 1982. After Weekend disbanded in 1983, Philip Moxham moved into more mainstream alternative territory, playing bass for Everything But The Girl and The Communards.

However, in 2003, the trio reunited for a one-off radio special in Wales. Since then, they have appeared together as Young Marble Giants sporadically, most recently in 2009. There are rumors of a new album now and then, but nothing has come of that thus far.

Until that occurs, enjoy this copy of Salad Days. If you have Colossal Youth, compare the sound of the two. I believe that, like me, you'll come to appreciate and enjoy them both. Let me know what you think.


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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Marti Jones - Unsophisticated Time

Man, I hadn't thought about this singer or album in years, until just recently. I was browsing around in a store in Fredericksburg, VA when the intercom suddenly began softly playing "Lonely Is As Lonely Does" off of this album, and the memories came flooding back . . .

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, there were various bands that concentrated on the Washington, DC/Mid-Atlantic circuit, and as such were sort of like the local leaders and "go-to" bands for a particular genre or type of music. Probably the most well-known example of this would be Fugazi, who ruled the DC indie scene for years before becoming more well known nationally and globally. But there were lots of others who never achieved significant or far-reaching national success, but who still carved out their own niche and created their own local following - bands like The Slickee Boys, Awareness Art Ensemble, NRBQ, Unrest, Boy O Boy (aka Fighting Gravity), The Dismemberment Plan - it seemed that you couldn't go a week without seeing at least one of these bands' gigs listed somewhere in the DC weekly City Paper's concert schedule.

In the mid-'80s, Marti Jones was one of the darlings of that scene. She first earned notice as a member of Akron, OH's Color Me Gone, a superb jangle-pop band in the style of what was coming out of Mitch Easter's studio down in North Carolina.
Sadly, Color Me Gone only released a well-received six-song EP before breaking up in late 1984 (word has it that the guitar player slugged Marti during a drunken argument while on tour in Georgia, leading to her immediate departure). Jones teamed up with renowned producer Don Dixon (he co-produced R.E.M.'s Murmur with Easter) for her first album as a solo artist, Unsophisticated Time, released on A&M Records on 1985.

All in all, her debut album is superb, featuring strong songwriting and selection (most of the originals here were penned by Dixon, but the album features strong covers of songs by The Bongos and The dBs) and excellent production. Here, Jones moves away from jangle pop, and more towards . . . well, not exactly adult contemporary; more like adult alternative, if there is such a thing. Either way, Unsophisticated Time was very well received in certain quarters, especially in the Washington DC area. The local alternative station, WHFS, played this album to death - that's were I first heard and loved "Lonely Is As Lonely Does" (one of the dBs covers). With this heavy promotion, Jones had great success on the local concert scene, usually accompanied by Don Dixon (who saw some chart success of his own that year, moving in front of the mixing board for his debut album, Most Of The Girls Like To Dance But Only Some Of The Boys Like To, featuring the hit "Praying Mantis").

Local success is one thing, but more widespread fame and recognition of her excellent musical gifts was not to come for Marti Jones. She released two more equally good albums on A&M, Match Game in 1986 and Used Guitars in 1988, that like her debut were not strong sellers (mainly due to A&M failing to push/promote them properly - the label's head of promotion,
the legendary Charlie Minor, was not a fan of either Jones or her records).  After being dropped by A&M after Used Guitars tanked, she moved to RCA and released Any Kind Of Lie in 1990. On the plus side, however, her relationship with Don Dixon evolved from a professional to a personal one, and the two have been happily married for over two decades now.

Since her lone RCA album, Marti Jones has toured occasionally, usually with her husband, and recorded sporadically (a couple of albums, 1996's My Long-Haired Life and 2002's My Tidy Doily Dream, for a small independent label). But nowadays, Jones has mostly left the music industry and concentrates on her new career in painting. She and Dixon are still beloved in the DC area.

It's too bad that A&M sort of shunted her off to one side, and didn't give her the backing she needed to become a big star. With that combination of rare talent, winning songs, and top-notch production, Marti Jones should have been a lot bigger than she was. A&M still hasn't even seen fit to rerelease her first three albums, which is a complete crime.

So here's her debut, Unsophisticated Time, for you to enjoy. I hope that with this, you too become Marti Jones fans, like I am. As always, let me know what you think. Enjoy:  

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Poll Answers

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week's poll regarding the most popular download here at Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole. Here are the top five, in ascending order:

5. Jerry Harrison - Casual Gods
4. World Of Pooh - The Land Of Thirst
3. James Brown - Live At The Apollo
2. The Fall - The Frenz Experiment

And the most popular album (which no one guessed correctly):

1. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto

I'll try to think of another poll question to post in the nest week. Thanks again for playing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Talk Back - "Rudy" (and two other songs that should have been on the "Pretty In Pink" Soundtrack that weren't)

This post isn't so much about what's on the Pretty In Pink soundtrack - it's about what's NOT on it, and my search for these songs. As such, I'm not posting the entire soundtrack here - if you want it, check out my fellow blogger Babakazoo's Classic Groove's posting from a little while back.

I'll start by saying that yeah, back in 1986 when it came out, I liked this movie. Seems now that in this day and age, it's sort of a crime to admit that you are/were a fan of John Hughes movies in the '80s. A lot of over-35 hipsters like to adopt the pose that, back in the day, they were above these types of films. Let me disabuse you of any notion to the contrary: they're lying - back then, there was hardly anyone who wasn't a fan of John Hughes movies, and John Hughes teen movies in particular. I mean, let's face it - in less than a four-year span, Hughes either wrote, produced and/or directed the following films: National Lampoon's Vacation; Sixteen Candles; The Breakfast Club; European Vacation; Weird Science; Pretty In Pink; Ferris Bueller's Day Off; and Some Kind Of Wonderful. That's a killer run by any measure, with something in there for pretty much everyone in the family. So to say that you were oblivious to or "anti-" Hughes' ouevre is just patently false posturing. True, the guy splashed a few late-80s turds into the bowl (She's Having A Baby, anyone?). But he proved he still had a lot left in the tank with his first film of the '90s, Home Alone, after twenty years still one of the all-time top grossing movies.

Enough about Home Alone - we were discussing Hughes' teen angst films, and Pretty In Pink in particular. I'm not going to bother rehashing the plot or discussing the characters or anything - I'm sure you know the movie by now, else you wouldn't be reading this. I'm more interested in the music.

One thing you had to hand to Hughes - the guy knew how to cobble together movie music, mixing cuts from the current hot alternative bands from that time (New Order, The Smiths) with classics from the '60s and '70s (Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles) into an eclectic, ear-catching stew that somehow all fit together as a coherent complement to the story. As his career progressed, Hughes got better and better at this; the music underlying The Breakfast Club is better than that for Sixteen Candles; Ferris Bueller's music surpasses that of Pretty In Pink. I think that Hughes' movie soundscapes peaked with Some Kind Of Wonderful, full of great new songs and interesting reworkings of classic songs by some (for their time) cutting-edge artists (Flesh For Lulu, The Jesus & Mary Chain).

The Pretty In Pink movie music is probably the most balanced of these song collections, in terms of old and new stuff. However, there's a difference between the music you actually HEAR in a movie and what is actually RELEASED as the 'official soundtrack' to the film. And that's where I feel the Pretty In Pink Soundtrack failed. Great songs that were an integral part of the film - like Duckie's dance interpretation of "Try A Little Tenderness", and Andie slow-dancing to "Cherish" with a beehive-topped Iona - were left off of the soundtrack album. At the same time, lightweight tunes by Jesse Johnson and INXS were included. But the most egregious omissions were yet to come . . .

Some of the best music in the movie took place in the club scenes, a place called CATS (Andrew Dice Clay played the club doorman). There were two pretty obscure bands featured at CATS: The Rave-Ups, who played excerpts of "Positively Lost Me" and "Rave Up/Shut Up", and Talk Back, which did a very cool neo-reggae tune called "Rudy".

I remember seeing the movie, hearing that song, and thinking, "Who the heck was THAT?" In the days that followed, I eagerly acquired the soundtrack album, fully expecting the coolest songs in the film to be part of that release. But I was profoundly disappointed when I saw that the studio did not see fit give these unknown bands a break by putting them on the disc.

It took me a while to find the Rave-Ups songs, but I ended up tracking them down. Fron what I understand, members of the Rave-Ups were personal friends of Molly Ringwald, and she used her influence to get them into the film (which was cool of her). The Talk Back song, however, proved more elusive.

Talk Back was a straight-up bar band from the Los Angeles area, one of thousands in LA working the circuit and hoping for a break. The band was fronted by Bruno Coon, who word has it is one of the nicer guys in the industry (and you know what they say about nice guys, and where they finish . . .). By all indications, Talk Back's inclusion in Pretty In Pink did nothing for them. The band soldiered on for a few more years, until evolving into Headbone - a new name, but essentially the same sound, fronted by the same guy. It appears they're still making music - the band have a MySpace account, which is updated from time to time. Coon appears to supplement his band income with fairly regular work as a music editor and composer for movies (most recently serving as an editor on this year's Toy Story 3).

Enough about the band background. As for the song, like I said, I searched high and low for "Rudy", to no avail. I have had my antennae up for this one for almost twenty-five years, and it was just last week, by happenstance, that I finally stumbled over a copy of it. Mind you, this is not the original version of "Rudy" taken directly from the film; this is a live version by Talk Back/Headbone recorded at some bar much later. But it still sounds very close to the original.

So here are the three songs that SHOULD have been on the Pretty In Pink Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:

- The Rave-Ups - "Positively Lost Me";
- The Rave-Ups - "Rave Up/Shut Up"; and finally, the woefully hard-to-find
- Talk Back - "Rudy"

"Rudy" is in .m4a format (sorry), the others in .mp3. Enjoy this music . . . and, as always, let me know what you think.

(and BTW, just to put my own two cents in: I'm not Calvin Klein, but I gotta say that the dress Andie made and wore to the prom in the film is HIDEOUS . . .)

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Luscious Jackson - "Naked Eye" Maxi-Single

If it weren't for Throwing Muses, I might never have gotten to like this song. Let me explain (and don't worry, this isn't a post about the Muses - this will eventually get around to Luscious Jackson; just bear with me):

I've been a fan of Throwing Muses (fronted by Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donnelly, two half-sisters from Newport, RI) ever since 1990, when I first heard their album Hunkpapa. A lot of critics considered that album to be one of their weakest; many songs off of it, like "Dizzy" and "Fall Down", seem like they were crafted to order for alt-rock radio. But I thought the album was great, and from Hunkpapa, I went back and acquired the band's entire back catalogue.

As much as I loved Throwing Muses, I never had the opportunity to see them live. Every time I had the chance, something unavoidable would occur to prevent me from going to the show. For example, they came to town five days after I moved overseas - then when I moved back to the States, they played in the place I lived overseas a couple of weeks later. Or the show I was set on seeing would be cancelled. Stuff like this with this band happened four or five times to me - I used to jokingly refer to it as "The Curse of The Muses".

When I was up in Cambridge, MA in 1996, for my grad school summer internship, it appeared that I would finally get my chance to see a Throwing Muses show. A couple of days before I had to leave for Virginia, at the end of that summer, the Muses were scheduled to play at TT The Bear's Place in Central Square, mere walking distance from where I was living (they were touring on Limbo, their latest album). I had a dinner engagement that same evening up in Manchester, NH, but I knew that I could easily attend that and still have ample time to get back to Cambridge to see the show. I was really looking forward to finally seeing this band.

The dinner up in New Hampshire took a little longer that I anticipated, and I left the function at just about the time I figured I would need to get back to see the show. I zipped my Porsche 928 the highway and got back into the Boston area in a hurry, but not quickly enough to be able to park my car at my temporary home and walk/run the several blocks to TT The Bear's in time for the start of the show. So I drove straight to Central Square and began looking for parking near the club. Parking right on Mass. Avenue was all but impossible, so I started down the side streets near TT's, looking for a space - up Sidney Street; down Brookline Street; up Pearl Street toward Green . . .

I saw the car coming at me out of the corner of my left eye an instant before I was hit, just the flash and glare of headlights barrelling down on me at tremendous speed. There wasn't time enough to think or comprehend what was happening, or what was going to happen, before I heard the loud and violent bang of metal on metal, and felt my left shoulder being thrown up against the driver's side door. There were CDs and other junk in the passenger seat beside me - I distinctly recall my copy of Cocteau Twins' Love's Easy Tears EP sort of floating in the air beside me for a moment, before flying past my head and into the back seat.

In an instant, it was over, and I found myself pointing not up Pearl Street, my original destination, but turned just over 90 degrees to the right, now pointing up Green and looking down the street at the back of the car that just creamed me.

What had happened was these two teenage shitheads (I think they were both no older than 18 or 19) from the North Shore had taken the station wagon (yeah, for real - an actual station wagon) belonging to one of their mothers out for a spin in Boston. Feeling giddy with their newfound sense of freedom (and, perhaps, from the booze bottles they had somehow gotten hold of during their journey to the city), they decided to play Starsky & Hutch through Cambridge, blasting through quiet back streets and crossroads . . . and right through a double-STOP sign at the intersection of Pearl and Green, where I (who had the right-of-way) unfortunately came into their path.

If they had T-boned me, I probably wouldn't have been in too great a shape. But fortunately for me (if there is something fortunate to come out of this event), the dumbasses struck the Porsche in the left front fender, behind the headlight and in front of the tire. The angle of impact spun me around, and left the entire front of my car with a queer, slewed-to-one-side look about it. I gotta say though, that those Porsche 928s are built pretty solid. Those boys were doing 45-55 MPH through those streets when they whacked me, but my car is low to the ground and weighs over a ton and a half. That limited the spinning, and the damage - the wreck didn't break a single piece of glass on the car, not even the headlight. And thankfully, I wasn't hurt at all, just a little shaken up.

Their station wagon, however, was damn near totaled; the front end was completely smushed in, with steam rising up from under the crumpled hood and fluid oozing out all over the road. These boys KNEW they were in the shit - not just with the police (who arrived instantly, and the station was only a block or two away), but also with the car's owner, since they were going to have to explain how they destroyed it and why the owner was now liable for damage to a Porsche as well.

Resolving the accident - getting insurance info, talking to the police, watching my car get towed away - took the rest of the night. Needless to say, I didn't get to the Throwing Muses show. The Curse had struck again! In fact, I never had another opportunity to see them live again - the band went on indefinite hiatus immediately after the Limbo tour ended, never to reform.

Anyway, a couple of days later I left for Virginia, in the rental car provided by the speeder's insurance company, while my car remained in Massachusetts getting worked on, on their dime (I insisted on the fix, rather than compensation - I loved that car, and wanted it back). It took them several weeks to repair my car; when I finally got the word in late October that it was ready, I took the bus from Charlottesville to DC, then the overnight train from DC to Boston to go pick it up.

The repair shop did a beautiful job with the Porsche; it looked good as new. Before I left town, I drove around for a bit, enjoying the feeling of being behind the wheel of my old friend once again, visiting some of my old haunts in the area and listening to WFNX, my favorite Boston alternative music station. And that was when and where I first heard Luscious Jackson's "Naked Eye" - WFNX had it on semi-heavy rotation at the time.

Luscious Jackson was formed in New York City in 1993 by four women, including Kate Schellenbach, the original drummer (and only female member) of The Beastie Boys (she appears on their first two EP releases, Pollywog Stew and Cooky Puss). In its lifetime, the band issued several albums, singles and EPs, all released on Grand Royal Records (the Beastie Boys' private label), and had some success in alt-rock circles. 1996-1997 was their most successful period, with their second album, Fever In/Fever Out (helmed by U2 producer Daniel Lanois), spawning several hits, including "Naked Eye", the band's only Top 40 hit.

During my drive back down the East Coast to Virginia, it seems I heard "Naked Eye" everywhere - not just on alternative stations. Mainstream radio was picking up on it as well. By the time I got back to Charlottesville, the song was ingrained in my brain. Soon after I returned, I went downtown to Plan 9 Records and picked up the CD single. According to, there were no less than ten(!) versions of the "Naked Eye" single issued, all with different mixes of the song on it. My version includes the following:

1 Naked Eye (Radio Edit) 4:10
2 Naked Eye (Totally Nude Mix) 5:12
3 Naked Eye (Suntan Knee-Hi Mix - Instrumental) 4:38

Luscious Jackson put out one more album, the poorly-received Electric Honey in 1999, before calling it quits in 2000. But this song was probably their peak; there was no place else to go but down after this. So here you are - enjoy:

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Various Artists - Hey Love (Vol. 1 and 2)

This collection of great R&B hits from the late '60s/early '70s is probably known more for its now-classic 1970s television commercial and its immortal closing line, "No, my brother - you have to buy your own!" Here's the ad, just in case you don't remember it:

I probably saw this TV commercial scores of times in the late '70s and early '80s, when they were running it at practically every late-night ad break on UHF stations like WLVI (Channel 56) in Boston and WBFF (Channel 45) in Baltimore. A weird combination of late Seventies cheesiness and slickness, this ad is a bonafide masterpiece.

The Hey Love compilation was released by a company called Onyx Communications out of New York City (according to the commercial, in partnership with "Hey Love Productions") sometime in either 1977 or 1978 - documentation is pretty scarce for this release. Back then, you could only order the album on either vinyl or cassette, via the standard shady-looking P.O. address in some jerkwater town most people had never heard of. Onyx Communications was obviously just the middleman in this deal, and apparently the release of Hey Love was the high point for this company - on a whim, I looked up company information on this firm, and only came up with the following:
"Onyx Communications Inc is a private company categorized under Communications and located in New York, NY. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of less than $500,000 and employs a staff of approximately 1 to 4."
Looks like they had to let a few people go over the years. Shoulda hung on to some of that mail order record money . . .

Anyway, after a few years, the ads disappeared from the airwaves, and the albums became unavailable. However, in 2001, Time-Life Music acquired the license, and reissued Hey Love on two CDs. For all the jokes about the corniness and stilted dialogue of the commercial, that doesn't take away from the fact that this is an outstanding soul/R&B compilation. These discs focus on a narrow time period, approximately from 1966 to 1973, ostensibly the heyday of American soul music. Every one of the forty songs on Hey Love were Top 40 R&B hits during this period, with many of them crossing over and becoming mainstream hits as well.

These are the kind of songs I remember my folks listening to, way back when. My dad used to have stacks of 45rpm records in the cabinet of his Telefunken, and if company came over or if the mood struck him, he would spin record after record on the stereo turntable - memorable stuff like The Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly, Wow", or "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl" by The Chi-Lites, and "Me And Mrs. Jones" by the immortal Billy Paul. EVERY song contained on both volumes of Hey Love is a stone-cold classic.

If you know nothing about the late Sixties soul scene, these records are the perfect place to begin your education. "Not sold in any store, this exclusive TV offer is available only here!" So, pick up your copy of "the classic sounds of sexy soul", my brother - you can "get your own" right here! Enjoy:

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Various Artists - Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4

Although I have professed to be a lover of all types of music over the years, frankly folk music has never really done much for me. Aging urban hipsters around during the late '50s/early '60s always wax nostalgic for the times they visited their downtown hootenanny and 'discovered' the latest hillbilly band sensation (although more times then not, these so-called rural ensembles hailed not from the backwoods of Tennessee or some clapboard shack in West Virginia, but from no further than the city's suburbs). One of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson, is guilty of this misty-eyed memorializing too; he has written about jugband throwdowns he attended at the "hungry i" (yes, it was spelled out in lower case on the marquee) in San Francisco, and about travelling into the outback of Kentucky to hear 'authentic' mountain music.

That might have been fine for him, back then. But I think that few of today's music lovers can relate to or appreciate that real folk sound. After the initial explosion, some of the early sixties folk musicians, like Joan Baez, Peter Paul & Mary, and especially Bob Dylan, tried to keep the authentic feeling alive. But as the decade progressed, folk music got commercialized and bastardized, becoming poppier and thus losing much of its original potency. The Mamas & The Papas, The Stone Poneys, The Grass Roots, The Hollies - all of those groups started out with folk intentions, but evolved into pop groups. However, today, when people think about 'folk music', these are the bands (and many others like them) that immediately spring to mind. In considering these groups to be 'folk' groups, it cheapens the actual genre. The sound of the Hollies, Mamas & Papas, etc., is of a certain time and place, and while that sound may have appeal to Sixties revivalists, it serves to limit the more widespread appeal of authentic folk.

Like I said, that music didn't do anything for me - 1960s folk/pop wasn't a sound that I could get into.

A few years ago, during one of those periodic Dylan revivals that seem to happen every so often, I was watching some TV documentary about Dylan's early years. They interviewed a guy named Dave Van Ronk, who was one of the young Dylan's mentors in New York. Van Ronk spoke about the early days of the folk revival in Greenwich Village, where he was a leading light, and his influences in those days, which included the blues legend Odetta and the recording artists and music associated with Folkways Records (where Van Ronk recorded his first folk album in 1959). I thought to myself, "Ah - there was something before Dylan," and filed the names "Van Ronk" and "Folkways" away for later.

A few days later, I was over at my buddy Ed's house, sitting around while he played Dylan on his stereo. I mentioned the show I had seen earlier, and asked him if he knew anything about Van Ronk or Folkways. He was unfamiliar with the former, but in answer to the latter part of the question, he reached up onto the bookshelf holding his CDs and came down with a large red square box, which he handed to me. It was a CD box set, the Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 1-3, compiled by a guy named Harry Smith and put out on Folkways Records way back in 1952 (released on CD in 1997). Ed told me that the source of nearly everything Dylan, Baez, and all of the other '60s folk groups did was in this set, which compiled original blues, folk and country tunes recorded during the Depression Era. When I reminded Ed of my dislike of folk music, he responded by grabbing one of the set's CDs and putting on "Single Girl, Married Girl" by The Carter Family, a simple song with finger-picked chords and countrified singing, but undoubtedly full of power and heart:

I was pretty well blown away, and asked to borrow the Anthology for a while to fully absorb it.

Over the next week or so, I got to know the Anthology pretty well, and with it, I discovered a new appreciation for folk music. From what I read, Harry Smith was a California artist and eccentric who in 1940 began collecting old blues, gospel and country 78s as a hobby, at a time when most people didn't take that type of music seriously. By the end of the 1940s, Smith had amassed several thousand of these records in his collection. He met with Moses Asch, the head of Folkways Records, in 1947 in the hope of selling or licensing his records to the label. Instead, Asch gave Smith the chance to put together an album of his favorites. According to Smith, he selected recordings from between "1927, when electronic recording made possible accurate music reproduction, and 1932, when the Depression halted folk music sales." The Anthology of American Folk, Vol. 1-3, divided into three themes (Ballads, Social Music, and Songs), was a sensation in certain quarters when first released. The set is directly responsible for the folk music revival of the 1950s, and all that came later. Most of the folkies at that time, including Van Ronk and Dylan, considered the Anthology to be the Bible of Folk, and many of the once-obscure songs on it became folk music standards after being played at those urban coffeehouses and hootenannies.

In the original liner notes to the Anthology (themselves celebrated for their wittiness and design), Smith mentions that there were to be three more volumes in his folk music series, which would compile music up to 1950. However, none of these following volumes would be released in Smith's lifetime (he died in 1991). Eventually, in 2000, Revenant Records released Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4, consisting of songs released on 78rpm records between 1927 and 1940, and compiled using notes that Smith left behind. Just as the first three volumes of this series had a theme, the theme of Volume 4 is Labor Songs. This two-disc set is just as superb as the original three volumes, and just as essential. With that being said, I have no idea why Revenant would let this album go out of print.

From what I understand, the final two albums in Smith's planned series of six were taped, and have been sitting in the Folkways (now Smithsonian Folkways) archives for decades, although they lack the documentation required to fully license the music and complete the liner notes. Let's hope that someday they get around to doing that, and fully realize Harry Smith's dream. Until then, enjoy this sublime and currently unavailable collection of classic folk music. This is damn near impossible to find online, so . . . Enjoy:

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Julee Cruise - "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" Remixes EP

One of my other favorite movies (in addition to Raiders below) is Blue Velvet, David Lynch's masterwork, as far as I'm concerned. I think that it's one of the all-time great film comedies.

Yes, that's right, I said "comedies". Yes, yes, I know, Blue Velvet's depiction of crime, sexual deviance and murder taking place below the placid surface of a seemingly sleepy small town is profoundly disturbing to a lot of folks. And people were shaken by Dennis Hopper's portrayal of the psychotic Frank Booth - I understand all of that. But in many ways, the film is hilarious, especially in Hopper's over-the-top performance and a lot of the scripted dialogue. My buddy Ed is also a huge fan of this movie, and it's guaranteed that we can crack one another up in any location or situation by dropping one of the movie's lines - "It's DADDY, you shithead! Where's my bourbon?" "PABST - Blue Ribbon!" "No, I don't want you to pour it, I want you to fuck it - shit yes, pour the fuckin' beer!" "Here's to Ben!"

Ah, that never gets old - at least not for us.

One of the great things Lynch did in that movie was to set viewers up regarding the sleepy, bucolic nature of the town of Lumberton through the soft, semi-dreamlike cinematography and through the music. The soundtrack features a lot of old-fashioned pop songs from the '50s and '60s, like "Blue Velvet" (of course) and "In Dreams", in addition to some original songs penned by Lynch and his music director for the film, Angelo Badalamenti. But the song that really grabbed my attention was one at the end of the film, a airy, haunting melody called "Mysteries Of Love" that reminded me a lot of the Cocteau Twins, but was actually sung by an Iowa chanteuse named Julee Cruise. Cruise was working as a talent scout for Badalamenti in New York, and noodling around on the fringes of New York's music and arts scene after moving there from Des Moines. Her boss recommended her to Lynch for the Blue Velvet gig, and it was her big break.

"Mysteries Of Love" got a pretty good response, so much so that it led Badalamenti and Lynch to write additional songs for her, and finance her debut album, Floating Into The Night, released by Warner Bros. Records in September 1989. I bought that album on Super Bowl Sunday, 1990, at the record shop on Thames Street in Newport, RI, shortly before the big game. Cruise has an airy, haunting voice, and the album is superb, a fine example of ethereal dream pop (One song off of it, "Falling", was used as the theme music for Lynch's TV show "Twin Peaks", which debuted later that year). But the thing that really struck me about Floating Into The Night was the strong thread of SADNESS running through all of the songs. Note that I didn't say "depressing" - there's a difference between the two states of emotion, I think. Cruise sings about lost loves and missed opportunities, backed by retro-50's style pop music morphed by Lynch and Badalamenti into something spooky and infinitely heart-rending. I enjoy this album quite a bit, but there are some songs on it I simply cannot bring myself to listen to with any regularity; the sadness contained therein is just THAT affecting.

A year or so after I purchased Floating Into The Night, I was driving from the DC area to Atlantic City to test my skills at the poker tables. On the way there, I was twiddling the radio knob, trying to see if I could pick up any decent music. Near the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I chanced upon a station playing a cowbell-horn-and-bass-driven dance beat that sounded a little like Soul II Soul, and settled on that for a bit. Imagine my surprise when the lyrics kicked in, and I heard the familiar words of Floating Into The Night's "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" in Julee Cruise's voice!

The remixed version I was hearing completely dispensed with the sadness inherent in the original song, while still retaining the feel and sound of the original. Needless to say, it definitely tickled my ears, and I made a note to find it when I got back to DC. It took a while, but I finally tracked down the EP at my old reliable, the GWU Tower Records.

And so, here you are, the elusive "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" Remixes EP, released in 1991 on Warner Brothers Records. It includes the original and two modified versions, along with another song off of the original album, "The World Spins" (which was also featured in "Twin Peaks" the year before). Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

John Williams & The London Symphony Orchestra - Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Expanded Edition)

I love movies - everything from Orson Welles dramas to Bogart flicks, Hitchcock thrillers and Fred Astaire musicals, well-crafted Coen Brothers classics to Farrelly Brothers comedies (whatever happened to those guys, BTW?) However, I have to say that my hands-down, no-doubt, favorite movie of all time is Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

After I graduated from high school in California in 1981, not yet 17 (I skipped a grade), I left home and flew 3,000 miles away to study in Newport, Rhode Island for a year. As had been the case in my life since second grade, I once again found myself in the company of classmates at least a year older than I was - and when you're barely 17, a year is a lot. I was still pretty much a kid, and a geek at that. While the rest of the guys were racing into town on the weekend to get flat-out hammered in one of downtown Newport's many bars, a big weekend for me would be grabbing a cheeseburger at the Burger King, then continuing down Thames Street to the video arcade and spending the rest of the evening in front of the Donkey Kong or Galaga machine (I was Rhode Island state champion on Galaga at one point - that's shows you what I did with my time (geez, I don't realize how geeky an 'accomplishment' that was until I wrote it just now . . .)).

But after a couple of weekends, that routine got old, even for me. So one weekend in late September of that year, I decided to mix it up a little, and catch a movie. At the time, the main square of Newport had two theaters, the Jane Pickens (now used mostly as a live performance venue) and the Opera House, the latter of which had multiple theaters. I got to the Opera House box office in time for the early evening show, and settled on Raiders, a movie that had been out since late spring, but one that had not piqued my interest up to then. I bought my ticket, got my popcorn, and settled in . . .

Two hours later, as the credits completed their roll and the lights came up, I was still sitting there, rooted to my chair. Words cannot describe how I felt after that very first viewing of Raiders; I simply knew that I had just seen the greatest movie ever made. The story, the action, the dialogue, the retro-serial feel of the picture, the casting . . . EVERYTHING about that movie was note-perfect. All I knew was that I had to see it again - immediately. The cleaning people finally rousted me from my seat, but I went back outside and purchased another ticket for the late evening show, which I attended and enjoyed even more than the first. I had a new favorite movie!

Raiders Of The Lost Ark played at the Opera House for months, until late spring of the following year. And EVERY Saturday during that time when I was in town, I went to both evening shows, and never got tired of seeing it. When I returned home to California that summer, it was playing at a discount 'second-run' theater there in town, and I went to see it there several more times. All told, I've paid to see Raiders at least 150 times in my life. For me, it's the perfect movie, and Indiana Jones is one of, if not THE, greatest movie hero of all time. He was such a favorite, that I went out of my way to find shirts and pants like he wore in the film. I was too poor to buy a weathered leather jacket like he had. But I did manage to acquire several 'authentic Indiana Jones' brown fedoras over the years, the first of which, a beautifully rendered and pricey chapeau I purchased from the old B. Altman store near the Empire State Building in New York City, tragically blew off my head and into the ocean several miles off of Atlantic City when I was sailing with it one summer. Oh well.

To this day, though, I get a smile on my face every time I hear the famous and instantly recognizable "Raiders March" music. John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra outdid themselves on the soundtrack to this movie; the music evokes that of classic films and serials from the 1930s and 40s. One of my other long-time favorite bits from the soundtrack is the theme during Indy's visit to the Map Room - just superbly done. I bought this soundtrack on cassette when it came out in 1981 on Columbia Records. Years later, in 1995, DCC Compact Classics rereleased the soundtrack in an expanded version, with songs from the movie not included in the original 1981 release. The expanded version is what is provided here.


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