Saturday, January 30, 2010

State Of The (Dis)Union

As readers of this blog already know, I have been a supporter of President Obama from the beginning. So when 9:00 came on Wednesday night I was all primed and ready to listen to his State of the Union address. He said all of the things I wanted him to say and then some. He addressed the issue of outsourcing which is how I lost my job back in 2008. He chided the Republicans for saying no to everything and even went to far as to take a poke at the Supreme Court justices for their disastrous decision (see my previous post for details if you need to) last week. He explained the hows and whys of what he wanted to do and what he hoped his plans would accomplish. He took the blame for mistakes he had made. In short it was as near perfect a speech as could be. Yet throughout the whole hour and 10 minutes of it I found myself feeling an odd sense of disappointment. As good as it was, there was something missing. I wanted more.

At one point the camera panned to the Republican side of the House chamber and seeing all of them sitting there either stone-faced or with looks of contempt on their faces made me realize what the problem was for me. He was basically preaching to the choir and not reaching any of the people he needed to. While many people in this country are losing their jobs, their savings and their homes there is a large political faction in this country that seems wholly intent on nothing more than covering their own asses. And they attempt to do this by issuing a steady stream of negative rhetoric, offering few if any constructive suggestions of their own.

I'm not saying that President Obama is infallible. He's not. In order to get where he is he had to play the politics game as much as anyone. But we are living in very desperate times and the man does have some well thought out ideas, radical though they may seem to some, to get us out of the mess we find ourselves in. What we need now is a Congress that will work with him to solve these problems. That doesn't mean automatically saying 'yes' to everything he proposes but it does mean honestly listening to and impartially considering his plans and making intelligent suggestions. It means that Republicans and Democrats alike need to work together to try and fix things. The American people deserve nothing less.

Barbara Stephens - I Don't Worry
Although Ms. Stephens recorded this for the Stax label in Memphis, it sounds as if the session might have actually taken place in New Orleans as the drumming has that distinctive second-line feel to it. This must have been a B-side as it is not on the Stax box.
Even - End to End
I'm not sure where I first learned of these guys (probably on another blog) and there isn't a whole lot of info out there in cyberland other than their myspace page. They remind me of fellow Aussie psych-rockers The Lime Spiders who are also featured in this post.
Neil Young - Revolution Blues
Although personally I generally prefer his older music, I've got to hand it to him. NY has never rested on his laurels or been overly driven by commercial considerations. While some are more hit-or-miss than others, every new album is an adventure and one never knows what direction he will go in next.
The Trolls - Walking Shoes
According to the Soybomb Garage Compilation Database there were at least 5 bands calling themselves The Trolls back in the mid-60's. These particular Trolls came from San Jose and this was their big 2:07 claim to fame.
Wayne Worley - Red Headed Woman
"Red Headed Woman" has been on a number of Rockabilly compilations over the years and for good reason. It's a frantic balls-out rocker with a nifty guitar break halfway through.
The Plimsouls - Now
If I were to make a list, The Plimsouls would probably be way up there on my "Bands I Wish I'd Seen Live" tally. From the sound of things on this track from their "One Night In America" album, they must have really been something to see.
Pagliaro - What The Hell I Got
I first discovered Michel Pagliaro about 30 years ago when I spent Christmas vacation with a friend in Canada. I bought a K-Tel album of Canadian artists and he was the one that made the biggest impression on me. I'd love to hear some garage band revive this song, removing some of the slick production and giving it a more vintage Byrdsy sound. I apologize for the little glitch near the end of the song but unfortunately this is the only rip of it I have.
James Brown - Signed, Sealed, And Delivered
This isn't the Stevie Wonder hit of the same name. Back in 1963 this got up to number 77 on the Billboard charts and according to the Joel Witburn book, "SS&D" was a number 2 country hit for Cowboy Copas way back in 1948. I would have sworn this was a JB original.
The Revells - Midnight Stroll
Each Halloween it seems that every blog puts together a comp of scary music and inevitably "Midnight Stroll" is always on a bunch of them. But it's a terrific record and sounds just as chilling on a cold winters night.
The Outsiders - Touch
The (Dutch) Outsiders need no introduction to fans of mid-60's Garage and Freakbeat. This is one of their best singles and is available on a number of compilations and even as a reissue 45.
The Traveling Wilburys - Don't Treat Me Like A Stranger
All too often supergroups are little more than commercial ploys designed to revive sagging careers. The Wilburys were one of the exceptions as each artist involved brought his A-list material to the table and the result was a unique symbiosis where the whole was even more than the sum of its worthy parts.
Prince Conley - I'm Going Home
Here's another early outing on the Stax label, recorded before the label found their signature sound. With that exotic rhumba beat and Conley's understated vocals, this is an atmospheric masterpiece that surely deserved more attention than it received at the time.
The Lime Spiders - Beyond The Fringe
For a few years, back in the late 80's and early 90's these guys could do no wrong. I remember seeing them when they came to the US around that time and played Maxwells. They were unbelievable and as I remember they went over big with the whole crowd. They have a really nice website where you can learn and hear lots more.
King Alex & The Untouchables - Hutchia Cuthia Lovin' Man
Just like with garage bands (and almost every other genre of popular music) back in the 1950's there were many many talented young black Rock & Rollers trying for their shot at the big time. This particular track comes from a comp of the same name containing lots more crazy R&B sounds of the same ilk. A quick online search found it available here.
The Sonics - He's Waitin'
Here are The Sonics. Crank it up as loud as you can and just enjoy!
Scruffy The Cat - Never, Never

STC were one of the many hundreds of bands lumped in under the 'college radio/alternative' banner and so, never got the recognition and attention they deserved. They somehow always reminded me of a more punkified Lovin' Spoonful. They had more than their share of hooky, clever songs and they were all delivered with an easygoing confidence and warmth that was out of fashion at that time. Unfortunately their albums are all out of print but copies can still be found on Gemm Music.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Does Anybody Know?

In general I am not a very politically minded person. Don't get myself all worked up over something I can do little or nothing about has always been my philosophy. But lately, probably spurred on by my own state of unemployment and by seeing what's been going on in this country over the last few years, politics has started to feel a lot more personal. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 I felt that here was the possibility for a new beginning, a chance to set things right again. I still like and support President Obama today as much as I did when I pulled the lever to cast my vote for him two Novembers ago. What I (probably very naively) never counted on however was the fact that for most of the politicians in Washington, it was still business as usual. The Republicans have been fighting him every step of the way since day one. The good of the country be damned - as long as they can make him look bad that is all they want. Even many of President Obama's fellow Democrats have been reluctant to give him their full support, being fearful of a conservative backlash.

This past week two things happened that will have a potentially devastating effect on the future of this country. The first was the election of Republican Scott Brown as Massachusetts senator, replacing Ted Kennedy. Whereas prior to this the Democrats had a 60-40 majority in the Senate, now that majority is reduced to 59-41 which gives the Republicans a lot more filibuster power, making it much harder for President Obama to push through legislation on things like health care and restrictions on the financial services and banking industries. Even more ominous, especially over the long-term, is the Supreme Court decision which loosen the laws governing political contribution spending by industries and unions. What this does, in effect is to give Big Business even more control over the political process and more influence over the candidates who will surely be lining up and kissing ass for all this new corporate money. Just what this country needs - let's give the big corporations even more power than they already have.

So, forgive me if I sound more angry and cynical than usual. I'm certainly feeling that way and the playlist I've posted definitely reflects my state of mind. A few days ago I posted the song "Everybody Knows" on Facebook and a friend of mine commented that the big problem was that most people DON'T know. So many people just believe what they're told without question. Year after year the Republicans manage to bamboozle the people that they're screwing the most - the lower and middle-class working people.

I'll get down off my soapbox now.

Concrete Blonde - Everybody Knows
I first heard this song in the movie "Pump Up The Volume". Luckily I am not often in the mood to hear this song but when I am, this is the ultimate paean to resignation and cynicism.
Koko Taylor - Trying to Make a Living
Although for many of us it gets harder and harder, we're all out there just trying to make a living. Unfortunately, for many of our CEO's and corporate bigwigs making a living means obscenely large bonuses on top of seven or eight-figure salaries, which doesn't leave much left for the rest of us. Oh yeah, I forgot - it's all part of the trickle down theory. Silly me.
Randy Newman - Roll With The Punches
In anyone else's hands this song could be rather offensive but Randy sings it so tongue in cheek that it's real meaning is obvious. Yes, I still think the U.S. is a great place to live and I try never to lose sight of the fact that despite whatever problems I am facing I am still one of the privileged. But it does scare me to see where we could be going.
The Swamp Rats - Louie Louie
And now for something completely different. I realize I posted this back when this blog just started but what the hell. The ultimate mindless and loud version of the ultimate mindless and loud garage song. Sounds pretty good to me just about now.
Frank Evans & The Top Notchers - Gotta Get Some Money
Everybody's short of cash these days. If you want the honey you've got to have the money. Ain't that the way of the world?
The Electric Pop Group - Not By Another
These guys are my favorite new band - at least for this week. Think Jesus & Mary Chain meets Gene Clark and you're definitely on the right track. Check out their myspace page to hear more.
Etta James - Seven Day Fool
Etta James has never been anybody's fool so this guy must be something pretty special. "..Fool" has been reissued a number of times and for some reason they always use the stereo mix which lacks a lot of the punch of the mono version.
Phillip Roebuck - Jackass Blues
This is another song I am posting a second time (my bad - sorry about that) but just by its title alone it somehow seemed to fit my current mood. Taken from a wonderful 2-disc compilation "Attack of the One-Man Bands" which is available at Amazon.
Husker Du - Makes No Sense At All
I've always liked this song and have been meaning to post it for awhile. This seemed like an opportune time.
Jackie Wilson & Lavern Baker - Think Twice
Two of the best voices in Soul (or any other genre for that matter) combine forces here. I'm not sure if this was ever released as a single (although it's inclusion on a few different best-of compilations suggests that it probably was) but I'm thinking that once again, it sounds like the stereo mix dilutes a good deal of its punchiness.
The Montells - You Can't Make Me
As far as I know "YCMM" was the only release by this Florida combo but it's inclusion on one of the "Back From the Grave" comps insures them a place in garage band lover's hearts forever.
Los Valendas - The Clock Is Ticking
I know almost nothing about these guys besides what my 3 years of high-school Spanish all those years ago enables me to glean from their myspace page. They have a few albums that all seem to be out of print although you can probably track them down with a little internet detective work. Their lead singer sounds somewhat like George Harrison.
The Lovin’ Spoonful - Do You Believe In Magic
And now for the happy smiley part of our program. A friend of mine once described "...Magic" as a love song to Rock & Roll and that's exactly what it is.
The Factory - Try a Little Sunshine
I love the music from this brief period of British psychedelia. That time when bands were beginning to experiment and expand their musical ideas (often with the help of a few herbs or chemicals) but before they started taking themselves way too seriously and became "progressive".
Dr. John - Accentuate The Positive
When it comes down to it at the end of the day, the best anyone can do is to try and take the good Doctor's advice. Otherwise the bastards win.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Love Is A Mix Tape

"Love Is A Mix Tape" by Rob Sheffield is one of the best books about Rock and Roll and its omnipresent effect on the lives of the people who love it that I have ever read. Although the art of the mix tape is slowly dying, for many of us who've been fans since before the digital age, it was a major part of our musical appreciation. Just like doing this blog is a means of expression for me, making a mix tape was a way to bare one's soul. We made tapes to woo, to console, to celebrate, to wallow or just to party. They were never merely a haphazard collection of songs. Each song had to be the perfect continuation of the last one, comprising a 45 minute suite that somehow said in music what we could not express verbally. And then we got to do it all over again on the other side. "Love Is A Mix Tape" is about one man's life, both with and without the love of his life as expressed through Rock and Roll. The fact that his musical tastes and mine were sometimes quite different made little difference to me the more I read. Most important to me was the reaffirmation of the power of music we love to not only chronicle our lives but to actually transform them.

Alex Chilton - Bangkok
I can't imagine what Alex was thinking of when he recorded this sometime in the late 70s (if my memory serves me right) but nonetheless it's a great song. New wave before there was any new wave.
The Bedlam 4 - No One Left to Love
I know absolutely nothing at all about this record. As far as I know it's only available as a reissue single. Copies might still be available through Bomp or Norton.
Clarence 'Frogman' Henry - Troubles, Troubles
Clarence Henry always struck me as a slightly more raucous version of Fats Domino which, come to think of it, is not a bad thing at all. This song was the flip side of his first hit "Ain't Got No Home".
Kate & Anna McGarrigle - Complainte Pour Ste. Catherine
I just heard the sad news that Kate McGarrigle lost her battle with cancer today. Back in the early 70s I was heavily into singer-songwriters and I remember buying the first Kate & Anna McGarrigle album mainly because they had written "Heart Like A Wheel" for Linda Ronstadt. At that point I was already starting to be bored with all of the samey-soundingness of much of what I was listening to. The McGarrigles were a real breath of fresh air and their album became a favorite that remains so until this day. My condolences go out to the McGarrigle and Wainwright families. Your loss is ours as well.
Pavement - Elevate Me Later
In his book, Rob Sheffield talks a lot about Pavement. He was and is a big fan. Having not paid them much attention up to this point, I got curious and decided to check them out. Much of their music demands more attention than I have had the time to devote so far, but there were a handful of songs that grabbed me on first listen. This was one of them.
Herman's Hermits - Hold On
Just this afternoon they showed "Hold On" on IFC. Unemployment does have its little benefits I guess. For much of my life Herman's Hermits were a guilty pleasure as they were considered way too teenybopper to really be taken seriously. The truth of the matter is that they had lots of great songs like this movie title song. And the movie itself was kind of cool as well - lightweight but fun.
Gary U.S. Bonds - This Little Girl
Produced by Bruce Springsteen, "This Little Girl" made it to number 11 on the Billboard chart in 1981 and gave Gary's career a well-deserved boost.
The Pretenders - Boots Of Chinese Plastic
Although they have been recording pretty steadily since the 80's, I had pretty much lost track of The Pretenders over the years. But a few months ago I read a really good review of their latest album "Break Up The Concrete" from which this is taken and I decided to hear what they were up to. What a pleasant surprise to find that either this was a return to their former greatness or perhaps they never lost any of their old fire to begin with.
Roger Collins - Promised Land
Roger is best known for "She's Looking Good" on Galaxy and from the sound of it, this funkified version of the old Chuck Berry classic was recorded a few years later, perhaps around 1970 or so for the Pompei label.
The Missing Links - You're Drivin' Me Insane
What can I say about this record? It's an absolute stone garage/freakbeat classic. So many incredible records came out of Australia in the mid-60's and this one was definitely one of the best.
The Replacements - Nowhere Is My Home
This was recorded during some sessions the boys did with Alex Chilton in the mid-80's but for some reason it only came out on the UK-only release "Boink". I think it is now a bonus track on one of their recent album reissues which is a lucky thing for us as I personally think it's one of the best songs they ever recorded. I love that little lead guitar riff.
Willie Hutch - Lucky To Be Loved By You
Although Willie is best known for his blacksploitation soundtracks "The Mack" and "Foxy Brown" his career dates back to the mid-60's when this northern soul classic was recorded for the RCA label.
Richard Berry - Have Love Will Travel
"Have Love..." has been recorded and played live by countless garage bands over the years but here is the original by the same man who not only wrote this but also "Louie Louie" as well. So why isn't he in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Flat Duo Jets - Needles And Pins
I'm so used to hearing this song with The Searcher's sugar-sweet vocals that I had to play this version a few times before it began to grow on me. Although it's definitely a little rough around the edges, Dexter Romwebber has a really fine voice.
Clifford Brown & Max Roach - The Blues Walk
Clifford Brown and Max Roach are two names that will always be associated with 50's bebop. I'm not sure who else is playing on this session. This is what I love about the best jazz. A bunch of guys (almost always) getting together and spurring each other on to greater heights of virtuosity, expanding on but never abandoning the original framework of the tune.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's In A Download?

As almost everyone is no doubt aware, since day one record companies have been waging war against downloaders, arguing that the practice not only cuts into their profits but hurts the artist as well. And every so often they succeed in shutting down a blog or a posting board. The latest casualty is the Rockhall Forum which specialized in 50s R&R. It was shut down after numerous complaints and threats by a certain German record label who are well known for their high quality and extensive reissues. Looking at it from the point of view of the record company, I can understand why they would be so up in arms. They go to great effort and expense to put out a quality product and they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. Seeing their CDs offered for free is not only demoralizing, it also cuts into their bottom line. If people can download a 5 or 6-disc boxset for free with just a few clicks of the mouse, why would they shell out $100-plus dollars for the CDs.

Or would they? Speaking for myself, if I like something, owning it on an mp3 is not enough. I want the real thing. MP3s are fine for the ipod but when I'm at home listening to my stereo, they just don't cut it. I read somewhere that many downloaders actually spend more money on music than their non-downloading counterparts. That doesn't surprise me all that much. I can't begin to count how many albums I've bought that I first heard as mp3s. Albums or songs that I would have otherwise never heard of. And that includes some of the reissues by this particular label.

I am a music collector and I admit that I am totally obsessive about it. More so than 99.999 ad infinitum percent of the music loving population. For me, the worst thing that could happen would be if labels like the one in question here decide that it's just not worth their time and effort and decide to pack it in. In that scenario, everybody loses. And as long as the record companies see downloading as this big evil thing that is sucking them dry, they are going to either make it more and more difficult or just stop altogether. Every so often I get a comment from a reader who has actually gone out and bought something after hearing a song I've included. I'd like to see more of that. A comment or two might not mean all that much but it would be nice to show that downloading does not necessarily mean freeloading.

Big Walter - Pack Fair & Square
Although I love a good Robert Johnson or Charlie Patton record as much as the next guy, my love of the blues is mainly at that point where it starts to cross over into Rock & Roll. While Big Walter had a more old-school bluesy sound than Little Richard or Bo Diddley, there was no doubt that when he wanted to he could rock just as hard.
The Lurkers - Ain't Got A Clue
After I put together and uploaded this latest playlist I realized that I had posted this track a few months ago. That's probably because this song is such a favorite of mine. Play it again, Sam.
The Phinx - My Baby Don't Care
Hailing from Boonseville, Mississippi these guys cut this one terrific folk-rocker and were most likely never heard from again. As always, anyone with a little more info is welcome to enlighten us with a comment.
Mark & The Spies - Another Chance
Mark & The Spies are perfect examples of what I was talking about in my intro. I forget which of their two albums I "stole" online first, but once I got wind of them I knew that they needed to be in my collection. Check out their myspace page to hear more.
Bob Dylan - Dusty Old Fairgrounds
There's something about this song that makes me feel a yearning for something I can't exactly put my finger on. Maybe it's all of those carnival images conjuring up a vision of an older more exciting America I always vaguely sensed but never actually knew growing up in my nice little Queens, NY suburb.
Gene Vincent - Slippin' And Slidin'
I only heard Gene's rendition of Little Richard's classic for the first time fairly recently but it's quickly become an Ipod favorite. I'm not sure who's backing him up but whoever it is, they sound like they're positively on fire.
Chubby Checker - Karate Monkey
From the sound of it I'm guessing that this came out sometime in 1967 or 68. Unfortunately, despite being a big favorite with the Northern Soul crowd, ABKCO Records left it off their Chubby Checker Best-Of a few years ago. There were so many great records on the Cameo-Parkway labels back in the day and the ABKCO reissues pretty much only stick to the hits. I'd love to see them do a rarities box.
Randy Newman - Sail Away
Talk about conjuring up visions of an old long-gone America, this song always makes me feel kind of nostalgic, despite the fact that if you listen a little closer to the lyrics you can hear how tongue-in-cheek they are.
The Electras - Dirty Old Man
This has always been a favorite of the 60s garage crowd and with that pounding beat, soulful vocal and ominous sounding organ riff, it's truly not hard to see why.
Redd Kross - Heaven Only Knows
I saw Redd Kross on their last tour a few years ago and it was really kind of mind boggling just how many great songs they had. Not only in their originals but also their knack for picking great covers like this Shangri-Las B-side.
Jerry Reed - When You're Hot, You're Hot
And when you're not you're not. Truer words have never been spoken - or sung. This was actually a Top 10 hit for Jerry Reed back in the spring of 1971.
Muck & The Mires - Hang All Over Me
I've seen these guys a bunch of times and every time I do they totally blow me away. Nobody writes such great pop songs and makes it look so easy like they do. Visit their website and buy some of their albums. They deserve your support.
Sons Of Robin Stone - Got To Get You Back
Despite the fact that this has the same Philly Soul sound that proved so successful for The Spinners and The O'Jays, this didn't even crack Billboard's Top 100. Such a great record, I never understood why this wasn't a big hit.
Chad & Jeremy - Teenage Failure (Single-Version)
This is probably as rocking as C&J ever got in their career. Despite the fact that it's an obvious novelty song, it still has a kind of endearing charm.
Sandie Shaw - Nothing Less Than Brilliant
Although she had her biggest successes in the mid-60s, Sandie continued recording at least until the 80s. This song is from one of her later albums "Hello Angel". Once again, had I not downloaded the album on a whim from some other blogsite I would never have heard this lovely song and I wouldn't have gone out and bought the album which, incidentally, I wholeheartedly recommend.
Ronnie Bird - Ou va t'elle
I'm not sure how big of a splash Ronnie made outside of his native France, but at home he was a big star. Here he turns in a nice version of the Hollies' "Come On Back".
Robert Parker - Happy Feet
Although Robert is most well known for his hit "Barefootin'", he had a number of other records that were just as good. I scored a pretty nice vinyl copy on Gemm Music for $10.