Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vinyl find: Tommy James & The Shondells / "Crystal Blue Persuasion" b/w "I'm Alive"

(Check out the first post in this series for the back story.)

Artist: Tommy James & The Shondells
Album: "Crystal Blue Persuasion" b/w "I'm Alive" 45 RPM 7" single
Label: Roulette Records
Released: June 1969

I grew up on oldies radio. It's what I heard on the radio in the car and it's what I played at home, pretty much up to and through high school, even. My parents didn't have a turntable (but they did have a hidden record recollection, albeit a sparse one, that I only found out about and dug into in the last few years after buying a turntable myself) and the CD collection mostly consisted of greatest hits compilations of various Motown groups and oldies artists, which were actually pretty enjoyable (and soundtracks of films, musicals, etc. which were impressively unenjoyable). So between those compilations and the singles perenially chosen by oldies DJs, I essentially ingested nothing but regurgitated radio hits 30ish years after their release until I hit college. Considering my appetite for new and undiscovered music these days, I can't help but feel slightly bitter about the stunted growth of my musical appreciation that could have been flourishing for so many more years, but at the same time, I couldn't think of a better foundation (no matter how narrow it is) to build upon than oldies/classic rock hits.

Okay, enough personal-history rambling. The bottom line is this: I've heard songs by Tommy James & The Shondells more often than I could possibly count, and I'm a mathematician. Chances are you know "Crimson & Clover" (I remember my friend's P2P mp3 file labeled that one as a Simon & Garfunkel song haha) and "Mony Mony" (c'mon, you've been to a cheesy high school dance, haven't you?) and maybe even "Hanky Panky". But the reality is that TJ & The Ss had a bunch more hits (in the charts sense) and a handful of other great songs, too (in the sense of my opinion). I confess that I hadn't actively listened to them in a long time before stumbling across their Crimson & Clover LP at Jerry's for $3 a couple years ago, but the name caught my eye and brought back all those memories of hearing "Crimson & Clover" on the radio, and some other stuff. Buying that used record may be one of the best $3 purchases I've made, because I almost wore that record out in the first couple of months after buying it. It has so many fun (and funny, at that!) songs and builds beautifully on the psych-pop genre of that time. They aren't featured on the single I'm explicitly discussing here, but I have to point out the playful humor of "I Am A Tangerine" and the oh-so-sweet psychedelic love in "Kathleen McArthur" and the triumphant rock of "Breakway". All of them are on that LP. And then there are the popular hits!

The A-side on this one is "Crystal Blue Persuasion", one of the softer and slower songs that the group played, with carefully-picked guitar, bongos leading into the verses, and some overdubbed horn parts on the single version (absent on the LP version, for some reason, hmmm). It's one of the better uses of Tommy's surprisingly sweet vocals and, hell, it was featured in the pilot episode of The Wonder Years. What's not to love?

The B-side here is the deliciously upbeat and exultant rock 'n roll cut "I'm Alive". It builds and it retreats and builds again, playing off high-pitched organ chords, rollicking bass, and Tommy's shouting. It's mighty fun, with a guitar lick that makes you (or me, at least) wanna play air guitar along while shouting "I'm alive!"

Side note: one of the books I've been meaning to read since hearing about its existence is Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells, a biography of sorts by TJ about his time in the music industry and dealing with the shady behind-the-scense business work. Sounds interesting to me.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jam of the day: "No Love Lost"

Artist: Joy Division
Song: "No Love Lost"
Album: An Ideal For Living EP
Released: June 3, 1978
Label: Enigma

What a song. I knew nothing about Joy Division or their music before college, but luckily a friend of mine shared a copy of Substance, the singles compilation, and it was eye-opening. I'm pretty sure I went around humming/whistling the guitar riff of this song, among others. But it's been a while since I've heard this one. What reminded me of it today? Why, the New York Times crossword puzzle, of course! I grabbed a paper copy on campus yesterday and finally sat down to do the puzzle tonight. The clue for 67-Across reads "Bad blood" and after hammering away at that corner, finding the crossing downs and piecing everything together, NOLOVELOST fell right into place. And I had to go find the song and play it right away. And now I will share it with you.

"Through the wire screen, the eyes of those standing outside looked in at her as into the cage of some rare creature in a zoo. In the hand of one of the assistants, she saw the same instrument which they had, that morning, inserted deep into her body. She shuddered instinctively. No life at all in the house of dolls. No love lost, no love lost."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cover jams: Raveonettes & Black Angels / "Aly, Walk With Me"; Wooden Shjips & LCD Soundsystem / "Drunk Girls"

I'm presenting two jams here, one of them a strict cover version by neo-pyschedelic rock-jam band Wooden Shjips of neo-electronic/dance-rock band LCD Soundsystem's upbeat single "Drunk Girls", and one of them a live version of neo-pscyh-synth-tronic rock band The Raveonette's song "Aly, Walk With Me" played by the band and members of the neo-psychedelic rock-pop band The Black Angels. So yeah, that's a lot of genre labeling and bending, but the truth of the matter is that I sincerely enjoy all 4 of these bands; specifically, The Black Angels put out one of my absolute fave LPs in 2010, I've been a Raveonettes fan for a while thanks to eMusic and a Wooden Shjips fan for a while thanks to random interwebz connectionz and an LCD Soundsystem fan-ish for a little while thanks to their last album (the rest? meh, I say). So yeah, I'm saying "So, yeah" again; also, I'm reiterating the fact that these are great bands.

This version of "Aly, Walk With Me" was performed at the Austin (Texas) Psych Fest in 2010. If there is a festival that I would love to attend, it's this one. Fuck Coachella and Pitchfork and Primavera and all that jazz; this shit is right up my alley. And here are two of my favorite bands performing, together, one of my favorite songs. Awesome. Here's the live "cover" version

and here's the original version.

(Bonus track! Here's an acoustic version by the band, posted by my friend Rumi on my Facebook wall tonight, and part of the inspiration for this post.)

And now, let's consider LCD Soundsystem and Wooden Shjips. The latter is an awesomely-psychedelic, guitar-heavy rock band, and I love 'em. And you know all about the former, and if not, just Google 'em. Here's the Wooden Shjips version

and here's the orginal. ("Embedding disabled by request", says YouTube. Says who? The band? YouTube? Google? Big Brother? WTF?)
So certainly, the video of the LCD S version is better, as in, it exists, but don't let that detract from the WS version, which absolutely fucking rocks the ghee-tarr.

So there ya have it. Enjoy these jams. And for the future, please share your jams with me, covers or otherwise. I like 'em all.

That Album Cover Game: Flaming Mountains / They'd Crush You If They Could

Maybe you've seen this silly but fun "game" wandering around on Facebook or message boards or whatever. I found an extensive thread on this game over on the forum at The Needle Drop and then a Facebook friend posted one, as well, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. The idea is: use the internet to generate a random band name, album title, and cover art, and then use your editing skills to put them together in an artistically menaingful way. There are specific rules for using Wikipedia and Flickr to get the components of your new band's debut LP, but I'll let you find them elsewhere.

Anyway, here's my result. I really like the band name (they might even exist somewhere!) and I fudged the rules a bit regarding the quote, since the last "few" words of my generated quote wouldn't make sense unless I used just the last two, but the phrase before that made soooo much more sense, given the band name :-D So I used that instead. Also, I was seriously doubting my artistic creativity and frustrated with my lack of knowledge of and skillz with GIMP (Photoshop-on-steroids for Linux) so my first attempt was quite shitty (and used the inferior quote, at that). But I settled back in and gave it another try and it came out much better. So yeah, here's my creation. And if you want to name your band Flaming Mountains and release an album entitled They'd Crush You If They Could, I'm all for it. I just demand royalties. Lots of 'em.

Band name source [Wikipedia]:
Flaming Mountains
Album name source []:
"I like weights. You know where you stand with them. Well, sometimes you're lying under them, trying not to let them crush you, but you see, you KNOW they'd crush you if they could. There's honesty."
---T. Campbell and Gisele Lagace, Penny and Aggie, 09-12-05
Photo source [Flickr]:
Jonah Larkander: "[red]"

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vinyl find: The Rolling Stones / "Get Off of My Cloud" b/w "I'm Free"

(Check out the first post in this series for the back story.)

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Album: "Get Off of My Cloud" b/w "I'm Free" 45 RPM 7" single
Label: London Records
Released: September 25, 1965 (US) / October 22, 1965 (UK)

I've decided to go a bit more mainstream with this vinyl find series. You must know The Rolling Stones. If not, how have you ever settled a "Beatles or Stones" debate? Do you just choose the Fab Four by default? What if you don't know either of them? How are you human?

Anyway, you've likely even heard both of these songs before, or at least the A-side: it's a staple of classic rock stations and one of the band's more recognizable singles (of which there are many, of course). "Get Off Of My Cloud" has all of the deliciously rockadelic paranoia of "Sunday Morning" but with the added upbeat catchiness and rhythm of a radio single. I don't have much commentary to include about this song because you've probably formed your opinion of it already, but I will say that, no matter what your opinion is, discovering this 7" record amongst a shitbox of 45s is truly finding a diamond in the rough. You know it's a good song and you know it's great to have it on a vinyl copy, even if it's a little static-heavy on the A-side (likely due to overplay). "Hi! Hello! How are ya? Well, I guess I'm doing fine".

The B-side here is "I'm Free", a lyrically-simple declaration of desire for independence and artistic integrity and ... Well, maybe it's even simpler than that: it's a silly little pop-guitar song, and it's unfair to think of it as anything more grandiose than that. As the flip-song to a popular radio hit in its heydey, this is perfect. Is it a standalone work of art? Fuck, no, but that's not the point. Enjoy it for what it is. (I wish I could explain the bizarre Star Wars-style scrolling German text in the video below. Someone help, please? It was the only non-live version I could find on YouTube...)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vinyl find: 1910 Fruitgum Company / "Indian Giver" b/w "Pow Wow"

(Check out the first post in this series for the back story.)

Artist: 1910 Fruitgum Company
Album: "Indian Giver" b/w "Pow Wow" 45 RPM 7" single
Label: Buddah Records
Released: January 1969

I'm still slowly combing through this massive box of 45s I got from Jerry's, trying to pick out the good stuff. It's tough to do, because I haven't heard of many of these bands and I'm somewhat afraid of passing on a hidden gem, like this one. I'd never heard the name 1910 Fruitgum Company before, but this bubblegum psych-pop band (how apt) was active and popular in the late 1960s, released three separate Top 5 Billboard singles that achieved gold status, and opened for the Beach Boys on a 10-day tour. Crazy. Not only that, the A-side of this single (one of those gold records), "Indian Giver", was covered by The Ramones and included on the compilation Ramones Mania. Finally, and strangely, two of the band's original members have reunited (along with ex-members of bands like The Lovin' Spoonful and The Buckinghams) and have been touring the US for the last four years or so, as well as selling rerecorded versions of past 1960s hits, such as their own originals. Still crazy.

Anyhow, let's examine the music here. I can completely see how "Indian Giver" was a successful single when it was put out in January of 1969. It's upbeat and poppy, channeling the deservedly-popular and enjoyable melodic guitar, keyboard and vocal elements of standard pop songs of the era and sprinkling a touch of psychedelia on top. Never mind the vaguely racist title and lyrics (see bottom of the page here) about a once smitten but now jilted lover, this is an immensely catchy pop song and clocking in at a mere 2:30 with a repeated-chorus fadeout, it was perfect for radio play.

What's crazy is that this record sold over 1 million copies, even with this wacky-as-fuck B-side. It's an "ode to Howdy Doody" recorded backwards!? The 45 itself doesn't even indicate which side is A/B so I actually put this side on first since "Pow Wow" sounds more like the title of a lead single and I was shocked to hear these alienating vocal sounds emanating from my headphones. Embedded above is the original recording and embedded below is the reversed, intelligible version. I don't know anything about Howdy Doody, nor can I vouch for the record-it-backwards technique, so I'll leave you with those and let you draw your own conclusions/confusions. Please comment with any insight you might have; I'm clueless here. (Although I did take the time to transcribe the reversed lyrics below. Maybe that will help.)

"Indian Giver" lyrics:

I can still remember, it wasn't long ago
Things you used to tell me, you said I had to know
You told me that you loved me and that you always would
Then I said "I love you", you said that that was good
Girl you made a promise, said you'd never want me to go
Ohhh no

Indian giver, Indian giver, you took your love away from me
Indian giver, Indian giver, took back the love you gave to me

Baby I was feeling the way I wanna feel
You had me believing the love we had was real
Things we did together, you said they'd never end
Now until forever, oh yeah, that's what you said
Girl when I was down, I knew that you would always be there
Ohhh yeah

Indian giver, Indian giver, you took your love away from me
Indian giver, Indian giver, took back the love you gave to me


"Pow Wow" lyrics: (*** = I can't tell what the fuck they're saying)

There was a TV show, was on a while ago
I really loved it so, it was my favorite show
Each night at 5 o'clock, the TV set I'd watch
Then I would see the sign, it's Howdy Doody time

Bring back Howdy Doody, oh I would give my very last dime
Bring back Howdy Doody, I got to see it one more time

*** Flub-a-dub and Big Chief Thunderthud
And the Princess King, Summerfall Winterspring
Can't forget Dilly Dally or Mr. Bluster, too
The *** was swell and so was Carabell

Bring back Howdy Doody, oh I would give my very last dime
Bring back Howdy Doody, I got to see it one more time

The on one gloomy day, happiness went away
To everyone's despair, the show went off the air
The world is not the same and it will never be
Until someone will bring back Howdy Doody

Bring back Howdy Doody, oh I would give my very last dime
Yeah, bring back Howdy Doody, I got to see it one more time
Bring it back now
Bring back Howdy Doody, I would give my very last dime (I miss you Flubadub)
Bring back Howdy Doody, I got to see it one more time

Monday, January 10, 2011

Some old, some new: British Sea Power

Okay, the holiday season is wrapping up, students are getting back into the swing of classes, musicians are warming up and starting to tour again, and labels have awakened from the sleepy late-December doldrums and have started to release the first candidates for "Best Music of 2k11". And by that I mean there's going to be some good new stuff coming out in the near future, after a few (relatively) agonizing weeks of pretty much nothingness.

The first promising release of the year, I think, comes from British Sea Power. Maybe you've heard of them? Maybe not. I first got into them in college thanks to a couple of friends who were fans. The songs on Open Season and The Decline of British Sea Power were pretty quirky and fun to my uninitiated ears and I listened to those albums periodically over a year or so after hearing them. A couple years later, I went to visit a friend in D.C. and was lucky enough to catch BSP playing at the Black Cat club one night, and that was pretty sweet. I hadn't listened to them recently enough, and the only song I actually recall them playing is "Apologies To Insect Life", but that was also before they put out Do You Like Rock Music?, so I imagine they played a few songs from that. My answer to that question was a resounding yes, by the way; the album is totally bombastic and sagging with guitar solos, which led some folks to rag on it (the infamous U.2 rating!), but I thought it was perfectly fun and listenable, so fuck p4k. I have honestly yet to listen to Man of Aran, their 2009 release that doubles as a soundtrack to a 1934 documentary film, but it seems interesting enough that I'll go back and watch and listen (maybe simultaneously!) at some point.

In the fall of 2010 they put out the Zeus EP, a not-so-unexpected departure from the aforementioned "straightforward rock" of the-album-with-the-inquisitive-title. Its eight songs span 34 minutes, which is rather long for an EP, and the ideas contained therein are expansive, as well; feedback on the guitars, tinkly piano, reverb on the vocals, languishing drones, squealing synths, and some kinda strange digital/autotune effect on the final track. It's strange and fascinating. It's BSP trying to get back to what they did best way back when: fuck with the standard rock formula. And they're doing this after they "perfected" it enough to get Pitchfork to equate them with the most "modern rock band"-ish of all "modern rock bands", these days.

And now, there's Valhalla Dancehall, officially released today, January 11, 2010. I listened to it (streaming on the AV Club) once through and found it be an interesting hybrid of these two paradigms they've embodied thus far in their career: quirky, classic-rock-inspired yet decidedly new and modern, guitar-heavy but vocally-driven indie-pop songs and over-the-top, can-you-possibly-squeeze-any-more-anthemic-guitar-riffs-and-choruses-in-there rockers. I'm looking forward to buying it (somehow). Will it be my favorite record of 2011? Seems unlikely. Will it be in my Top 10? Maybe, but that's hard to say. Will I enjoy listening to it in the meantime? Of course. So give it a shot. Maybe it'll be your favorite!

Here's a song from the new album:

and for completeness' and interest's sakes, here are some of my fave songs from their older albums (that I've heard), chronologically backwards:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cover jam of the day: "Transmission"

Artist: Girl In A Coma (covering Joy Division)
Song: "Transmisison"

This is a great song. It is uniquely Joy Division and no one else can sound like this: the pounding, piston-pumping drums, the heavy, throbbing bass, the fancy but unassuming guitar solos and, of course, Ian Curtis' unmistakable voice (and dance moves, here). That's why a cover represents dangerous territory (try to mimic their style and you'll likely fail) and also why this version succeeds. In no way does it sound like the original (save for the chords and lyrics, of course) but it siphons all of the raw power and emotion from the original through this reworking of the sound. Singer Jenn Alva's voice starts out with a mere whisper, but by the time of the climactic verse in the middle (corresponding with Curtis' wild dance in the video below) she has to press her hand to her forehead and squeeze her eyes shut to keep from, presumably, becoming overwhelmed. (Or maybe she sang so loud that she gave hereself a headache. I don't know.) Meanwhile, the tambourine, finger-snaps and xylophone give the song a really neat personal touch. This is what a cover song should do.

Watch the band perform it live here:

and here's the original, filmed live on the BBC:

On a related note, I'll recommend the fantastic biopic of Ian Curtis, entitled Control. It's tasteful and artful, all b&w and with fantastic casting and acting. Sam Riley does an outstanding job portraying Curtis' inner turmoil and epilepsy. Really well-done, seriously. (And imdb tells me he's playing Jack Kerouac's persona, Sal Paradise, in the upcoming film version of On The Road!?! Gotta see that.)