Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Top 5 Side 1, Track 1s

The good folks at Big Apple Music Scene were nice enough to link me a few days ago so, of course, I'm going to make fun of them now.

Well, not exactly but I do have some issue with their Top 5 Album Openers. My main issue is that I am not them thus I have my own opinion ergo I am not in total agreement and therefore I felt the somewhat compulsive need to compile my own list. I've also changed the title from "album opener" to "Side 1, Track 1" because a) I want to acknowledge that this concept is completely stolen from "High Fidelity" and b) I'm old school like that. Feel free to make your own list and post in the comments section. I won't make fun of you, I promise. It's not as though this is meant to be the ultimate argument settler.

5 The Wipers "Over the Edge" from Over the Edge
I often hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit" cited as the ideal album opener but anybody who knows anything about anything knows Nirvana swiped a large portion of their schtick from Portland's Wipers. And while this track didn't set the world on fire like "Teen Spirit" did 8 years later it does serve to show that Greg Sage was THE indie guitar hero back when J Mascis was still pounding skins for Deep Wound. The song's sections of pummeling power chords, screeching solos and elegant leads ebb and flow with Sage bellowing "It's not the truth I see!/It's just a mockery!" to begin each (identical) verse. Sage has probably never made a more explicit statement about his place in the world: the idealist outsider. It's no wonder that a generation of alienated Pacific Northwest youth used his sound and vision as a template. Yeah, you can pretty blame Greg Sage for grunge and thus its vomitous, insipid offspring, post-grunge. But Sage's despair was never commercial or contrived; it was raw and glorious which is evident to anyone who hears this song, the rest of this album or anything else with Sage's name on it.

4 Love "Alone Again Or" from Forever Changes
The story goes that Love's mainman Arthur Lee had a vision of his death just prior the recording of "Forever Changes" and he decided to make his next album his farewell gift to the world. Of course, Lee didn't croak until nearly 40 years later but "Forever Changes" remains as perfect an encapsulation of all that is precious, tragic and beautiful about the living universe as any rock album could hope to be. It is perhaps ironic then that the track that introduced "Forever Changes" to the world was written by Love's second in command Bryan MacLean though Lee and producer Bruce Botnick thoroughly renovated the track adding horns and strings to MacLean's flamenco flavored folk rock tune. While many examples of ornate instrumentation in 60s pop often come off as fussy and full of pretense not to mention extraneous (see the Doors' "Touch Me") here it perfectly compliments the song's melancholy qualities. While the line "You know I could be in love with almost everyone" might seem like a groovy summer of love sentiment it's actually a "funny thing" someone said to the song's protagonist and thus should be viewed with a certain amount of derision. The flower children were growing up and contemplating their mortality and it sounded great. Much better than the Youngbloods, at least.

3 The Gun Club "Sex Beat" from Fire of Love
A classic cut to open a classic album. It begins with a single guitar playing the tune's basic chord pattern for one measure. Then the rest of the band crashes in, playing along for another measure when Jeffery Lee Pierce begins his vocal and off we go. Pierce spins his tale of lust in a style's that simultaneously seductive and menacing with the verse climaxing (no pun intended) in a slide guitar run, a brief pressure drop and a chorus of Pierce cooing "Ooooooooh sex beat... go!" Then the process repeats with the band digging in harder each time, upping the intensity on every go round and exposing every raw nerve until Pierce concludes his paean to the devil with the blue dress on: "We can fuck forever/but you will never get my soul." With this cut and the remainder of Fire of Love that immediately followed, Ol' Jeffery Lee came as close as any white boy ever could to Robert Johnson's crossroads. Eat your heart out, Eric Clapton.

2 The Rolling Stones "Gimmie Shelter" from Let It Bleed
What could I possibly say about about "Gimmie Shelter" that hasn't already been said? I mean, really. I'm not Greil Marcus, ok? Suffice to say, that if you don't like this song or it's parent album, you probably don't like rock n roll. Or you're resentful that your parents had better music than you when they were young which basically translates into... you probably don't like rock n roll.

1 The Clash "London Calling" from London Calling
A bit of a cliché, I suppose. ("Janie Jones" is nearly as great and might be less cliché mainly because you've got to own the UK, or "proper," version of the the band's debut for it to qualify as an opener.) Look, I know there's a lot of criticism leveled at the Clash. They were a band assembled by a manager, not truly from "Garageland." They were self-aggrandizing rock stars i.e. "The Only Band That Matters" and their tired rebel rock pose has not aged well. They were culture vultures who were better at co-opting the sounds of others than creating anything original. We can more or less blame them for the existence of Social Distortion. Yeah, yeah. I'm picking up what you're putting down. On the other hand, they made some pretty fantastic records that were certainly among the best of their era and just because you don't want to buy into Rolling Stone's version of punk history (and rightly so) doesn't make them sound any worse. The "London Calling" album is usually cited as the band's definitive statement which is debatable but there's no debate that its title track kicked the album off in grand style. I've always felt that "London Calling" was the Clash saying "This is our last punk song. This is THE last punk song." Certainly those slashing chords and apocalyptic lyrics were very punk indeed. The song has been called an anthem but that couldn't be more wrong. How many anthems are about inescapable, impending doom? It's almost certainly the most bleak and nihilistic cut in the Clash's discography. It offers no solutions, just Strummer's fading echo of "I never felt so much a like... a like.... a like." Like what, Joe? The solution, as it turns out, was the remainder of the album that followed, none of which, if we're being honest, was very punk at all. The Clash began their album with doomsday, which seemed like a very real possibility at the dawn of the 80s, and then offered hope. Hope in the form of new directions, celebration of the past and the prospect of a future. It was a brilliant move that gave the album much of it's power. It didn't hurt that the rest of the album was terrific, of course, but if the band has chosen to open the record with "Rudie Can't Fail" or "Clampdown" we'd probably think of the album in a completely different way. And that's why it's the number 1 album opener ever.

Honorable mentions:
The Zombies "Care of Cell 44" from Odessey and Oracle
The Lyres "Don't Give It Up Now" from On Fyre
The Sex Pistols "Holidays in the Sun" from Nevermind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
Spoon "Small Stakes" from Kill the Moonlight
The Beach Boys "Wouldn't it Be Nice" from Pet Sounds
Sonic Youth "Teenage Riot" from Daydream Nation
The Dead Boys "Sonic Reducer" from Young, Loud and Snotty
Dinosaur Jr "Little Furry Things" from You're Living All Over Me
Barbara Manning "Scissors" from Lately I Keep Scissors
Mission of Burma "Secrets" from Vs.
The Pixies "Debaser" from Doolittle
The Saints "Know Your Product" from Eternally Yours
Belle and Sebastian "Stars of Track and Field" from If You're Feeling Sinister
Vulgar Boatmen "Don't Mention It" from Please Panic
Superchunk "Precision Auto" from On the Mouth
Silkworm "Give Me Some Skin" from Developer
The Damned "Love Song" from Machine Gun Etiquette
Sleater-Kinney "Dig Me Out" from Dig Me Out
The Girls "Jeffery, I Hear You" from Girls Reunion (okay, so it's technically a posthumous compilation and not an album. You didn't know that anyway, did you?)

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

"This Moment in Slack History" collects songs from 90s indie 7 inches. For further explanation, please see my original post here.

The Grifters "Queen of the Table Waters"
Okay, so maybe the first two cuts in this series were a bit disappointing as it turns both tracks were albumized and not 7 inch only. This one though is a killer and I'm nearly positive it's unavailable anywhere else. The Grifters are a strong contender for most underrated band of the 90s. (That title actually probably belong to the Kent 3 but that's another post.) I've always sort of considered them lo-fi's Rolling Stones to Guided By Voices' Beatles. (Apparently, All Music Guide feels the same way.) They never achieved the following the GBV did despite putting out some fine records, both as full-lengths (I'm particularly fond of 1994's Crappin' You Negative) and as slew of singles. In fact, no band in the 90s with the possible exception of GBV had more great material left off their albums, released only on 7 inches. Both bands are long overdue for definitive retrospectives of this material and hopefully some label with more money than sense will correct this. In any case, this one is one of the Grifters' best. I believe this was their inaugural release for big time indie Sub Pop and it was a fantastic introduction to the world at large. However, the public (by which I mean CMJ types) was nonplussed by the band's obvious greatness and after two very good full lengths for Sub Pop were met with indifference the Grifters called it a day. This was shame but now you can listen to this track and once the inevitable lo-fi revival begins you can pretend you were hip to these guys back in the day.

Oh, and there will surely be more Grifters songs from other 7 inches posted here in future. That is, unless, some label manages to put together a Grifters comp in the meantime. Come on, labels. Relieve me of this responsibility.

Play or Download The Grifters "Queen of the Table Waters"

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Not as expensive as the Velvets acetate...

...but then again you can't listen to it.

12 hundred bucks is all it cost someone to pick up this piece of punk rock history: Darby Crash's high school ID.

In a semi-related stoty, the syllabus for Gregg Turner's calculus course at New Mexico Highlands University has just sold for $3 though the buyer may have simply been a student who was too hungover to attend the first day of class.

Link courtesy of the Leixcon Devil blog.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A serious query

Can some one tell me exactly why Todd Rundgren is any good?

I guess the Nazz had some good tunes but nothing else I've heard from the guy either solo or with Utopia has done anything for me.

I know some people swear by the guy. Tell me why, please.

Producing Badfinger's best album does not a career make.

Monday, July 09, 2007

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

"This Moment in Slack History" collects songs from 90s indie 7 inches. For further explanation, please see my original post here.

Zipgun "I Can't Wait"
Zipgun were one of many garage punk (but not grunge) bands from Seattle in the mid 90s. When I hear this track I can't help but feel it's almost the audio equivalent of Peter Bagge's Hate comics. It just embodies that mid-twenties lost in the sauce feeling. Plus, it sounds like I'd imagine the band managed by Hate's hero Buddy Bradley, Leonard and the Love Gods, would sound. (Incidentally, I've been giving some serious thought to expanding wikipedia's entry on Hate but that might set me down a path from which I may never return. Any thoughts?) Noteworthy for being an early release on the Thrill Jockey label. Yes, this was the sort of thing they put out before they got Tortoised.

Play or Download Zipgun "I Can't Wait"

Breaking news!! Music of Avril Lavigne less than totally original

Link courtesy of The Friends of Tom message board:

Canadian punk princess Avril Lavigne is being sued by U.S. songwriters who claim her smash hit Girlfriend sounds suspiciously like a track they took up the charts in the 1970s.

Lavigne's manager, Terry McBride, said the pop starlet is one of several people named in a lawsuit filed July 2 that alleges striking similarities to the 1979 Rubinoos song I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.

The group's founder, Tommy Dunbar, filed the suit in California's Northern Federal District Court. It also names Lavigne's publishing company, Avril Lavigne Publishing, and her songwriting partner, Dr. Luke, as defendants.

McBride said from Vancouver the claim is baseless, noting that a musicologist he hired to study both tracks has deemed them completely different songs.

Still, McBride, also CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, admitted he would consider settling the suit out of court if the costs of defending the case prove too high.

Original article

The Rubinoos (a band that in some ways, for better and worse, epitomized the power pop movement of the late 70s) have the song on their myspace page if you want to give it a listen. I must admit that the choruses are strikingly similar but we can give Ms Lavigne credit for coming up with lines like "She's like so whatever" with only the assistance of highly paid professional songwriters.

Make this band your Myspace friend: Wooden Shjips

I was turned on the these guys via the fabluous blog Agony Shorthand (which has closed down and now exists as the equally fabulous but more MP3 intensive Detailed Twang). Total mind fuck psych rock drone that absolutely no one will be grooving to at Burning Man. The band released two fine pieces of vinyl last year ("Shrinking Moon for You" + 2 10" and "Dance, California" b/w "Clouds Over Earthquake" 7"). These records might be a little hard to find but you write the band, ask nicely and promise to send money, they'll send them to you. Seriously, I got in touch with the band and they sent me a record before I even cut a check. What a bunch of swell guys!! And if you're not turntable equipped (for shame!) you can listen to 3 of their 5 released cuts on their myspace page. Full length supposedly coming this year.

Make Wooden Shjips your myspace friend.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

SPOILER WARNING!! Transformers movie spoiler!!

Apparently, they're robots in disguise.

Monday, July 02, 2007

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

For those of you who lived through the 90s you may remember that it was a remarkable time for music. If you think that's hyperbole or nostalgia I will remind you that 90s were a time when someone like Lou Barlow could have a side project that was little more than a tribute to the Sliver Apples score a top 40 hit. The 90s were also the last time when the market for 7 inch records was viable and healthy and 1000s of bands took advantage releasing 45s on their own imprint or (if they were lucky) getting an indie label to press it up and distribute it for them. It was the perfect way to introduce a band to the listener: 2 or 3 of the band's best blasts in a small, attractive and affordable package. The bubble burst on this market around the same time that the mainstream alt rock boom went bust and the insidious beasts known as post-grunge (in the mainstream) and emo (in the underground) rose to prominence. Bands are still releasing 7 inches today but in lesser numbers. Why waste the money on making a material item that you then have to go through the process of getting into hands of the public when you can just throw a couple of MP3s on your website (or myspace page) and potentially have the entire world able to hear your work? It's certainly more convenient and economically sound. I won't say which approach I consider better but speaking as someone who is a collector by nature I do miss the ability to possess an actual object as a memento. But that's neither here nor there.

Unfortunately, this era has yet to be documented in any kind of meaningful way. (Hell, I'm still waiting for Rhino to release their inevitable alt rock hits of the 90s compilations.) Certainly, a few labels and artists have released retrospectives of their own 7 inch releases but there's been nothing in the way of a "Pebbles" or "Killed by Death" style collection for 90s indie 45s. So being the semi-ambitious fellow that I am, I took it upon myself to right this wrong. But being the somewhat lazy fellow that I am, I decided, much like the hypothetical band I described above, that pressing up and distributing records would be too much of an undertaking and that converting 7 inches to MP3s and posting them seemed like the more practical thing to do. (Not to mention having to track down all the bands and pay them. I could release a comp as a bootleg and bypass this step but I'm the above board, straight and narrow type.)

Thus, this feature will be something of a piecemeal compilation. I'll provide you with the track and a little background info and you can go ahead and assemble you own comp if you'd like once there are enough cuts posted to fill a CD. Or you can just take it as it comes. That's really up to you. What's up to me is providing you with quality. Though not the kind of quality that one would file under "sound." This was the lo-fi era after all. So all that surface noise you hear from the vinyl to MP3 is there for ambience. Ambience or the fact that I can't figure out how to make them sound any better.

(Note: If any of the artists responsible for these songs object to them being freely available please get in touch and I will delete them without hesitation. I'm not here to tell you that you should be giving your music away though you should consider that maybe demand for those 50 copies left in your mom's basement will suddenly and sharply increase. Another note: The claim that no one else is documenting this era is not entirely true as the good folks at Static Party have been posting cuts from 90s 45s for some time. However, their focus is entirely on the garage punk genre and while some overlap is possible and even likely this feature should be a bit broader in scope. But do go and pay them a visit, will you?)

Sammy "Babe Come Down"
It's fitting that the first installment of "This Moment in Slack History" would start with a very slack track indeed. When I picked up this 45 from Sammy (released on Steve Shelly's Smells Like Records label) I would've sworn that it was Pavement working under a pseudonym. Just listen to it and tell me it's not a perfect slice of "Slanted and Enchanted" era Malkmus and co at their lackadaisical apex. But no, Sammy was indeed their own entity and even put out an album on DGC in 96 or so. They get a big fat zero for originality but one has to admire the craftsmanship of their sonic forgery. They put so much care into imitating the singular sloppiness of the originators that you may have to conclude that they expended more effort into sounding like Pavement than Pavement did themselves. Yes, it's borderline embarrassing but for the couple of minutes this track is playing you probably won't care.

Play or Download Sammy "Babe Come Down"