Saturday, October 31, 2009
Swing by Rock Turtleneck on Halloween and you're going to get Candy, and lots of it. All of the following songs have "Candy" in the title, yet none of them seem to be about corn-syrup filled sweets. As with so many metaphors in rock, "candy" seems to be a sugar-coated way of singing about sex, drug addiction, transvestities or, preferably, sex with drug-addicted transvestites. Happy Halloween!
Iggy Pop & Kate Pierson, "Candy" (1991)
Bow Wow Wow, "I Want Candy" (1982)
The Velvet Underground, "Candy Says" (1968)
Bruce Springsteen, "Candy's Room" (live, 1978)
Grateful Dead, "Candy Man" (live, 1970)
Led Zeppelin, "Candy Store Rock" (1977)
Wilco, "Candy Floss" (1999)
10,000 Maniacs, "Candy Everybody Wants" (live 1993 w/Michael Stipe)
Sammy Davis Jr., "The Candy Man" (live 1970s)
Monday, October 26, 2009
Like many, I've been getting back into The Beatles in a big way since the release of their remastered catalog last month. I've been picking up their masterpieces one at a time and the first one I got, 1966's REVOLVER, sounds light years better than the 1987 version. With an absoultely mind-boggling range of genius songs including "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," "Yellow Submarine," "Got to Get You Into My Life" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," it is arguably their finest album and thus the finest rock album ever made.
One of the REVOLVER tunes I've been enjoying with fresh ears is John Lennon's "She Said She Said." With its tricky rhythms, blazing guitars and deft wordplay, it's one of Lennon's most interesting songs. And as Ian Macdonald's must-read Beatle book Revolution in the Head explains, it has an equally interesting backstory:
"It draws inspiration from the day in August 1965 when Lennon took LSD with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby in Los Angeles. He had just watched and been severely bored by Jane Fonda's new film Cat Ballou when her actor brother Peter turned up and insisted on telling him about a hospital operation during which he'd had a near-death experience. Already annoyed by Fonda's sister, Lennon was exasperated by his disturbing claim that he knew what it was like to be dead and, fearing a bad trip, had him thrown out. The unease of the encounter stayed with him..."
This style of angular, psychedelic power pop became a genre unto itself, especially in the early 1990s as practiced by Matthew Sweet, whose 1991 album Girlfriend is perhaps the most REVOLVER-indebted record of all time (excluding the anime-laden video):
Some cat on YouTube was kind enough to put up a fascinating history of "She Said She Said" taking shape as a series of acoustic ditties, long before it became a proto-psychedelic freakout.
"She Said She Said" is also notable for containing some of Ringo Starr's finest drumming. The much underrated Mr. Starkey was really in his element in the REVOLVER era, which also featured amazing work on "Tomorrow Never Knows." Amazingly, this ode to mind expansion, inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead (there's a fun beach read) was animated for the Beatles cartoon series in the 60s and is even more f&$%ed up than the song itself.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Hearing the news yesterday morning that Soupy Sales had died at age 83 was like someone waking you up in bed and then throwing a cream pie in your face: Unexpected, unwelcome, kind of funny yet not funny at all.
Soupy was a huge comedian and TV star in his day - so big, he even threw a pie in Frank Sinatra's face and lived to tell about it. My favorite stunt of his was on his radio show, when he asked all the kids to go into mommy's purse and take out those green pieces of paper with the presidents on them and mail them to him. I think a young Hershel Krustovsky (aka Krusty the Clown) must have been listening.
Two people definitely mounring the passing o' Soupy are his sons Hunt and Tony Sales. Fans of decadent, androgynous glam rock know them as the killer rhythm section behind Iggy Pop on his classic song and album Lust for Life.
The song, co-written and produced by David Bowie, has grown in stature over the years. It was used to great effect in the British heroin film Trainspotting in 1996:
More recently, "Lust for Life" was the theme song for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, who were apparently trying to rope in a younger clientele. I have a feeling that when Iggy & Bowie wrote the tune they were thinking about a different kind of cruising.
Later on, the Sales Bros. teamed up with Bowie for the band Tin Machine, a project that was much hated by critics for reasons I never really understood, but I'm guessing it had something to do with him not dressing like a junkie in drag.
R.I.P. Soupy (seen here in 2002 with fellow departed genius Nipsey Russell). We hope there's plenty of cream pie in the sky. Let's go out with the Sales Bros and Iggy doing another great one, "The Passenger" from the same 1977 Manchester show as "Lust for Life."
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Vic Mizzy, who wrote the Addams Family theme song, perhaps the greatest of all TV themes, passed away yesterday at the age of 93. It is spooky that he should leave us so close to Hallowe'en, the time of year when his creepy and cooky and all together ooky tune is most appreciated.
The show was based on the popular black-humor cartoons by Charles Addams, which ran in the New Yorker magazine for many years and featured perhaps my favorite TV character of all time, Cousin Itt. The song made him a wealthy man, as this quote from his New York Times obituary notes, “Two finger snaps and you live in Bel Air.” Here Mr. Mizzy reminisces about the genesis of the Addams Family theme:
Mizzy (seen here with stars Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor) was no one-hit wonder; he also composed the theme to Green Acres, the show about urban sophisticates doing the organic country-farmer thing, decades before Williamsburg trust-fund hipsters would follow suit.
In college, a friend and I had a fun, beer-soaked discussion about the misogynistic genius of the lyrics to the Green Acres theme. It begins as a point-counterpoint about the merits of country life vs. city life (e.g., "Fresh Air/Times Square"), husband and wife making their points succinctly and effectively -- that is, until Eddie Albert pulls a Don Draper-esque trump card on Eva Gabor: "You are my wife." End of discussion. Goodbye, city life.
In a stroke of demented genius, the novelty songsmiths Damaskas & Barnes & Barnes mashed up the Green Acres theme with the Beatles epic "A Day in the Life" in 1978. Arnold the Pig does some nice piano work here:
One of the members of Barnes & Barnes, who also did a big novelty hit "Fish Heads" was Bill Mumy, who played Will Robinson on Lost in Space. Don't you love it when things come together so neatly? R.I.P. and TCB, Vic.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
A few years back I was flipping through some music magazine at a newsstand. In one article, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne was asked to name his top 10 all-time favorite albums. Tied for #1 were The Beatles' White Album and the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz.
If you are not familiar with the music of the Flaming Lips, Wayne's choices give you a pretty good sense of their sound: melodic, unpredictable, fanciful, odd, fun and bursting with original ideas.
The Flaming Lips, who hail from Oklahoma City and have been together since 1983, have been on perhaps the longest upward trajectory in rock history. While many would argue that their apex thus far was 1999's prog-y The Soft Bulletin, their new 2 record set, Embryonic is equally challenging and rewarding, a White Album to The Soft Bulletin's Sgt. Pepper, if you will.
Actually, a better comparison to Embryonic would be Miles Davis' Bitches Brew or the Kid Amnesiac two-fer by Radiohead.
All are full of funky wah-wah guitars, glistening Fender Rhodes piano, haunting instrumental interludes and ominous musical landscapes. The words experimental, challenging and rewarding come to mind. The terrain is mapped out from the opening track "Convinced of the Hex", seen here on The Colbert Report:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Flaming Lips - Convinced of the Hex|
In addition to being sonic studio magicians, the Lips are also a fearsome live act, as evidenced by this amazing Tommy medley from a VH1 tribute to The Who a couple years back.
The Flaming Lips stand proudly on the vanguard of forward thinking music with Radiohead, Beck and Wilco (among others). Pick up Embryonic, see them live and join them there.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
A newspaper headline should stop you in your tracks, like this one from today’s New York Times:
NBC Names Jon Bon Jovi ‘Artist in Residence’
Traditionally, the term “Artist in Residence” refers a creative writer, artist or musician living in a community or university where his or her basic needs for food, shelter and supplies are taken care of, thanks to the support of townspeople and patrons. With these burdens lifted, the artist is free to concentrate on bringing their creative gifts to fruition.
Ironically, NBC, a company that's supposed to be in the business of communicating clearly and truthfully, has completely bastardized the term in the hope of boosting their dwindling fall ratings.
As the Times article notes, “Mr. Bon Jovi is being called NBC’s ‘artist in residence’ for the two-month period — and that means he won’t be anywhere else. Mr. Bon Jovi, whose new album, ‘The Circle,’ will be released on Nov. 10, will be seen exclusively on shows on outlets owned by NBC Universal. These appearances will include the ‘Today’ show, ‘The Tonight Show,’ ‘The Jay Leno Show’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’ — and even an interview on the ‘NBC Nightly News’ with Brian Williams. Mr. Bon Jovi also will appear on ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ (!!!) on the Bravo channel of NBC Universal.”
Unless Mr. Bon Jovi is crashing on Matt Lauer’s sofa, he’s not in residence. And as anyone who has heard “Bad Medicine” will attest, Jon Bon Jovi is no artist. Bu, with NBC allowing him to serve his muse, maybe JBJ will be able to build on the promise of lyrics like these:
I ain’t got a fever got a permanent disease
It’ll take more than a doctor to prescribe a remedy
I got lots of money but it isn’t what I need
Gonna take more than a shot to get this poison out of me
I got all the symptoms count ‘em 1,2,3
As I’ve said here in the past, Jon Bon Jovi wants to be Bono more than anything, crisscrossing the globe (and the Jersey Turnpike) to hobnob with the world's button-pushers, and he wants Bon Jovi to walk with the same worldly stature as U2.
And while Bon Jovi do lots of admirable charity work and seem like nice, hard-working guys, on the musical talent scale they are maybe one notch above a bar band. The Times article says that Jon and his manager brought the “Artist in Residence” idea to NBC. I would bet anything he got the idea from U2’s weeklong residency on Letterman a few months back and said “Hey why can’t I do that?”
Instead of being NBC's "Artist in Residence," a more accurate term would have been "Exclusively Shiller of Product" or “Ubiquitous Peddler of Mediocrity” or “Deep-Pocketed Cross-Platform Promoter.”
My favorite Bon Jovi is when he turns his knuckleheaded hair-metal anthems into stately, world-weary meditations on the passing of time. Very Artist-in-Residency:
OK, that’s enough Bono-Jovi bashing. Let’s rock, Jersey style!
Monday, October 12, 2009
Thinking about Columbus Day yesterday, my thoughts kept returning to what Columbus’ accidental discovery of America in 1492 hath wrought: Thanksgiving, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Goldman Sachs, the Empire State Building, The Godfather, Weekend at Bernie’s, Pizza Hut, Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter feed, Red Bull and American Spirit Lights, among other things.
Fortunately, it also brought us Neil Young’s “Pocahontas,” a brilliant, beautiful song that manages to encapsulate the full sweep of the North American saga in only a few minutes.
After describing the rape of the Native American land and its people, Neil quick-cuts to modern times where he sits in his tiny urban apartment hundreds of years later, the legacy of the Natives a mere footnote:
They massacred the buffalo
Kitty corner from the bank
The taxis run across my feet
And my eyes have turned to blanks
In my little box at the top of the stairs
With my indian rug and a pipe to share
The real-life Pocahontas was a fun-loving Indian girl who in 1607 saved the life of a colonial settler named John Smith, earning the respect and friendship of the white man. She married another Englishman named John Rolfe and died in 1617. In the last verse of his song, Neil imagines what Pocahontas would be up to were she alive in 1970s America:
And maybe Marlon Brando
Will be there by the fire
We'll sit and talk of Hollywood
And the good things there for hire
And the Astrodome and the first tepee
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me
Like many of Neil's tunes, "Pocahontas" was kicking around for a few years before it debuted on his masterpiece Rust Never Sleeps in 1979. It has been a staple of his live shows ever since, usually in a haunting solo 12-string version. This year however, Neil been playing a thrilling electric version:
"Pocahontas" is a bona-fide North American classic, and many have taken a crack at the song over the years, including Johnny Cash, who recorded it during his sessions with Rick Rubin near the end of his life.
Perhaps the best of the covers is by Americana darlings Gillian Welch & David Rawlings.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Happy Birthday to John Lennon, who would have been 69 today were he still alive. Yesterday, we paid tribute to Paul McCartney's rocking B-side "I'm Down"; today, let's pause to consider and celebrate the A-side, one of John's most heartfelt tunes, "Help!"
When Britney Spears shaved her head a couple years ago, it was considered a cry for help. When John Lennon was suffocating under the pressures of fame, booze and pills and money (what he called his "Fat Elvis period"), his cry for help was literally a cry of "Help!" It was one of Lennon's first tracks to venture away from the universal ("Eight Days a Week" for example) to the personal.
It was easy to miss Lennon's desperation, given "Help!"'s upbeat rhythms and clever harmonies, and the fact that it was the title track of their latest madcap cinematic adventure, originally titled Eight Arms to Hold You:
But in his legendary 1971 Rolling Stone interview, John named "Help!" as one of his very best songs:
JL: I always liked “Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields,” “Help,” “In My Life,” those are some favorites.
RS: Why “Help”?
JL: Because I meant it — it’s real. The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. It was just me singing “Help” and I meant it. I don’t like the recording that much; we did it too fast trying to becommercial.
Someone else who thought the song was too fast, or who at least read the Rolling Stone interview, was U2. They played a memorable, slow version of the song during the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour for Amnesty International.
The Help! soundtrack featured several other Lennon classics, including the quietly Dylanesque "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and the huge-sounding "Ticket to Ride." Amazingly, it's considered one of The Beatles' weaker albums, despite the fact that it also contains the most recorded song in the history of mankind, "Yesterday." Such is the burden of Beatledom. Happy Birthday RIP & TCB, John.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
In an act of true kindness, and an acknowledgement of Rock Turtleneck's ever-growing influence as an industry mover and shaker, the folks at EMI/Capitol were kind enough to send me a 2-CD sampler of the remastered Beatles catalog.
As you probably know, The Beatles' studio oeuvre was meticulously remastered and re-released to much acclaim on 09.09.09. And with selections from all of their albums ranging from massive hits (“Eight Days a Week,” “Something”) to deep album cuts (“And Your Bird Can Sing,” “Long, Long, Long”) and killer 45 B-sides (“Rain”) the 09.09.09 Sampler would make a fine release on its own right. (Which is why copies are going for $100 or so on eBay.)
The new Beatles CDs sound warm and full. Listening to a track like “Things We Said Today” from A Hard Day’s Night, you get a sense of the Abbey Road studio where it was recorded. Unlike the 1987 CDs which sound relatively lifeless, with these you feel like you are there with the band. If you are fan of genius songs played and sung immaculately and with unbridled enthusiasm, they are definitely worth your while.
One of the benefits of a fresh remastering job is that you hear the songs with fresh ears. One I've been enjoying the most is "I'm Down," the hard-rocking B-side of "Help!" from 1965. Written as an homage to Paul's hero Little Richard, "I'm Down" is easily one of the band's most fun, underrated tunes. In fact, for years, I thought it was a cover and was rather shocked to learn it was a Lennon/McCartney composition. The remastered version, available on the Past Masters leftovers collection, really brings out the rockingness of the track. The guitars are crunchier and Ringo's drums swing harder.
Understandably, the Fabs were quite gear about playing "I'm Down" live; John Lennon famously went a little mad during the tune during one of their legendary Shea Stadium concerts, playing the Vox organ solo with his elbows:
In 1986, the Beastie Boys recorded a raunchy rap cover of "I'm Down," sampling John & George's cheeky background vocals. It was set to appear on their breakthrough LP Licensed to Ill, but Michael Jackson, who had just purchased the Beatles' catalog, put the kabosh on it. This was perhaps the only time Michael Jackson said no to boys.
To close the Rock Turtleneck show, here are The Beatles doing "I'm Down" in Japan in 1966, this time with George taking the solo on guitar. Notice how Paul McCartney's stage banter, where he points to his watch indicating it's time to go, is almost exactly the same as at Shea. He probably still does it today. Take it away, boys.
Friday, October 02, 2009
This weekend I am going to my 25-year high school reunion in Darien, CT. Thinking way back to those days of innocence and mousse, I recalled the very odd theme song to my senior prom: “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
Even at the time, paranoia seemed like a very odd theme for a prom. Usually prom songs are more of the “Always and Forever” or “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” or “Moondance” variety.
In the spring of ‘84, “Somebody’s Watching Me” was a top 10 hit for a singer named Rockwell. While the verse was completely forgettable, it had a killer hook in the chorus sung by Michael Jackson, who was at the absolute pinnacle of his fame.
So how does a talentless unknown get the world’s biggest entertainer to sing on his first single? Well it so happens that Rockwell’s real name is Kennedy William Gordy. He is the son of Berry Gordy, the brilliant founder of Motown Records, where the Jackson 5 got their start. And Jacko’s brother Jermaine was married to Rockwell’s sister.
After “Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rockwell went straight to the "Where are they now?" file. However, he is surely getting some nice paychecks these days thanks to insurance company Geico, who use “Somebody’s Watching Me” for their ubiquitous “The Money You Could Be Saving” campaign.
Thinking about it now, maybe “Somebody’s Watching Me” wasn’t such a bad bridge from adolescence to adulthood after all. Because it’s theme isn’t really paranoia. It’s Who You Know.