Tuesday, March 30, 2010
"Hangin’ around, nothin’ to do but frown… Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down," sang The Carpenters on one of their biggest hits.
In recent weeks, the number of Mondays in my part of the northeast has stayed relatively constant, but the amount of Rainy Days is practically unprecedented. The great singer Karen Carpenter was right on the money about "Rainy Days and Mondays" being major buzzkills. When the rainy day is a Monday, and that day stretches into Tuesday, as it did today, it can be positively dreadful.
Luckily we have the tones of Ms. Carpenter to give us shelter from the storm. Her voice is full of warmth and compassion – it’s like a musical Snuggie. Yet there is an unmistakable undertow of melancholy in her tone that gives it a depth not found in most of the era’s pop singers like, say, Helen Reddy.
My favorite line in the song, which was co-written by the elfin pop hit machine Paul Williams, is "What I've got they used to call the blues." I was only a wee tot when this song came out in 1971 or so, but I'm pretty sure being majorly bummed out was still called the blues. Nowadays, it's called Bipolar Depression.
Adding to Ms. Carpenter's air of gravitas is her tragic death from anorexia in 1983 at the age of just 32. On the plus side, it has guaranteed her immortality amongst the camp-loving factions of the gay community. Plus, as this amazing clip from a 70s variety show demonstrates, she played the drums.
My father, who passed away earlier this month, was a jazz lover to the core. But there were a few rock acts he respected. The Beatles, of course. But also The Carpenters. He loved the impeccable production values of their records and believed Karen Carpenter’s voice had a timeless quality that would have brought her renown in any musical era, and I have to agree.
Herewith, my personal favorite from Connecticut’s First Family of Easy Listening, the Leon Russell-penned “Superstar.”
According to one of the comments on YouTube, this song is about Eric Clapton from the POV of Bonnie of the group Delaney and Bonnie, who came out on the losing end of a fling with Slowhand. That is wild - I did not know that.
Buy on iTunes:
The Carpenters: The Singles 1969-81
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Happy 61st Birthday to Ric Ocasek, leader, singer and songwriter of The Cars.
When I was in 9th grade or so, The Cars spent at least a year as my favorite band on the planet. Their first two LPs, The Cars and Candy-O, were in super heavy rotation on both cassette and vinyl. And the rest of the time they were on the radio.
They combined classic pop melodies and Beatlesque background vocals with an icy, postmodern emotional detachment that made them one of the true pioneers of the thrillingNew Wave movement of the late 70s/early 80s.
Their debut is one of the best of all time and one of the only records I can think of that has no weak tracks (even Rubber Soul has “What Goes On.”) Unlike most of their fellow New Wavers, The Cars spent a lot of time at the top of the charts.
Their influence can be heard in many later bands, from the Pixies to Pavement, Nirvana and Weezer, whose debut was produced by Ocasek. Yet despite their critical and commercial success and influence, The Cars, unlike Patti Smith, are still double-parked outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I’m not really sure why but my guess is that the secretive geek-Masons who decide who gets into the Hall are incredibly resentful that someone even paler than them not only married the genetically perfect Paulina Poriskova, but has managed to keep her happy for 25 years, while she has remained as stunning as ever.
As those of us who grew up watching early MTV are well aware, the two met when Paulina, then the #1 supermodel in the world, appeared in The Cars' 1984 video for their lovely if overproduced ballad "Drive," directed by Timothy Hutton:
I used to work in the Union Square neighborhood where Ocasek lives with the Mrs., and he and I walked by each other a half dozen times. I always wanted to shake his hand and thank him for having such a huge influence on my musical development, and for creating a slew of songs that hold up wonderfully, but never mustered up the chance. So Ric, if you’re reading this, and I’m sure you are, HB and TCB.
Buy on iTunes:
Friday, March 19, 2010
This week’s Truth in Advertising award goes to Best Buy, who is offering a fabulous, exclusive new DVD/CD set of Under Great White Northern Lights, the new White Stripes documentary and live soundtrack, for just $14.99.
The documentary follows the duo on their summer 2007 tour of the hinterlands of Canada, in cold, grey places where top-shelf rock bands rarely venture.
It mixes mixes onstage footage with black & white backstage and offstage material that has led many to compare it to the original rock-doc, Bob Dylan’s Dont Look Back, which went behind the scenes of his 1965 solo tour of the UK.
I haven’t watched the film yet, and have only sampled the CD, but it's more than enough to give Northern Lights a thumbs-up review. The White Stripes are incapable of being boring, and the show samples nicely from their entire oevere. For all Jack’s busman holidays with the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, soundtrack work, Coca-Cola commericals and supposedly a recent collaboration with Jay-Z, the White Stripes are clearly home base.
Listening to them do an Appalachian style ballad like "LIttle Ghost" on the CD soundtrack, Jack & Meg remind me of one of those weird groups one encounters on the classic collection The Anthology of American Folk Music. A weird little brother sister or husband wife duo that writes and performs songs of faith and mystery. But thanks to the modern miracles of technology and distribution they are not an obscure regional act but a world famous one.
The clip below from the film, set to their twee classic "We're Going to Be Friends" gives a sense of an epic shared history, but also hints that this could be the end of the road for the group. Supposedly there are several scenes in the film that allude to Meg's overall sadness and anxiety, which caused part of their last tour to be cancelled.
End of the road or not, with Under Great White Northern Lights, the Stripes deliver a big sound and a mighty value for the dollar, and for that we should be eternally grateful.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Alex Chilton, who passed away yesterday at age 59, was a Memphis Man with pure power pop instincts. He came on to the scene as a teen with the Box Tops and served up several delicious slices of AM Gold, most famously with "The Letter" and my personal favorite, the electric sitar-heavy"Cry Like A Baby."
His next band, Big Star, is perhaps the greatest cult group of all time, with the greatest inverse ratio of album sales to influence. Even the Velvet Underground can't touch them in this regard. R.E.M. and The Replacements, to name two of many great bands, are unimaginable without Big Star's marriage of pop and classic song stylings.
It should also be noted that Alex Chilton possessed one of the coolest-sounding names in rock history - to say you worship Alex Chilton sounds much more street-cred than to say one worshipped, for example, Pete Ham of Badfinger.
Mr. Chilton and Big Star were slated to play a high-profile reunion show at the SXSW festival this weekend. They will be missed. But something tells me his influence and posthumous appreciation will only grow in the coming years, until children by the millions scream for Alex Chilton:
"I'm in love/What's that song?/I'm in love/With that song."
R.I.P. and TCB Mr. Chilton.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
With St. Patrick’s Day in mind, here’s a dynamite clip about the mutual admiration between The Clancy Brothers and the decidedly non-Irish Bob Dylan, compiled from a 1984 Clancy Bros. documentary and the 2005 Dylan doc No Direction Home.
Young Bob Dylan was heavily influenced by the Clancys and freely admits to imitating Liam Clancy’s ballad-singing style on his first LP. Dylan calls Liam, who passed away last December, “the best ballad singer I ever heard.” Here is a rare recording from 1960 of Dylan covering the Clancy’s “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye.”
The Clancy Brothers and Makem, in turn, covered several Dylan songs over the years. Most notably “When the Ship Comes In,” which sounds like a readymade Irish drinking song, even though Dylan wrote it in 1964 about being unallowed to stay in a hotel due to his tramp-like vagabond appearance.
I was fortunate enough to see the Clancy Bros and Tommy Makem cover the tune at the BobFest tribute concert at Madison Square Garden way back in 1992.
Much to the consternation of many music-biz bigwigs and hangers-on, Dylan insisted that the BobFest afterparty would be held not at a huge club but at Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion, a bar on East 57th Street. This insured that the party was limited to true VIPs like performers George Harrison, Neil Young, Eddie Vedder and of course the Clancys. That must have been some party.
Cheers! And remember
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Yesterday was the Ides of March which marks the death of Julius Caesar and the birth of the delicious Caesar salad.
As a visit to Wikipedia will tell you:
The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martiae) is the name of March 15 in the Roman calendar. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 709 AUC or 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and 60 other co-conspirators.
What the hell did Caesar do -- try to pass healthcare reform?
Anyway, for Rock Turtleneck readers, who love nothing more that a sweet slice of AM Gold, The Ides of March brings one word to mind: Vehicle.
“Vehicle,” an early 70s horn-heavy slice of cock-rock by the band The Ides of March, is one of the great one hit wonders of all time. Though not even vaguely jazz-like, it was considered jazz rock at the time due to its liberal use of trumpets and trombones. This style was very much in vogue at the time thanks to bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
"Vehicle" also belongs to another prestigious rock genre: the car as sexual metaphor song, parallel parked next to Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” and Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot.” A scan of the first verse however, would easily lead one to think it had been written by Gary Glitter.
I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan
Won’t you hop inside my car
I’ve got pictures I’ve got candy I’m a loveable’ man
And I could take you to the nearest star
"Vehicle" was the only hit for the Ides of March, but for Ides of March insurance-actuary-named bandleader Jim Peterik, "Vehicle" was only the tip of the Top 40 iceberg. He later formed the band Survivor, who of course scored an even bigger hit with Peterik's 1981 tune "Eye of the Tiger."
Having struck gold with Survivor, Peterik became an in-demand pop songwriter and that rarest of rock paradoxes, a one-hit wonder with 18 Top 40 hits to his name.
Among them is one of my least favorite songs of all time, .38 Special's "Hold On Loosely," though any song with the phrase "good lovin' gone bad" in the first verse cannot be entirely without merit.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
This Sunday marks one of my favorite days of the year: the start of Daylight Saving Time, when the clocks move forward an hour and the sun goes down an hour later.
Getting a jump on forthcoming sunny days are She & Him. The duo of Hollywood ingénue Zooey Deschanel and alterna-svengali/guitar wizard M. Ward are perhaps the sunniest pop group on the planet right now. And their new single, “In the Sun” from their forthcoming Merge record Volume Two (which comes out March 23) is surely their sunniest yet. (Click on the video to see it in its full-screen glory.)
Zooey & William Shatner may be the only actors who are equally talented in the realms of music & film. Zooey has a refreshingly honest voice and a similar presence onscreen. Check out her charming romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, one of the best films of 2009. Zooey’s relentlessly sunny disposition and lovely exterior masks an underbelly of melancholy that makes her the living female embodiment of a song by The Smiths.
Speaking of The Smiths, you should make a point of downloading She & Him's lovely, melancholy cover of Morrissey/Marr's "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" from the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack.
Remember, fall back & spring ahead!
iTunes: Download She & Him's "In the Sun" here. And "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" here.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Rock Turtleneck regrets to inform its readership that my father, Thomas J. Walsh, passed away a few days ago, a week shy of his 80th birthday.
Pops, as he was known to his grandchildren, had many admirable qualities, among them a love of music and and encyclopedic knowledge of the artists who created it. It's a passion he passed to me, along with a love of the written word, which manifests itself here in this world-class website.
As someone who came of age in the 1940s and 50s, my father's tastes ran towards Big Band and Bebop jazz. These artists, like Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. They were The Beatles, Dylans and Wilcos of their day: musically forward-thinking, but with a strong sense of melody and harmony.
About a year ago, I was hanging out at my parents' house and my Dad I spent some time on YouTube showing each other amazing clips from our favorite artists. I pulled up the this clip of The Beatles running through "Hey Jude" in the Abbey Road studios with Georges Martin and Harrison watching from the control booth.
Pops returned the favor by summoning the following cilp by Woody Herman. Woody and his Thundering Herd are largely forgotten now, but back in their day, they were one of the most powerful, popular groups on the planet. My dad explained that saxophonist Sal Nistico's solo on this track was well known and highly revered by Big Band afficionados, sort of like the way guitar geeks gush over Jimi Hendrix letting loose on "Machine Gun."
It was an important to remember that jazz and rock both derive from the blues and that Woody Herman's Thundering Herd is one path taken and Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue or "Hey Jude" is another.
Rock Turtleneck will be paying further tribute to our patriarch in the coming days. R.I.P. and TCB, Pops. Here's a little more Woodman called "After You're Gone" that seems incredibly appropos.