Tag Archives: Burt Bacharach

Happy Birthday, Billy Preston

Murray The K wanted to be the Fifth Beatle, but I think Billy Preston earned the title. Considering the legacy of the band and the state of society in those days, adding Billy Preston as a member of The Beatles might have ended racism in 1970.

Back in the 60’s, it wasn’t unusual for musicians to be all over a band’s album and get no credit whatsoever. Motown, Stax and other labels had crack house bands that made everyone sound great. Most pop acts were noted for their vocal performances while a session band did most of the work in anonymity. Highly paid work, mind you, but still behind the pop culture curtain.

Consider that most people were shocked when The Monkees admitted that other musicians played on their albums, and at the time they were just four actors pretending to be a band! Glen Campbell and Jimmy Page played on countless sessions before becoming famous under their own name, much like many of the classic songwriters (Neil Diamond, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, etc.) figured out that you could make a ton of money behind the scenes but a ton more out front.

Ringo says he can join!

Billy Preston – has he ever not been smiling? – added a great vibe to the Beatles sound. His solo in “Get Back” makes the song what it is, and the track is actually credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston” – the only time in the band’s career outside of the Tony Sheridan era where another artist shares billing with them. Nice resume, Mr. Preston!

Sadly, we lost him in 2006, three months shy of his 60th birthday. So whether you know him from his long list of guest stints (everyone from Little Richard and Ray Charles to Johnny Cash and The Rolling Stones – the list is almost endless) or his own chart topping hits “Nothing from Nothing” and “Will it Go Round In Circles“, celebrate the memory of Billy Preston today.

Billy Preston on Wikipedia.

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Under The Radar: Splitsville

It began with a four song EP given away at Poptopia.

Obviously with a name like Pet Soul, the songs were a tribute to the transcendant moments in the careers of The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Although both groups were prolific singles machines in the 60’s, each band sought to delve deeper and create more substantive work. Many consider Revolver and Rubber Soul to be the apex of The Beatles like Pet Sounds is for The Beach Boys.

Splitsville – then a trio of Matt Huseman, Brandt Huseman and Paul Krysiak – were a burgeoning powerpop act on Big Deal Records who had just broken the ice with Ultrasound, their followup to Splitsville USA. Where the latter focused upon childhood fun, Ultrasound dealt with the pain and promise of adolescence (album themes would continue with their third album; Repeater is about the responsibility and accountability of young adulthood). They were clever and poppy and lightweight; fun records, nothing more.

So much like the more mature works of the aforementioned groups, Pet Soul was a revelation. The production is spectacular, squeezing every dollop of the creative instrumentation and pitch-perfect harmonies of the band. Three years later, the band revisited the project and expanded it to a full album without missing a beat, recording in Krysiak’s words “the 1966 album that never was“. So seamless was the project that even the inclusion of their cover of a Burt Bacharach song (“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”) fit like hand in glove.

Listen to clips of The Complete Pet Soul

The centerpiece of both the EP and the full album is “The Love Songs of B. Douglas Wilson“, which captures the essence of Brian Wilson’s studio genius lyrically, vocally and sonically. It is truly a work of art, and the band members thought so as well. From their website:

Brandt: I’m especially proud of the songwriting. Musically, it was (is) the most ambitious thing I had done: the song has 5 sections that fit together. Lyrically I think it captures the innocence of the Beach Boy lyrics while touching on the darkness of Brian Wilson’s personal life. My favorite part is the finger snaps into the hand claps at the end.
Matt: In my opinion a perfect song. We were having problem with the “breakdown,” which was originally a vocal part. I suggested a theremin. Dave Nachodsky and Paul made it happen.
Paul: Brandt laid down the lead vocal late at night in the far corner of a nearly pitch black studio – just a couple of little red and blue spots shining down on him. Dave Nachodsky and I just watched and listened with our mouths agape, goosebumps rising on our arms and tears welling up in our eyes. No kidding, a truly transcendent moment.

Major kudos to both Dave Nachodsky and Andy Bopp, two studio savants who helped produce and engineer the songs. While this album sounds majestic and beautiful on anything from a computer to a car stereo to a full rig, I highly recommend you grab a pair of good headphones. This is the kind of record headphones were invented for.

Geographically separated, the band now only rarely plays live and has not issued a studio album since 2005’s Incorporated. Hopefully they will continue to record and release new material, but even if they have hung ’em up for good, their legacy is intact, The Complete Pet Soul their crowning achievement.

The Splitsville website and MySpace page.

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HTTBJ…XXOOIYD!

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Blast From The Past: Tonio K

It's great - no bull!

I will never understand how great records can go unheard… 

I guess when it comes to Tonio K., I can almost extend that to great catalogues of records. For despite initial kudos out of the box for Life In The Foodchain and pockets of critical acclaim bordering on cult worship, the man remains a virtual unknown and is seldom mentioned when people discuss great songwriters and favorite albums. To give you an idea of the breadth of his career, he was a member of The Crickets (as in Buddy Holly, although well post-Buddy) and collaborated with Burt Bacharach on his 2005 Grammy winning effort. He turns sixty this year, which is still young pup status for someone with his pedigree. 

When Foodchain was released in 1978, it exploded off the radio, standing out even though the post-disco mid-punk era was in full chaotic bloom. The music was great, the lyrics both hysterical and deep, and it remains one of the most auspicious debut albums of the rock era. I’ll save the dissertation of his career and its impact upon me for another day; there is not enough room to discuss it in one bite. Let’s just say that the public missed the boat on this one big time, and even my hopeful plea contained in my review over a decade ago (below) fell on deaf ears. 

Had Ole’ been released when it was supposed to have been, who knows what might have happened? Maybe he would have finally gotten that well-deserved acclaim. Maybe he would have disappeared again. I haven’t heard very much about or from Tonio K. recently (even his MySpace page hasn’t been updated in almost two years)  and reportedly he’s done with performing and trying to play the artist game. But I won’t count the man out, ever. And if he is done, well…he’s laid down a hell of a gauntlet. 

Check out his entire discography. If you don’t own everything he’s ever recorded, you now have a to-do list

Here’s my review of Ole’ from Pop Culture Press 

 

Thank God! One of the more critical “oh-that-won’t-sell-let’s-shelve-it” mistakes of 1990 finally has closure, and people can get a chance to hear what die-hards with secret taped copies have been crowing about for a decade. 

Tonio K (Steve Krikorian) first burst onto the rock scene in the late 1970s with the caustic and brilliant “Life in the Foodchain,” a concept record from Hell that mixed witty and insightful social commentary with blistering rock and roll. Although “Amerika,” the followup, contained more great music, Tonio K was no longer the flavor of the month and sales dipped. He released a great EP called “La Bomba” (not yet re-released) and then later a pair of majestic records for What/A&M in the mid-1980s that were chock full of great songs but could find no home on radio. Then it seemed that he disappeared, surfacing occasionally as a collaborator with friend Charlie Sexton or supplying songs for soundtracks. Gigs were either infrequent or low profile, or probably both. 

What actually happened was a third record for A&M produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring a hot band including organist Booker T. Jones (!!), ex-Attraction Bruce Thomas (bass) and T-Bone himself. Guests on the record included Peter Case, Warner Hodges (Jason & The Scorchers), Paul Westerberg and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. The music kicked ass, and as always, the lyrics were amazing. How could this record not get noticed? But some bean counter said “uhhno.”

But they wouldn’t release the tapes either, so this sat on a shelf and collected a mound of dust. Enter Mitch Cantor, fan and label owner, whose dogged persistence finally elicited some cooperation from saner heads, and eighteen months later you can finally hold this in your hands. 

So the big question is this÷does it hold up? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. Kicking off with the manic “Stop The Clock” (with a heart-attack guitar solo from Marc Ribot that has to be heard to be believed), the twelve cuts showcase both sides of Tonio K÷the intolerant cynic with the vocabulary to back it up, and the introspective social observer who is able to communicate about faith and hope in a valid and non-fanatical light. 

Rockers like “Time Steps Aside” and “Pardon Me For Living” are fresh and vital, and the acoustic numbers place even greater focus on his stellar lyrics. Topics of homelessness and child abuse in “Hey Lady” and “That Could Have Been Me” could have been rudimentary folk songs in the hands of a lesser artist, but here are first-rate work. And maybe it will take a lesser artist to have a hit record with “I’ll Remember You,” an absolute killer that, like most truly great songs, will never find its way onto the radio unless some hack like Celine Dion sings it. 

Video: We Walk On

Video: That Could Have Been Me

The liner notes by Tonio K are a great bonus, insightful and sometimes self-deprecating illuminations of the songs. Kudos to Gadfly Records for altruistically stepping up to the plate and re-releasing records by people like Andy Breckman and Tonio K simply because they deserve to be heard. No one thinks these are stadium-filling artists, but it’s obvious Tonio K has a lot more to say, and I don’t care whether it’s brand new or has eight years of dust on it. The man is a flat-out work of art, an essential artist, and deserving of a wider audience that he hopefully will now find. 

 Grab Ole’ from Gadfly Records or CD Baby 

Wiki up on Steve Krikorian, whydontcha? 

The unofficial homepage has tons of lyrics and information.

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R.I.P. Allen Swift, a/k/a the voice of Simon Bar Sinister

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