Tag Archives: Lou Reed

Twenty Years Without Doc Pomus…

But not without his songs.

Timeless. Classic. Doc died twenty years ago today but his legacy is vibrant.

Still fresh now, and just the quality of the material can lift an average band onto a new level. Hell, just a cursory glance at Wikipedia lists “A Teenager in Love”; “Save The Last Dance For Me”; “Hushabye”; “This Magic Moment”; “Turn Me Loose”; “Sweets For My Sweet”; “Go Jimmy Go”; “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”; “Little Sister”; “Suspicion”; “Surrender”; “Viva Las Vegas”; “(Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame”…just a smattering of the hits he wrote with Mort Shuman, Phil Spector and others.

That would have sealed the deal right there. But later in his life he was collaborating with people like Dr. John and Willy DeVille, giving life to stories about people on the fringe – the loners, the night walkers, characters that would fill a film noir casting session.

I love tribute albums and Till The Night Is Gone is one of my favorites. Of course, when your songs are covered by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dion, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, The Band, B. B. King, Los Lobos and Rosanne Cash…it’s hard to make a bad album.

Doc lives on in my heart and mind. But mostly in my ears.



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Semi-Semisonic

The law firm of Wilson-Munson-Wilson is back!

Doesn’t seem like that long ago that Semisonic was a staple of our radio diet. “Closing Time” – both song and video – seemed to spool in an incessant loop for about a two year period. Fortunately the band had both chops and songs. Like the Gin Blossoms, they seemed like they’d pump out pleasing melodic pop rock for a long time, and then – like the Gin Blossoms – they were yesterday’s hot band.

Before there was Semisonic there was Trip Shakespeare, where the Wilson-Munson-Wilson axis was firmly in place. Now those three are involved in related projects as artists and producers (damn, Minneapolis is a fertile ground!). And Jacob Slichter? Well, he only wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read about being a musician and getting tossed into the star-making machinery. I heartily recommend you go read So You Wanna be A Rock And Roll Star as soon as possible – it’s literate, funny and poignant.

But on to these two records; a semiSemisonic, if you will.

One of the things I liked about Semisonic was that even when they weren’t really rocking (“FYT”, “Brand New Baby”, “Across The Great Divide”, “If I Run”, etc.) they had a punch to their songs. Sure, much of it was powered by piano and acoustic guitar; maybe it was the way Dan Wilson’s vocals soared above it all that hooked me. The slower paced songs (“Secret Smile”) seemed more fragile by comparison. I could listen to something like “Falling” all day long.

Well, if you like great vocals, those of John Munson and Matt Wilson as The Twilight Hours are stellar. Stereo Night kicks off with the ambitious “Dreams”, weaving hook and melody between foreground and background like a delicious hypnotic dance. But after ten tracks I was in serious need of something more uptempo, although the closing track “Never Mine To Lose” is a solid exit.

“My Return”  and “Queen of Tomorrow” are probably the standouts as far as the more energetic tracks go, while “Forgot Me Now” reminds me of Semisonic’s finest slower moments. (It actually reminds me more of a song called “Fall” by The Tender Idols, but that’s really stretching a reference!). And “Winter Blue” is a pretty stunning exercise in twee-pop, with some nice arrangements that will remind you of another guy named Wilson.

It’s pretty, well-crafted and consistent. For me, it’s just lacking that intangible oomph to force its way to the top of the pile. Give a listen and decide for yourself.

The Twilight Hours on MySpace

***

I’m rabid for tribute albums, and by a similar nature, always game when established musicians do cover songs because they want to. That’s a long way from the days when you had to cover the du jour pop tunes in your corner bar to put food on your table, so if you’re going there now, I’ll go there with you.

Thanks to Chan Poling’s piano and Steve Roehm’s natty vibes, the album does swing. I won’t say that their version of “Androgynous” will make me forget Paul Westerberg or Joan Jett, but it’s clever and catchy and retains all of the original playfulness. And there are some loopy jazz moments within “Watching The Detectives” that remind you that Steve Nieve would totally do that if Elvis only let him.

But the bottom line for me  is too many albums, not enough time. The New Standards are great musicians, offer some class arrangements, and John Munson (with Poling) are solid vocalists. There will be moments when this album will be a joy to encounter. But there’s no way I’ll ever play it as loud or as often as The Hot Rats, who were just as inventive but (1) selected better songs and (2) rocked the snot out of them.  (Caveat: I didn’t realize they had a prior album out, and some of those songs look killer, so I’m headed there to check them out myself).

But this album is well worth a listen as your mileage may vary.

The New Standards website and MySpace

***

And let’s not forget Dan Wilson, who has been pretty busy himself.

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New Album! The Hot Rats

So...what are the other two Supergrassians doing?

I love tribute albums more than I should, and when a band tosses a well placed cover into their set or onto their own album it can often be a real treat. And while playing the song straight can be reverential, adding your own flavor to the stew can often be far more rewarding. On Turn Ons we get both from The Hot Rats. While that latter name may call to mind one of Frank Zappa‘s greatest albums, it is also what two famous UK pop stars call their fun side project. 

Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass have teamed up with producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Travis) for an album of well-chosen covers of some of their favorite artists including The Kinks, Squeeze, The Doors, Gang of Four, Elvis Costello and David Bowie among others. While some of the songs (i.e. the Lou Reed stomper “I Can’t Stand It”) are made for the stripped down thumping, you will be amazed at how they approached songs by The Sex Pistols and The Beastie Boys

Despite the limited instrumentation, the versatility on the album separates The Hot Rats from the pack of bands flailing to surf the wake of The White Stripes. Simplicity merely repeated gets monotonous, but The Hot Rats wisely employed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to add his brush to their canvas, and the result is an exciting and surprising collaboration. At its core it’s brimming with the exuberance and fearlessness of a garage band, and with twelve tracks in just over half an hour, one is left wanting more

Read my full review in Blurt Online.

And yes - grab this too!

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Blast From The Past: The Dictators

Milder title, but the music is still molten lava

An old, live Dictators album? On a Sunday? 

Yeah, I was probably thinking about New York New York because I was writing about Scott Kempner yesterday. Not that I don’t pull this fireball of an album out with regularity, along with all my Dictators albums. But I mention this one again because it was first issued only on cassette with a much better title (Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take A Joke) before finally making it to CD. 

This April 1999 review (below) was one of the first things I wrote about The Dictators since I picked up the pen keyboard again in the mid-90s. Damned if I’m not still fighting the uphill battle eleven years later. Those who know, know, but there are still far too many non-converts. 

Well, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke

Daddy...what's a cassette tape?

ROIR (Reachout International Records) was founded by former club owner and talent agent Neil Cooper in 1979 to provide a home for the bands that were dominating the New York scene at the time. His roster was incredible – Television, the New York Dolls, Bad Brains, Suicide and The Fleshtones among them. Amazingly, the label was cassette-only releases in an era still dominated by vinyl (the Sony Walkman had not yet debuted, but its arrival soon afterwards saved the label). Perhaps even more amazingly, this man with his finger on the pulse of the imminent musical explosion was 49 years old at the time. 

Now 68, Cooper and his label have been digitally transferring titles to CD for the past four years, and one of the newest re-releases might be the one that put ROIR on the map in the first place. Fuck Em If They Can’t Take A Joke was ROIR’s third release, a sonic atomic bomb from a five-headed street monster that was the perfect bridge between the urban glam of the New York Dolls and the punk edge of the Ramones. The Dictators kicked ass and took names, a dynamic blend of white heat and solid songwriting. 

They were loud and obnoxious, but if you looked closely you could see that tongue planted firmly in cheek. Not too closely, though…Former roadie turned lead vocalist “Handsome Dick” Manitoba prowled the stage like a rabid rhino, keeping time with Richie Teeter’s thunder drums. Ross “The Boss” Funicello played blistering lead guitar while Scott “Top Ten” Kempner held the fort on rhythm and Andy/Adny Shernoff handled bass. A Dictators show was a party and a war zone at the same time, and this night was no exception. 

The show was recorded live to two track in 1981 and contains many of the classic songs – “Two Tub Man”, “Next Big Thing”, “Loyola” and “Rock And Roll Made A Man Out Of Me” among them. The band smokes, but Funicello was especially hot – his solo on “Science Gone Too Far” is a classic that players seventeen years later have a hard time matching. Naturally, there’s a version of the set staple – Iggy‘s “Search And Destroy” (with a hilarious introduction by Manitoba) as well as covers of Mott and Lou Reed (“What Goes On”). Shernoff is a solid songwriter who leans toward the melodic, and “Weekend” is a great example of a pop song turned inside out. 

New York New York expands the original track list by adding three bonus cuts from a show at the Ritz. The soundboard recordings of “Master Race Rock”, “Baby Let’s Twist” and “Faster And Louder” catch the band on another solid night and were mastered by Shernoff last year for inclusion here. Ironically, as the recording date is listed as “the early 80’s”, these could have been from a show after the band’s official demise. 

The Dictators went their separate ways – Funicello to the heavy metal Man O War, Kempner to the late, great Del-Lords, Manitoba to his Wild Kingdom, but through it all they remained Dictators at heart. Always New York legends, recent years have seen them become gods in Spain (where even a tribute record was released) and add to their legend with new singles on Norton. In 1999, the band has finally acquired the rights to their final album Bloodbrothers and have released it on their own, later this year the classic Manifest Destiny may join it. But the best news of all is that there will be a new release in the coming months, so we can all ride their coattails as we face the New Millennium the way it should be – faster and louder. 

In the meantime, whether you have worn out your original ROIR cassette (as I did) or you never had the pleasure in the first place, you are in for a real treat with New York New York. For although Blondie and The Talking Heads made more money, and The Ramones had more imitators, and Television got more credit for being important, let’s set the record straight. Nobody, but nobody, embodied New York rock better than The Dictators

White Light, White Heat...White Castle

The Dictators have done more than release their back catalogue and occasionally regroup – in the last decade they have issued a brilliant new album (D.F.F.D.), a rarities/anthology disc (Every Day is Saturday) and a new blistering live album (Viva Dictators). They formed way back in 1973, but in 2010 The Dictators are still Faster And Louder. Get the albums, hunt down their shows, and when in New York City, visit Mecca.

Stay With Me live in Spain (where they are gods).

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Mixtape: Vinyl Devotion

I put this mixtape together many many years ago for a tape tree on the Audities mailing list. I look at mixtapes as something to be taken in one sitting, ideally something slapped in for a car trip where the flow of the music is the center of attention, like I’ve got one shot to program an hour on the radio to win you over. So I started going through my vinyl alphabetically; just vinyl albums – no singles, CDs, or cassettes.

Remember mixtapes? Remember vinyl?

As the people I was trading with have pretty deep roots, I avoided the obvious (ie Beatles, Big Star, Cheap Trick, etc) and went for other songs that stir my stewpot. By the time I got through the “D”s, I easily had twice as much as I needed, and that wasn’t even taking into account the 3-400 albums that were in the “to be filed” pile.

But I came up with a beauty filled with great bands and great songs. I’ve included the original track-by-track annotations that I used for Vinyl Devotion’s liner notes, and since this was in the mid 90s, some of the references will be out of date. But the music is timeless – not a tune that doesn’t stand up today.  Mixtapes were a labor of love; even the needle dropping at the start of side A was intentional.

Side A

01 THE BOYS – “First Time Out”
Since you need something to get you out of the driveway, why not something young, loud and snotty? This was quintessential New Wave pop punk. Billy Joe of Green Day probably has a Boys lunchbox. (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

02 THE ATLANTICS – “One Last Night”
If INXS were cool and they grew up on 50’s and 60’s American radio, they’d sound like this. But they weren’t, andthey didn’t, and they don’t. Singer’s a bit of a crooner, but it’s a cool song nevertheless.

03 DANCING HOODS – “She May Call You Up Tonight”
Yep, the Left Banke song. I think this version is better. I loved this band but Relativity sank like a stone and these guys with them. The singer, Bob Bortnick, is now in A&R and Mark Linkous is in Sparklehorse. Too bad.

04 THE dBs – “Working For Somebody Else”
So why does everyone hate THE SOUND OF MUSIC? I think the Holsapple era is great. This is almost Chilton-ish rock – the harmonica solo, ringing phone, and the great way Peter pronounces the word “car-REEEP”.

05 THE BEAT FARMERS – “Ridin”
God Bless the late Country Dick Montana,who was Keith Richards in chaps. The BEAT FARMERS were the best bar band ever and always kicked your ass from wall to wall. This Joey Harris tune is a nice taste. R.I.P. fellas! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

06 THE ACCELERATORS – “Two Girls In Love”
Another great band no one knows, what is it about that water in North Carolina? This band rules, but they only put out a record every five years; tho I heard they just re-formed. I love the drum sound on this song.

07 BEAT RODEO – “Just Friends”
Slowing it down, this Don Dixon/Mitch Easter production is anything but twee. Despite the cow name it’s just pure pop after all. Saw these guys live and they were absolutely wonderful. I miss songs like this.

08 DON DIXON – “Your Sister Told Me”
I’m convinced that if Motown were in North Carolina, Dixon would be Holland, Dozier and Holland. One of the many on my “how can this guy/band not be friggin’ HUGE?” list. And my hat tip to The Woods, his roots. (LINK TO A STUDIO VERSION)

09 BILLY BREMNER – “When These Shoes Were New”
The true M.V.P. of Rockpile. From the lp BASH which only his parents and I bought. Will Birch co-wrote and produced most of the songs, and it’s wall-to-wall great. I want to play piano like the guy on this track.

10 ANY TROUBLE – “The Trouble With Love”
Clive Gregson just didn’t fit in that New Wave movement, but his band put out five killer records with great songs like this. You may know his records and gigs with Christine Collister and their gigs with Richard Thompson

11 THE A’s – “Heart Of America”
From Philly, natch – is this one of the ten best rock and roll songs ever made? Mott The Hoople meets Elvis Costello and drop the gloves. Killer guitars, horn section, and the one of the most unusual solos in rock history.

12 THE CRETONES – “Real Love”
When Linda Ronstadt “went punk” that year she butchered “Alison” and two of this band’s songs; “Mad Love” is the other. This is pretty mainstream, but fun when you realize there isn’t a female voice on the record.

13 THE DUROCS – “Saving It All Up For Larry”
Try this: Brian Wilson goes sandbox, but instead of Stamos and Johnston the Beach Boys sign up Flo, Eddie, Zappa and Todd. Actually it’s Nagle and Matthews, right around the time they produced John Hiatt. Great, great record! (LINK TO VIDEO VERSION)

Side B

01 JOHN CALE – “Guts”
From the album that even Cale-haters like. Uses the words “parrot shit” and “hyperbole” in the same verse. Top that, Lou Reed! This record is known for a suicide-inducing drone version of “Heartbreak Hotel”

02 THE CRUZADOS – “Motorcycle Girl”
Tito and the boys cooking up East L.A. spunk in the days before they hooked up for gigs as Bob Dylan’s band. Bassist Tony Marsico is now with Matthew Sweet.

03 HERMAN BROOD – “Sleepin’ Bird”
My favorite Dutch ex-junkie porn star rock god, and the best rock and roll band in the world. He’s a famous painter now. Had an American hit with “Saturday Night” in 1978 but put out several searing records in Holland. Yowza! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

04 THE DRONGOS – “Overnight Bag”
Life before Crowded House in New Zealand. What a great guitar player! I wouldn’t try to make love to this song; it’s better suited for popping popcorn! Went to see them one night only to find out they broke up that afternoon.

05 THE DIRTY ANGELS – “Call My Name”
Remember in 1979/80 when everybody got signed and dressed in pastels on album covers? Well, DA had nude mannequins with missing appendages. Ah, so what. But I know the name David Hull from elsewhere.

06 THE DICTATORS – “Heartache”
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and Andy Shernoff both could write big hooks, but the underwater production buried them. Too bad. When you got past Ross The Boss’ guitar god act, these guys had some great songs!

07 CITY BOY – “I’ve Been Spun”
Jellyfish, eat your heart out. These guys could really rock, too, but were known for the unbelievable vocal harmonies. The guitar player, Mike Slamer, makes me grab the air guitar frequently over six records.

08 BLUEBELLS – “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”
No, not the Dean Martin song. You may remember “Cath” or “Syracuse University”, but I always liked this the best. One of those “why isn’t this on CD” records, but frankly most people can’t even find the vinyl!

09 THE DAVE CLARK FIVE – “Because”
Because after 33 years it’s still great. Because Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin played it at my wedding and people were breaking out in tears. Because it’s my tape. Because.

10 ARTFUL DODGER – “She’s Just My Baby”
Even Artful Dodger fans gave up by this record. While earlier records were like a poppier Rod Stewart; I hear a perfect blend of Dwight Twilley and The Records. Why was this band not a major, major hit? (LINK TO THE PROMO VIDEO)

11 MARSHALL CRENSHAW – “Rave On”
Live cut done at the drop of a hat in a Chicago station. Unbelievable how great he and the guitar sound just by themselves! So far he’s played Lennon in Beatlemania, Holly on film, and made one of the best debut records ever.

12 GARY CHARLSON BAND – “Hey Deanie” & “Go Back”
Another live in the studio gig from an incredible pop guy, these are two of my faves. Bought this based on Bruce Brodeen‘s adjectives (it’s an OLD record). So where is he now? And who the hell was this incredible drummer? (LINK TO A GARY CHARLSON MEDLEY)

13 SHAUN CASSIDY – “So Sad About Us”
Yeah, go ahead and snicker. The backup band is Todd and Utopia, and the whole album could have been called Faithful – Part Two! Messed up Shaun so badly he didn’t resurface for years, and then showed up with “American Gothic”!

 

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Five More Enter The Hall…

Guarded by the Guitar Army

I must admit I was a bit surprised when I saw the list of artists elected for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the ceremony will take place March 15, 2010)

  • Abba – on their second nomination in ten years of eligibility
  • Jimmy Clifffirst nomination, though eligible for twenty-one years!
  • Genesis – also their first nomination, eligible for sixteen years
  • The Hollies – another first nomination after twenty-one years
  • The Stooges – finally, after eight nominations in sixteen years

Amazing to see that three of the artists were eligible for between sixteen and twenty-one years prior to even getting nominated, and then they get elected on the first try. That’s just odd. How do these bands never even get to the nomination stage and then make it all the way to the podium in one move? And what does that say about the rest of the talent pool still hanging by the telephone?

Alice Cooper is still waiting. So are Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Todd Rundgren…and KISS, of course. I could name dozens more who made bigger marks than some of the current inductees – Rick Derringer, The Faces, Lou Reed, Mott The Hoople – but I’d just get pissed off again, even though I know in my heart that it just doesn’t matter.

But it’s great to see The Stooges finally beat the door down – one would expect that a band that had been nominated so many times would eventually break through. And maybe the election of The Hollies opens the door for The Turtles or Herman’s Hermits, and Abba legitimizes the induction of The Monkees. Outside of Guns’N’Roses, there aren’t many newly eligible bands in the next two or three years to provide fresh competition. (Want to feel old? Julian Lennon became eligible for induction in 2009.)

And I certainly can’t argue with any of the songwriter nominations except to say…what the hell took you so long? Mort Shuman (Doc Pomus’ partner), Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Otis Blackwell, Jesse Stone…the real crime here is that Ellie won’t get to take that bow since she passed away earlier this year. Of course, the Songwriters Hall of Fame was on the ball and elected them way back in the 80s and 90s (only Stone is not yet inducted).

Let’s hope Iggy rips ’em a new one come March.

About fucking time.

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Blast From The Past: Velvet Goldmine

In a response to one of the posts about bubblegum music, a reader states that glam is like “bubble gum with pubes”. Vile, yes. Disgusting? Absolutely. But not a bad analogy.

Glam is bubblegum’s older brother/sister, more streetwise, more decadent, more overtly sexual, but at its core it’s still pop music with gigantic hooks. Aural glitter, if you will. These songs don’t hope to catch your attention with a wink of an eye; that would be far too subtle. Glam is zippers and bulges and leering innuendo – wham bam thank you ma’am.

Many films tried to accurately portray the scene; few succeeded. Velvet Goldmine not only had a great storyline – think Eddie and the Cruisers but starring Bowie and Iggy – but a killer soundtrack that still holds up today. I heard the soundtrack prior to seeing the film, and it only accelerated my desire to do so. Faith rewarded in both media.

Todd Haynes co-wrote and directed the film, which featured a stellar cast including Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard, among others. But the music…ahh, the music.

My thoughts from 1998, first printed in TransAction Magazine


I confess up front that I havent seen the movie, although that has not been a deterrent to appreciating soundtrack records – they usually have little to do with the plot anyway. But I know good glam punk when I hear it. Shudder To Think does Bowie incarnate with “Hot One”; Placebo gives Bolan a workout with their version of “20th Century Boy”.

Also included are some great turns by Teenage Fanclub (“Personality Crisis”), Thom Yorke and star Ewan McGregor (a ripping version of “TV Eye” backed by Ron Asheton, Mike Watt and Thurston Moore, among others!). Plus how can you go wrong with Eno, Lou Reed, Roxy Music and Pulp?

And for those who forgot Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel in Mott’s wake, heres a reason to dig out your vinyl. God, the energy, the passion, the feeling!  So tell me again how the pulse of the music world had its balls shrink into raisins over the past few years?

Velvet Goldmine soundtrack

Velvet Goldmine film

Clip: Placebo rocking “20th Century Boy”

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