Tag Archives: Memorial Day Weekend

The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

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Blast From The Past: The New Cars

It’s Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States, but since I have to account for our society’s short-term memory (and McNugget lifestyle), today I’m only dropping back five years!

Let’s turn the Wayback Machine to my 2005 review…

Is nothing sacred? Those were the first three words out of my mouth when I heard that Todd Rundgren and two-thirds of his current band were hooking up with the lesser half of The Cars to exhume the Boston band’s legacy and (ahem) take it for a spin. But with Ben Orr resting in peace and Ric Ocasek – the face of The Cars – unwilling to sign on, how could one possibly take a new version of The Cars seriously?

A famous musician covering others is nothing new. Utopia’s Deface the Music was a brilliant take on The Beatles, but it was an album of originals, not covers. And when Todd has done the cover route, most notably on Faithful, the results have been stellar…but always under his own name. Ringo takes a few…er, ringers on the road every summer, but he doesn’t call it The Beatles. Elliot Easton, on the other hand, had no problem whoring out (*) as a member of Credence Clearwater Revisited.  (And let’s face it, without John Fogerty, what is there to revisit?) Considering the collective history of this quintet of players, they could have called themselves NazzCar or Autopia and at least had a sense of humor about it, but…no.

And the record? Mostly (cough) faithful and energetic live renditions of the Cars catalogue, the faster tunes more acceptably juiced up. Todd channels Ocasek’s vocal mannerisms for “Best Friend’s Girl” and “Shake It Up” but Sulton’s take on “Drive” is a disappointment. One new track, “Not Tonight”, is probably the poppiest thing Rundgren has written in years but is ruined by ridiculous lyrics. Does this longtime pop craftsman really think a Blackberry is good subject matter? As for the other two new tracks, they’re so forgettable that I have thankfully forgotten them already.

The set here, like the live shows, is padded with Todd songs, so the catalogue is obviously thin. Anytime a “band” has more apparel than material, you have to take them for what they are – a money grab, famous guys leaning on a legacy and going for it (read: merchandising) as an over-qualified cover band.

Cars? They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

(* ironic present day update: Greg Hawkes is a Turtle)

Judge for yourself: listen at Amazon

Five years later…I’ve probably softened on my initial reaction since then, if only for the continuing struggle that so many of my musician acquaintances endure. Can’t afford health care…their work shamelessly stolen and distributed by pirates…an entertainment industry focused solely on spectacle and tweens at the expense of a generation of living, breathing musicians.

Still hate the Blackberry idea though…

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Top Titles From 2005

It’s Memorial Day Weekend – time for pints, people and pleasure!

But since I have to account for our society’s short-term memory and McNugget lifestyle, today I’m only dropping back five years! And this weekend I’ll stay on topic and plunge back into the past for a couple of items – one a forty-year old classic and the other a five-year-old failed (but interesting) experiment from two of the biggest pop artists of the 70s.

But for now, a visit to my ten top titles from 2005…and what the artists are up to in 2010. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

01  Marah –  If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry…The no-brainer #1 record of the year. Marah finally captures some of the onstage magic that makes them the best rock and roll band on the planet on most nights. Screw the preparation, plug in, ciggies in the tuning pegs and let’s rock and roll, dammit! (2010: Marah has a new album about to drop called Life Is A Problem and just started their tour)

02  Nada Surf –  The Weight is a Gift…There can’t still be people not listening them because of the first album, are there? Their debut is like child scribbles compared to the majestic artwork over their last three albums. (2010: Nada Surf’s album of covers called If I Had A Hi-Fi is out this month!)

03  Graham ParkerSongs Of No Consequence…Of course, Captain Irony is wrong – Geep always writes about matters of consequence. I’d hate to see The Figgs give up their career, but they fit Parker as good or better than the Rumour. He’s having fun! (2010: Graham’s newest album Imaginary Television is one of my favorites so far this year. Missed his Boston show w/ The Figgs by two hours!)

04  The 88Over And Over…Criminally unknown band – well, okay, they could have picked a better name. But they’ve taken all those Jellyfish, Kinks, T rex and XTC references and put them to good use. Two albums so far, both great. (2010: The band continues to place music in film and TV – that’s them doing the theme from “Community” – and more new music is on the way!)

05  RedwallsDe Nova…Chicago pop band makes good. Maybe a little Beatle-heavy at times, but hey, if you’re going to emulate someone, why not? You’ve probably heard their tracks on the WB, and…oh…right…wrong crowd. (2010: Hmmm…not much that I can find since the follow-up album.)

06  Rolling StonesA Bigger Bang…Really – who would have expected this! Easily their best record in twenty years, although that’s a backhanded compliment. Lively, rocking and credible…if there’s a perfect time to quit, it’s now. (2010: Far from quitting; they’ve released anniversary editions of Exile on Main Street and have a documentary DVD out about the making of the record. Tour? If they’re breathing, probably!)

07  Terry Anderson – Olympic Ass Kicking Team…Why the White Chuck Berry has to toil in semi-obscurity is beyond me, but since he has no problem calling up Roscoe, Dan Baird and fellow rockers and cranks these puppies out, I’ll keep touting him. (2010: Terry and crew landed on my best of list last year with National Champions! Always recording more, so stay tuned!)

08  StereophonicsSex Violence Other…Oasis without the fistfights and the Beatles fixation. No, there’s still something left. Good inventive Britpop with enough snarl, sass and sonics to keep me interested album after album. (2010: What is it about this year? Yes, a new album from these guys too called Keep Calm and Carry On.)

09  The 22-20s –  The 22-20s…Another band that picked a bad name for success (see #4 above), these guys mix early Stones and Small Faces to alternately rock and groove. Great vocals and energy – keep an eye on them. (2010: Pumped!! I was about to write that they’ve been defunct since 2006 but found that they got back together in 2008 and Shake Shiver Moan will come out in June!)

10  FoxymoronsHesitation Eyes…Knocked my socks off. Two writers mailing song fragments back and forth and completing each other’s thoughts. Only a couple of tracks didn’t make the record, so the success ratio was impressive. (2010: Sadly, just the sound of crickets…)

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