Tag Archives: Motown

New Music from The Breakers

A couple of years ago I stumbled across an album from a band called The Breakers. Why a band from Denmark was on a small label (Funzalo Records) from Arizona was beyond me, but what came out of the speakers was not. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I played the snot out of Here For A Laugh and counted my blessings. Motown meets Memphis meets Mersey; why can’t more bands get it? It wound up as my #3 record in 2007.

Prescriptioneers know that I love The Faces – just below The Kinks on my list of best bands ever. Certainly any band that carries that proud flag gets my attention, be it a household word like The Black Crowes or an unknown (on these shores, anyway) group like The Diamond Dogs. Like the latter band, The Breakers combine that bluesy Stones/Faces swagger with a rock and soul edge and a classic Britpop dance band’s fun mentality. And like Rod, Chris and Sulo, The Breakers have a great raspy voiced singer in Toke Nisted.

Video: Here For A Laugh

Just when I was beginning to fear they were one and done, I heard that Little Steven signed them to his Wicked Cool label with a new release planned for 2011. Last Fall a label sampler slipped the track “Riot Act” past most of our collective radar, and then today’s mailbox contained a link to another single, “The Jerry Lee Symptoms“. (Actually, it’s a Bo Diddley beat more than a Killer refrain, but it’s smokin‘ either way.) And that wasn’t all – I found that Here For A Laugh wasn’t their debut album, there’s an older one called What I Want. You can stream both albums here  (along with the new singles).

When the new album comes out I’ll have a full review, but I couldn’t keep this good news to myself. Now you have two month’s notice as well!

Video:Riot Act

The Breakers on MySpace.

Online vendor for What I Want here.

Unplugged? Sure, why not?

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

A couple of weeks back I revisited the number one songs for the first week in October from 1963-1972, a classic era for AM Radio. Almost without exception those songs are still resonant today. Maybe it’s a result of when you hear music in your life, but when radio formatting became so formulaic and segregated, the impact of chart toppers just died for me. But when every artist fought to climb the same hill…man, that was some list of great songs.

So here are Ten More Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the third week of October during my Wonder Years.

1963 Sugar Shack (Jimmy Gilmer) – An unexpected hit and year-end chart-topper even though it only had one more week at the top than The Singing Nun. Recorded at Norman Perry Studios, just like Buddy Holly.

1964Do Wah Diddy (Manfred Mann) – A Jeff Barry / Ellie Greenwich classic, this was prime Brit Invasion Manfred Mann long before the Earth Band and their Bruce Springsteen covers.

1965Yesterday (The Beatles) – Really just Paul McCartney and a string quartet, of course. Still listed as the most covered song in pop history.

1966Reach Out, I’ll Be There (The Four Tops) – Stone cold classic with a great Levi Stubbs vocal. Michael Jackson (at Berry Gordy‘s request) used a line from it in the 1970 song below.

1967To Sir With Love (Lulu) Another song that wound up as the top single of the year on many charts thanks to the hit movie. Didn’t realize until today that The Mindbenders were the backing band (two of whom would form 10cc not long afterwards).

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Well, since we covered this last time – it was a nine week run at the top of the charts, you know – let’s highlight the flip side (and a much better song, IMHO) – Revolution. Their only other #1 hit that year was Hello/Goodbye ( the first two weeks of January).

1969I Can’t Get Next To You (The Temptations) – David Ruffin gets a lot of credit but if you ever doubted that Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks were just as good, this song will fix that. .

1970) I’ll Be There (The Jackson 5)  – After three straight bubblegum hits, The Jackson 5 won over a whole new audience with this ballad. Maybe Jermaine Jackson‘s best vocal, ever.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Another song that dominated the charts for the month, but like the Beatles’ single it was a two-sided hit. The flip was his dynamic cover of Tim Hardin‘s Reason To Believe.

1972) My Ding-A-Ling (Chuck Berry) – Sad but true: this was Chuck Berry‘s only #1 hit single. I think you should instead pick up The Great Twenty-Eight, a wonderful collection that gives Chuck his due.


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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

When I was growing up in New York City, the local stations made a big deal about their weekly countdowns, and every week music fanatics (like me) were glued to the radio, ready to jot them down as they were played and guess which songs finished where. Forget Dick Clark and Casey Kasem, in NYC it was all about WABC and WMCA. At the end of the year they’d do their annual countdown and even mail you the final list if you sent in an envelope. Somewhere in a dusty attic box, I still have a few that I treasured as a kid.

I guarantee that when pop culture historians look at the tail end of the 1960s, they will rate that period as important to music history as the Industrial Revolution was to Western Civilization. Living through it was amazing. But even looking back on how the charts morphed over a decade, it’s obvious that a seismic shift had occurred.

So this week I give you Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the first week of October. It’s only going to get stranger each Friday.

1963) Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton) – The early 60s was crooner heaven, as well as a haven for single-named teen idols. Four lads from Liverpool changed all that the year prior, but you don’t build Rome in a day. I can’t listen to this song anymore without picturing Dennis Hopper.

1964) Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) – I still can’t believe that voice came out of that head. Orbison’s growl on the bridge just made a cool song even cooler – even Van Halen couldn’t ruin this gem.

1965) Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys) – The Ohio State National Anthem, this garage rock chestnut featured a teenage Rick Derringer and still sounds great. A very underappreciated band who cut some great pop sides and then morphed into Johnny Winter’s best band. (This rare version has the extra verse)

1966) Cherish (The Association) – Not quite rock, I know, but you must have that slow grind song for the prom, and this was it – plus it covered the pain of unrequited love! And if you want to punish this great vocal group for being wimpy, you have to give them props for “Along Came Mary”.

1967) The Letter (The Box Tops) – Teenage Alex Chilton hooked up with Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut one of the gruffest, blusiest vocals ever recorded. Absolute killer stuff, in and out in under two minutes and always sounds fresh when you hear it.

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Beginning its nine week run atop the charts, an instant sing-along classic and one of the longest tracks in chart history. Whatever happened to those guys?

1969) Sugar Sugar (The Archies) – If he could make a gazillion dollars with four actors, how much could Don Kirschner make from four cartoon characters who wouldn’t insist on playing their own instruments? This was the song that dethroned “Honky Tonk Women”…I am not making that up.

1970) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross) – Motown ruled the charts in the 60s but this version pales in comparison to the 1967 version by the great Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – a hit three years earlier.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Single and album simultaneously blew up and made rooster head a star. For a couple of years he and The Faces made the best music on Earth and then Rod followed the money, which he is still doing forty years later.

1972) Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me (Mac Davis) – And you wonder why people said “rock is dead”? Other 1972 chart toppers included “Candy Man” from Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson’s turgid “Ben” and Melanie’s screeching “Brand New Key”. The year was so lame that Gilbert O’Sullivan’s nasal “Alone Again Naturally” spent four weeks at the top, lost its place and then floated up again like a dead fish for two more.

Thankfully, album rock was there to save the day.

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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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Last Comic Standing – The Other Five

 
Yep, that’s gotta be how Kurt Metzger feels. 

Are you kidding me, Last Comic Standing? Just when I thought you had gotten past the asinine policy of “casting a reality show” in favor of finding the funniest comics, you pull another Dan Naturman on me. 

Naturman, you’ll remember, was the contestant on the second season of LCS who was passed over for the finals even though the on-air judges all voted for him. Turns out that there were more people behind the scenes – a voting majority, no less – and they thought it was more important to have an interesting mix of personalities on the show. It was an embarrassment at the time and still a stain on the program’s reputation to this day. 

So what happens last night? Metzger comes out and absolutely kills…easily within the top 2-3 responses from both audience and judges – and he doesn’t make the cut? WTF?

Of course, none of the judges looked surprised or said a word. In fact, the announcement process is bizarre in itself, as pre-assigned groups of five or six comics walk downstage and only one is chosen. When I saw that Roy Wood Jr. and Metzger was in the same group, I was dumfounded, as the two were easily the best performers on the program last night. 

Video: Kurt Metzger: Hilarious Crimes

And while Craig Robinson is openly mocking the banality of the role of host, the judges continue to coddle the contestants; I’ve learned that “you are telling personal stories and you should go with that” and/or “you are very unique/original/funny” is code for “make sure you pack as soon as you get offstage“. I realize that some of these people work together and no one wants to crucify a colleague onstage, but some of these comics just aren’t that good

Some went beyond that, bombing and going down in flames. Guy Torry is a seasoned actor and comedian but chose to riff on Hillary Clinton and – are you sitting downMonica Lewinsky. (I don’t know who is in charge of the calendar at the Torry house, but they should be fired.) Torry’s set pretty much sucked, but as the judges tried to be professional while telling him he was capable of doing better, he became argumentative, dismissive and insulting. Nice strategy, idiot!  He’s lucky that the ratings for LCS are minimal or we would have been watching career suicide. The only funny thing Torry did all night was come out for the final announcements with his coat on and his duffel bag over his shoulder. 

Guy Torry's career, as seen from space

And weren’t all of these people supposedly from the bigger groups last week? Either there are some continuity errors or several of them were so bland that I don’t even remember them after a couple of weeks. You’d think I’d remember a name like Fortune Feimster, for example, who plays off her unfortunate resemblance to Jonah Hill to good effect. Or Maronzio Vance, who barely registered last night in a short set. I want to like Nikki Glaser but she did another variation on the abortion joke she did at the auditions and it seems like she plows the same narrow ground. I’m a longtime fan of  Laurie Kilmartin, a great writer, but I’ve seen her do better and I was a little disappointed that she used her old routine about her Russian boyfriend.

Jason Nash, Carmen Lynch, Cristela Alonzo, Nick Cobb, Claudia Cogan and most of the others were okay; a chuckle or two but fairly pedestrian material. Two exceptions: Brian McKim has been doing stand-up for thirty years, and everything from his posture to his cadence screams old-school comic, but his delivery is great and he is memorable. Jacob Siroc wouldn’t have made my cut either but following the Torry debacle and opening with “okay, that wasn’t awkward” broke the ice; he later ad-libbed a “Google” call-back from Torry’s disastrous rant. He looks like a cross between Tom Kenny and Jake Johansen; in other words, he’s got the look down. 

But I’m starting to think something fishy is going on. Again. 

For example, comics are supposed to be judged on what they are doing that night – not how their career stacks up or how they did elsewhere. Yet several references were made to other performances; Andy Kindler told Jerry Rocha that he loved seeing him at another show, and Natasha Leggero went absolutely Paula Abdul on Feimster.  

Neither made the cut, but one of the finalists seemed to get a push. James Adomian had a mediocre set but then Craig Robinson and the judges asked him to do impressions at the post-set review…and then rated the impressions! And I can’t explain the vibe I got when Kilmartin‘s name was called, but it was as if she knew making the finals was a fait accompli

Their five:  James Adomian, Laurie Kilmartin, Maronzio Vance, Roy Wood. Jr and Tommy Johnagin

Mine : Kurt Metzger, Roy Wood Jr., Tommy Johnagin, Taylor Williamson and Mike Vecchione

And then there were ten. If I had to handicap, I’d bet on Mike DiStefano, Myq Kaplan and Tommy Johnagin for the trifecta. We’ll see what happens.

— 

 

R.I.P. Harvey Fuqua, Moonglow and Motown mover/shaker.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rockin’ Remakes

Hit Factory

Rock music has always drawn upon other influences; one could argue that it’s the perfect intersection between the influences of country, soul and r’n’b. And many of the biggest rock bands have repaid that influence by performing those influential songs on record and in concert. Sometimes those influences were from their peers.

When classic rock was starting to explode in the 60’s, Motown was right there with them on the charts. People often forget to list Smokey Robinson and Holland-Dozier-Holland in the same breath as Brian Wilson, Lennon-McCartney, Paul Simon, Ray Davies, Jagger-Richard and other dominant songwriters. What an amazing amount of creative genius sharing the spotlight in the same short period of time.

So today I’d like to offer Ten Rockin’ Remakes of soul classics from some of my favorite rock bands. Proof positive that great music knows no color.

The Faces:   “I’m Losing You” – even hotter live than on record.

Humble Pie:   “I Don’t Need No Doctor” – Steve Marriott is The Man.

The Rolling Stones:   “Just My Imagination” – from a 2007 live show.

Mitch Ryder:   “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” – great Jimmy Ruffin tune.

Jeff Beck:   “People Get Ready” – when you say “Beck” I think of him first.

The J. Geils Band:   “Where Did Our Love Go?”  – from the 2009 reunion.

Herman Brood:   “My Girl” – Almost unrecognizable in this re-arrangement.

Credence Clearwater Revival:   “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – I guess you’d classify this as swamp soul!

David Bowie:   “Knock On Wood” – from the underrated David Live album

The Band:   “Baby Don’t You Do It” – Marvin Gaye cover from The Last Waltz

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New Album! Christine Ohlman

All Hail The Queen!

Fifteen years removed from her debut album, The Hard Way, the Beehive Queen has not only recorded her strongest effort to date, but an album that should pepper several best-of lists in December. The songs on The Deep End draw as much upon gospel and urban doo-wop as they do blues and Americana, perhaps reaching the apex on the hypnotic title track.

Ohlman and her band Rebel Montez (now Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Cliff Goodwin) are rock-solid, and if you’ve not heard Ohlman’s gripping vocals before, I can’t totally blame you. Despite enough industry cred to fill multiple warehouses, she might best be known for being a long-time member of the Saturday Night Live band. Of course, you’d have to be attending the taping to hear her; seldom will you see any of the non-sax playing musicians get highlighted.

I first discovered her thirty-odd years ago when I was enamored with the cast and crew at Big Sound Records, whose albums featured stellar musicians like G.E. Smith, Jon Tiven, Mickey Curry, Ivan Julian, Roger C. Reale and Ohlman, among others. Producer extraordinaire Thomas “Doc” Cavalier had a golden ear for quality, and his work on Big Sound was the stamp of approval for me in the same way that Motown or Stiff were when in their prime. Sadly, just about all of that music is out of print.

I like all of her solo work, but this one really speaks to me. Ohlman suffered two big losses in her life recently – guitarist Eric Fletcher and Cavalier are no longer with us – and the ache resonates in her voice. Stellar guests like Dion, Eric Ambel and Al Anderson provide great support, and Ian Hunter producer Andy York continues his string of sympathetic collaborations with his artists. But Ohlman and her band had this one nailed from the jump.

Read my review of this album at PopMatters.

VIDEO: “Like Honey”

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