Tag Archives: Ramones

Under The Radar: Wes Hollywood

Cities like Athens, Austin and Seattle might have gotten all the notoriety as musical hotbeds but the Illinois/Indiana area was always a great source of powerpop bands. The Wes Hollywood Show was no exception, wrangling guitar oriented pop with a sense of humor and mining that infectious, kinetic beat like Elvis Costello, The Kinks, The Beat and their neighbors from Rockford, Cheap Trick. They wound up issuing four albums under that name; Girls was the one that first caught my attention.

These days if you want to track pop savant Wes, you can find him making great music with his current effort, The Tenniscourts. Of course, that band is a subject for another day.

Here’s a review I wrote about their album The Girls Are Never Ending for Cosmik Debris back in September 2001.

Set the wayback machine back to 1977, Sherman, for The Wes Hollywood Show is waiting there for you. Remember when rock and roll was fun? Before shogazing? Before angst? Skinny tie pop rules again with these guys on their second CD, The Girls Are Never Ending. It’s wall to wall bouncy, power pop harmony, jangly guitar glory.

The opening track, “She’s Gonna Let You Go,” calls to mind the Romantics and early Elvis Costello, while the following track sounds more like The Knack and…uh…early Elvis Costello. That’s no insult – Wes isn’t trying to ape the man, but he does sound a little like him, although crossed with a good dose of John Lennon. In other words, the boy can sing!

The rest of the band are no slouches either. Mark Talent (lead guitar), Patrick Thornbury (bass) and Jason Styx (drums…wait…a drummer named Styx?) are energetic, especially on killer tracks like the Ramones-ish (well, okay, and Costello-ish) “H Bomb.” No doubt you’ll be playing this record over and over again, dancing to “Goodtime Girl,” “Little Miracle” and “Weston-Super-Mare.” And even though you’ll go grab This Year’s Model afterwards, you’d be just as likely to pull “Turning Japanese” and “What I Like About You” out of the rack.

And there’s something wrong with that?

Give it a listen at Amazon right now.

That Year's Model

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Graham Parker Film – Home Stretch

I was angry too, back then.

Passion is no ordinary word. 

Last month, I wrote about the Kickstarter effort to raise funds for the Graham Parker documentary Don’t Ask Me Questions. The response has been tremendous and the goal is within reach. 

However, the premise of Kickstarter is that if the goal is not attained, none of the pledge money goes through. 

With one week to go, the producer still needs only a small amount – roughly six hundred dollars a day. That’s a dozen fifty dollar bids, twenty people pledging thirty dollars. In other words, it’s right there in front of us

Please consider a donation if you haven’t done so, but more importantly please pass the word along to friends who might be able to join the effort. 

Here’s the direct link to the Kickstarter page – and Michael Gramaglia has posted two new clips from the film for your dining and dancing pleasure. 

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Graham Parker Film!

 

Well, it’s about damned time! 

Don’t Ask Me Questions is a new documentary film about Graham Parker being brought to life by Michael Gramaglia, who co-produced and co-directed the wonderful Ramones film End of the Century

I doubt I have to explain to the regulars here who Graham Parker is…how he burst upon the US scene in 1976 with not one but two five-star albums (Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment). Or how three years later Squeezing Out Sparks was lauded by most critics as the best rock album of the year. How thirty-five years after his first splash he continues to write, record and perform some of the most intelligent, passionate, and literate rock’n’roll on the planet. 

But for the sake of convenience, here’s a link to a couple of hundred song clips that should seal the deal for any of you scratching your head. There are enough collections and best-ofs to fill a shelf, but don’t sell yourself short. Start at the beginning if you must, but work your way through his incredible catalogue and hear the albums in their entirety. You’ll find wonderment galore, from classics like  “Soul Shoes“, “Discovering Japan” and “Temporary Beauty” to recent gems like “She Swallows It” and “You’re Not Where You Think You Are“. 

I was angry too, back then.

I’ve seen Graham Parker perform many times over the years and have had the great pleasure of interviewing him for a magazine feature. He’s as powerful a presence with an acoustic guitar and his sardonic wit as he is backed by the fire of The Rumour and The Figgs. Once he was lumped together with Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson (and for some of us, John Hiatt) as one of rock’n’roll’s “Angry Young Men“. Now, older and wiser, he’s aged like fine wine. Here indeed is a man who spent a career putting art before commerce, passion before trend and substance before flavor. 

Now, finally, the Graham Parker story…on film

 

From the website“A modern troubadour, Graham releases new music almost on a yearly basis, while touring small clubs around the country to a die hard fan base…The film documents the history of his independent spirit and defiant optimism, celebrates the sincerity of his music and delights in his self-deprecating wit.” 

Interviewed in the film are Martin Belmont, Steve Goulding, Bob Andrews, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Dave Robinson, Ian Hunter, Pete Thomas, Black Francis, Jesse Malin, The Figgs, Meg Griffin and Alan Pepper, among others. 

The project has been in the works for four years and is available for the general public to financially participate in the production at varying levels through the Kickstarter website. This is the same method that enabled the recent Kinks film Do It Again to get off the ground, and as a proud participant in both efforts I can vouch for the process. 

It’s not cheap to assemble a quality documentary film, especially when you have to secure rights to footage and audio and do it the right way. A project like this really hits home for me; it’s the type of thing I would do if I had the time and the money…and the guts

But someone is doing it. And he needs a hand. The pledge drive continues through the Summer; there’s a long way to go but a very reasonable target to aim for. Contribute if you can, but at least spread the word far and wide

Don’t Ask Me Questions official site . Great promo clip!

Graham Parker official website. Mecca!

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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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I Got The Knack

R.I.P. Doug Fieger

R.I.P. Doug Fieger of The Knack.

The best-selling album of 1978 was Saturday Night Fever, the zenith of popularity for guys in satin shirts (open to the waist so that the gold medallions could bounce within the prominent clump of chest hair, of course). Women were no better, focused upon inane dances with said hairy men, hopefully rendered impotent after bathing in strobe lights under satanic mirror balls and shaking what booty they thought they had to beat-pulsing stage lamps flashing primary colors like an amoral heartbeat. Surely the world had gone to Hell in a handbasket, although that handbasket now had a designer name and cost more than a week’s wages.

Sadly, 1979 was no better. Those of us buying Blondie and Ramones and Sex Pistols records could not help but wonder what the hell happened to rock’n’roll, since all the attention and the money and the shelf-rack space in the record stores – our record stores, dammit! – were being glommed by Donna Summer and Chic and Andy Gibb. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, this simplest of rock songs, this most basic beat, blasted its way to the top of the charts like a lung full of oxygen in a coal mine…”My Sharona“.

Video: “My Sharona

No, it wasn’t the best pop song ever written and The Knack were certainly not The Beatles despite the great pains the Capitol Records marketing department went through (the black and white cover photo and the Meet The Beatles cadence of the title Get The Knack). Nor did the bizarre decision to not do any interviews play out well; what initially inspired mystery in a band holding the Number One Single hostage for six weeks soon turned into resentment and an attitude of animosity towards four guys who were just trying to sell pop music.

But “My Sharona” did serve notice to the industry that despite disco and punk and prog and that god-awful corporate rock that Columbia Records kept spewing out its sewage pipe, there was an audience for what we refer to as powerpop music. Good melody. Great hook. Big beat. Maybe it wouldn’t dominate the charts like it did in the 60s, but when given a chance, people respond to it. Sure, you might gloss a sheen of hair metal over it, maybe even countrify it, but at its core a great pop song is a great pop song.

Of course The Knack didn’t last long; maybe these things aren’t supposed to, although their next couple of albums weren’t bad. One knock on the group was that the girls being sung about might be a tad on the younger side, which could explain the occasional leering expressions from the band members. (I’m not certain where these prudential critics were when Gary Puckett and The Union Gap were prowling school yards in the 60’s in military gear, but so be it.) In subsequnet years The Knack would occasionally reform sans retired drummer Bruce Gary (who passed in 2006) with ringers like Terry Bozzio standing in alongside Fieger, guitarist Berton Averre and bassist Prescott Niles.

The Knack will never have the cred that Big Star or Badfinger or even The Romantics have earned, but “My Sharona“, the biggest pop single of 1979, was the right song at the right time. Thanks, Doug (and co-writer Averre), for that lifeboat you dropped into The Sea of Disco. Rest in peace.

***

And R.I.P.  Dale Hawkins, the rock and roll tornado

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Two Old Dogs

Absolutely Fabulous

One was a group of happy canines, the others apparently upper-crust full-bred purse pups. Maybe we were running out of names as the 70s drew to a close, but I remember both these bands well. Kudos to Collector’s Choice and American Beat for reissuing 2-fer gems…fans will be very happy with the value while those taking the initial plunge will find that the music holds up very well…

Although they sound markedly different, the Fabulous Poodles and the Laughing Dogs share much beyond their canine nicknames. The Fab Poos hailed from the U.K. where their music drew heavily upon pub-rock and classic Brit rock. Famous for their whimsical stage antics and humorous songs, they were musically tight and lyrically clever to the point where comparisons to the Kinks were more than a coincidence.

The Laughing Dogs, on the other hand, came up through the New York City scene, playing CBGB’s and Max’s alongside Blondie, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. Musically, however, they were much more smooth and polished with a classic power-pop sound that was a lot closer to the Rubinoos and the Producers than their punk contemporaries.

Both bands had limited success in the U.S. charts and were gone after their second albums (for Epic and Columbia respectively) as were the Sinceros, the Photos, and dozens of others whose chum was similarly tossed into the same radio shark tank.

Continue reading the full review over at PopMatters.

Get em outta town

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PPC-TV is On The Air!

Point your antenna to Heaven

Point your antenna to Heaven

Sure, that came rolling out of my mouth a little easier because I was a loyal and dedicated SCTV fan. And just like that fictional program operated on the fringes of society, so too does PPC-TV.

I’ve turned you on to the amazing Angelo before when I posted links to his amazing Beatles tribute discs – the ones he reassembled album by album, track by track, to match the Fab Four canon. So it’s a given he’s a pop lover.

He’s now decided to share a wealth of amazing video clips from a plethora of sources like tapes of old Musikladen programs, French variety shows, and random promotional videos. With PPC-TV he’s launched what I hope is the start of an incredible potpourri of musical manna from Internet heaven – something for everyone.

Lesser known powerpop like Silver Sun and Dom Mariani? Check.

Old pub rock like Dr. Feelgood and Kursaal Flyers? Yep.

Vibrant video from Dramarama, The Gigolo Aunts and Flamin’ Groovies? You got it!

Need an injection of Buzzcocks and Ramones to kickstart your heart? No problem!

It’s the weekend! Turn on, Tune in, and Drop Out

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