Tag Archives: Slug Line

Blast From The Past: John Hiatt

I’ve been a John Hiatt fan ever since I saw the cover of Slug Line in a record store in 1979. The oddball facial expression on the cover – gaunt, haunted, intense – was only outdone by the song titles. “Sharon’s Got A Drug Store”, “The Negroes Were Dancing”, “The Night That Kenny Died”…how could I not put this on the turntable?  The beauty of working in a record store was the ability to move from piqued interest to playing it on the store sound system in under thirty seconds).

What happened next was, to pinch a line from Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship“. I’ve remained a fan thirty years and counting, have seen him in concert dozens of times both solo and with his various bands, and have had his wonderful songs help me celebrate and ponder and grieve and reflect. Although (unlike most fans) I prefer the early albums, the ones whose songs he doesn’t play anymore, there isn’t a record he’s released that I don’t enjoy and savor at some level, and having a tune of his pop out of the speakers always brings a smile to my face.

I’m sure I’ll write a lot more about Mr. Hiatt over time, but I just wanted to set the stage for this first recollection, because only after knowing what he had been through to get there can one appreciate why Hiatt chose to release a record like this at the time.

Here’s my original 1997 review from Consumable Online:

John Hiatt’s life has taken him down some dark roads, the results of which have been captured in many powerful and emotional songs. The earnest pain in such classics as “Have A Little Faith In Me” can only come from that deep well, Hiatt salving his wounds in song and allowing us to voyeuristically share his bared soul. His long and mostly under appreciated career has seen him progress from Midwestern folkie to New Wave “angry young man” (many at the time foresaw him as the American answer to Elvis Costello) acoustic troubadour and everything in between. Even long time die hard fans knew that no matter how good each successive record was, radio didn’t have time for people like John Hiatt, and hoped that the label would somehow give him another shot at the brass ring.

1987 and Bring The Family changed all that, a bonafide bottom-of-the-ninth game winning home run for Hiatt. Newly remarried and finally sober, BTF combined the anguish of a tortured past with the joy of a man finding peace within himself and struck a chord with everyone. His voice had evolved into a unique bluesy timbre; his guitar playing more assured and strident, his songs capturing slices of life we take for granted yet can’t seem to put into words. The world was let in on this great secret that only his fans and peers knew about – John Hiatt was one hell of a songwriter. Subsequent records sealed the deal.

With Little Head, a relaxed and confident Hiatt has probably released his most comfortable – dare I say “fun“? – record, and ironically is suffering a critical backlash because it isn’t stuffed with angst-ridden masterpieces. Imagine the irony of toiling for twenty plus years, finally getting the respect and credibility you deserve, and then having your own “high bar” used against you! As if there aren’t great songs here…check out the lyrics of “Graduated” or the sweetness of “Far As We Go” and “Runaway” and name three people who could write like that. Didn’t think so.

Those surprised by the bawdy humor of the title track must not know Hiatt very well; “Since His Penis Came Between Us” was a staple of his live shows for years. Okay, so it isn’t poetry – so what?

Video: “Since His Penis Came Between Us”

No, there isn’t a “She Loves The Jerk” or “Angel Eyes” or “Faith” on Little Head, but they would seem out-of-place if they were. This record gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “greasy”; thick with Memphis soul and lathered with funk. Hiatt drops numerous audio tips of his cap to the 1970’s, from the Barry White-ish intro to “After All This Time” to the send-Zevon-a-dollar rip of “Werewolves Of London” in “Sure Pinocchio”. All those Spinners and Del-Fonics and War records John heard on the radio have come back out years later in “My Sweet Girl” and “Woman Sawed In Half”.

Dave Immergluck’s mastery of the stringed instrument supports this stylish mix with a sonic potpourri; cat-like moans, fat greasy gee-tars and lilting mandolins among the stew’s best features. “Pirate Radio” is a radio hit that never will be for self-explanatory reasons; ditto “Sure Pinocchio” and its horn-powered killer refrain. But Hiatt fans are used to savoring his best moments away from the airwaves, and thankfully there are enough fans to allow him to indulge his muse. This is Capitol’s first shot at marketing John, a marriage he seems to feel positive about because they want to promote his career, not just his record. We’ll see – Hiatt seems to last two to three records at each label, but each time he leaves there’s a bidding war. He’s gone through a few bands also, but seems to have settled on a musical soul mate in Davey Faragher, bassist and co-producer.

Little Head is the sound of John Hiatt enjoying this moment in his life, cruising down the road in that big-ass pink Cadillac, smiling and waving and hoping you can wave back. Let this one grow on you and reap the rewards.

The official John Hiatt website

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Radio Records

Happy Radio Day!

Well, that’s if you believe that Popov invented the concept instead of Marconi or Tesla. (And if everyone believed that, would we have had a band named Popov instead of these guys? Would Marconi not have played the mamba?

Celebrate the day anyway – it is Friday, after all – and blast some music out your car window. You might also want to celebrate by seeing films like American Hot Wax and The Boat That Rocked, a/k/a Pirate Radio.

Here are ten radio-related songs to get you started…

Joe Jackson:  “On The Radio”   Not the best song on I’m A Man, but that’s how strong the early Joe Jackson albums were (and how tight the band is).

Bruce Springsteen:  “Radio Nowhere”  I like Bruce’s social conscience, and I can appreciate the whole Woody Guthrie thing and his passion for the roots of music. But sometimes I just like a great Bruce single, and this is one.

Rush:  “Spirit of the Radio”  I was never a big Rush fan, mostly because Geddy Lee’s voice is like chalk on a blackboard to me. But when he shuts up and the band jams…wow.

Warren Zevon:  “Mohammed’s Radio”   Great live version (with Jackson Browne). God, I miss this man.

The Doors:  “WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)”  I know a lot of people hate The Doors and think Jim Morrison was an overrated ponce, but I think L.A. Woman was a phenomenal album; an indication of what might have been.

Everclear:  “AM Radio”  One can argue that many of Art’s songs sound like they’re built on the same rhythm and chord progression, but you can’t knock his ability to combine humor and pathos. Great video, too.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch:  “Midnight Radio”   If you have not seen this film, you need to run to the store and get the DVD. John Cameron Mitchell’s performance is amazing, and thanks to Steven Trask, this is arguably the best rock and roll soundtrack ever. That’s right…ever. The original cast recording from the play is as good or better than the film soundtrack, but get both.

R.E.M.:  “Radio Free Europe”   The song that started it all for them, and one listen brings back that era in a flash, when these guys sounded so different from everybody else.

John Hiatt:  “Radio Girl”  The video sadly cuts off at the end, but I’m thankful even this much exists. John doesn’t play songs from Slug Line and Two Bit Monsters anymore, and that’s our loss.

Elvis Costello:  “Radio Radio”   Elvis Costello hit the ground with an astounding one-two-three punch of albums, and I wish I had a good rip of his initial SNL appearance when he played this song. But this nod and wink to that event with the Beastie Boys is pretty damned cool.

And your bonus trackJonathan Richman’sRoad Runner“. Priceless!

Got my radio ON!

Tim Russert would have been sixty today. RIP, buddy.

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Blast From The Past: Roger C. Reale

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

Everybody has an album that sits atop their list of “records that need to be on CD”. Mine is Radioactive by Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue. One of the great perks of working in a record store was the ability to crack open an interesting looking record and see what it was all about. For example, I thought the song titles on Slug Line were as off-the-wall as the horrible picture of the artist on the front cover, and that album wound up changing my life. (Thanks, John Hiatt!). I also found Herman Brood’s Cha Cha mistakenly filed in the disco section, but I can’t blame the clerk for that when the cover looked like this. Another lifelong partnership between an artist and my ears.

I had that same gobsmacking wallop when I slapped Radioactive on the turntable, but sadly it would turn out to be a one shot deal. It did lead me to grab everything I could get my hands on from Big Sound Records, where Jon Tiven and Van Duren and Doc Cavalier and Ivan Julian and G.E. Smith held court, but those are stories for another day…especially since G.E. Smith’s In The World might be #2 on that “needs to be on CD” list. Roger C. Reale did guest on a lot of albums and reappeared last decade to record an EP with his friends The Reducers and then started a more traditional bluesy rock band called The Manchurians. But none of them were like this.

So if you’re going to make one album before sliding off the radar screen, why not spike the ball and run? Clocking in at less than twenty-five minutes (!), Reale and his crack band (popster Hilly Michaels on drums and G.E. Smith – yes, that one – on guitar) just torched their way through crunhing rock originals and a couple of killer covers. Reale’s voice was as low as his bass and was powerful enough to saddle up this sonic typhoon of a trio and take it for a spin. Every track was roll-down-the-windows, sing along at the top of your lungs rock’n’roll. No wasted notes, nothing fancy, just clever lyrics and gigantic hooks propelled by a truly melodic power trio.

“Stop and Go”, “Pain Killer” and “Please Believe Me” were pop enough to be hits, while “Madonna’s Last Stand”, “Kill Me” and “High Society” could power a muscle car down a highway by themselves. And the covers were fabulous – a druggy, droning take on The Troggs’  “I Can’t Control Myself” and the most kinetic, manic cover of Chuck Berry’s “Dear Dad” you will ever hear in your life. Because it is so long out of print and never was issued on CD…I can point you here so you can join me in celebrating this masterpiece of an album. (Kudos to Angelo, who has obviously had the same epiphany.)

Thirty-one years later and I still play the shit out of this record, it’s absolutely timeless. I will play this record until the day I die and then pack it for the trip to the great beyond.

Roger C. Reale, you flat out rock!

The official Manchurians MySpace site and their CD BABY page.

An outdated Manchurians site – track list info, a couple of MP3 links and links to purchase the CDs.

An outdated Reducers/Roger C Reale page with info about the EP and one MP3.

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