Tag Archives: The Beach Boys

Bad Things in Threes, Again

The Grim Reaper must be into numerology.

But now he has an assistant. Jack Kevorkian, occasionally called “Doctor Death” because of his years of commitment to physician-assisted suicide, died Friday at the age of 83. Ironically, no one helped him; it was a combination of kidney failure and thrombosis (clot-related ailments). An odd pop tangent is that Kevorkian’s lawyer was Geoffrey Feiger, brother of the late Doug Fieger of The Knack. Their courtroom battles – Kevorkian was never convicted when Fieger was his lawyer – are the basis for the movie You Don’t Know Jack. (Don’t confuse that with this).

James Arness, legendary as Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke, finally rode off into the sunset on Friday after 88 years on this dusty trail. Gunsmoke aired for twenty years and 635 episodes and made Arness a household name. The series, and the character, still finish high upon any list of the best in television history. Like his friend John Wayne, Arness was an imposing authority figure, although reserved and artistic in his private life. Many also know that his brother was the late Peter Graves.

And if Friday wasn’t already bad enough, Andrew Gold died after a heart attack at the too-young age of 59. Gold had hits in the 80s with “Lonely Boy” and “Thank You For Being A Friend“, as well as the theme from Mad About You, “Final Frontier“. But in my haven of liner notes, he was better known for being embedded in the SoCal scene where Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles and Jackson Browne were all over each other’s albums. Like J.D. Souther – to whom he bore a slight resemblance – he didn’t often get the front-line credit for his effort, but was an integral and dynamic contributor to a generation of music.

Less is usually said about his later career, when projects like Wax UK and The Fraternal Order Of The All gave him vehicles for his love of Beatles and Beach Boys song structure and melodies. Copy Cat was a covers album featuring ten Beatles tracks, Green Day, Elton John and even covers of his own songs. A great talent who will be missed.

Video: “Lonely Boy

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New Album! Oranjuly

Oranjuly is the name for the one-man whirlwind named Brian King, whose obvious love of The Beach Boys, Jellyfish and other harmony-intensive pop bands bleeds through his music. Not certain if the choice of name combines his favorite fruit with his favorite month, but the band name isn’t important – the music under the banner is. And that’s what I’m touting tonight.

You want me to drop more names? Various songs recall Todd Rundgren, Badfinger, Weezer, Van Duren, Big Star and fill-in-your-pop-hero here. And of course, those Beach Boys. Listen to the keyboards and bass line of the opening track and tell me you don’t think of both “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, even though his track “Her Camera” sounds like neither. And when those a capella harmony vocals come in on the bridge? Holy crap.

My two favorite songs are the delicate “At Any Time” (think Bleu or Mike Viola) and the bouncy “I Could Break Your Heart” – especially that irresistable chorus couplet. But it’s deeper than earworm hooks; even with the pop-single lengths of three minutes plus, King flashes some instrumental chops, too. “Mrs. G” wraps up the coda with rollicking piano and tasty guitar leads, but even a stripped down song like “South Carolina” floats its hook over acoustic guitar and piano…and bass/drum support right out of the McCartney/Starr playbook.

I remember when a solo album meant just that – a talented performer was playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. King is very impressive here, filling the voids with strings and keyboards and horns and absolutely nailing the vocals. Very, very strong album – I’ll certainly remember this at year-end time. 

Check out the Oranjuly website.

Buy the album from Not Lame.

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T.G.I.F. – Back To Schooldays

I don’t have to anymore, thankfully…

But September, and especially this weekend, brings the official end to summer and the start of the school year. (Feel free to substitute the word “football season” if you are a childless male past the age of eighteen.)

Music has always captured the essence of every emotion and occurence in our lives, and there certainly are many anthems that document the drudgery and celebrate the rebellion and pinpoint the pain. Many of these are obvious, although “School’s Out” will have to wait for June! And I didn’t want to go to hardcore teenage angst like Big Star‘s “Thirteen” and Ultimate Fakebook‘s “A Million Hearts” (an under-known classic!).

So as you hopefully are preparing for a safe and happy holiday, here are Ten Tunes to take you Back To Schooldays!

01 – “Schooldays” (The Kinks)

02 – “Be True To Your School” (The Beach Boys)

03 – “Back To Schooldays” (Graham Parker)

04 – “Hot For Teacher” (Van Halen)

05 – “My Old School” (Steely Dan)

06 – “School Days” (Chuck Berry)

07 – “School Days” (The Good Rats)

08 – “Teacher Teacher” (Rockpile)

09 – “High School Confidential” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

10 – “Rock and Roll High School” (The Ramones)

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Under The Radar: Splitsville

It began with a four song EP given away at Poptopia.

Obviously with a name like Pet Soul, the songs were a tribute to the transcendant moments in the careers of The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Although both groups were prolific singles machines in the 60’s, each band sought to delve deeper and create more substantive work. Many consider Revolver and Rubber Soul to be the apex of The Beatles like Pet Sounds is for The Beach Boys.

Splitsville – then a trio of Matt Huseman, Brandt Huseman and Paul Krysiak – were a burgeoning powerpop act on Big Deal Records who had just broken the ice with Ultrasound, their followup to Splitsville USA. Where the latter focused upon childhood fun, Ultrasound dealt with the pain and promise of adolescence (album themes would continue with their third album; Repeater is about the responsibility and accountability of young adulthood). They were clever and poppy and lightweight; fun records, nothing more.

So much like the more mature works of the aforementioned groups, Pet Soul was a revelation. The production is spectacular, squeezing every dollop of the creative instrumentation and pitch-perfect harmonies of the band. Three years later, the band revisited the project and expanded it to a full album without missing a beat, recording in Krysiak’s words “the 1966 album that never was“. So seamless was the project that even the inclusion of their cover of a Burt Bacharach song (“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”) fit like hand in glove.

Listen to clips of The Complete Pet Soul

The centerpiece of both the EP and the full album is “The Love Songs of B. Douglas Wilson“, which captures the essence of Brian Wilson’s studio genius lyrically, vocally and sonically. It is truly a work of art, and the band members thought so as well. From their website:

Brandt: I’m especially proud of the songwriting. Musically, it was (is) the most ambitious thing I had done: the song has 5 sections that fit together. Lyrically I think it captures the innocence of the Beach Boy lyrics while touching on the darkness of Brian Wilson’s personal life. My favorite part is the finger snaps into the hand claps at the end.
Matt: In my opinion a perfect song. We were having problem with the “breakdown,” which was originally a vocal part. I suggested a theremin. Dave Nachodsky and Paul made it happen.
Paul: Brandt laid down the lead vocal late at night in the far corner of a nearly pitch black studio – just a couple of little red and blue spots shining down on him. Dave Nachodsky and I just watched and listened with our mouths agape, goosebumps rising on our arms and tears welling up in our eyes. No kidding, a truly transcendent moment.

Major kudos to both Dave Nachodsky and Andy Bopp, two studio savants who helped produce and engineer the songs. While this album sounds majestic and beautiful on anything from a computer to a car stereo to a full rig, I highly recommend you grab a pair of good headphones. This is the kind of record headphones were invented for.

Geographically separated, the band now only rarely plays live and has not issued a studio album since 2005’s Incorporated. Hopefully they will continue to record and release new material, but even if they have hung ’em up for good, their legacy is intact, The Complete Pet Soul their crowning achievement.

The Splitsville website and MySpace page.

***

HTTBJ…XXOOIYD!

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PPC Tributes Strikes Back

Oh my god, he’s done it again.

Earlier this month Power Pop Criminal$ assembled yet another volume of their incredible tribute series, their first in fifteen months. Powerpop artists covering other powerpop artists. A Whitman’s Sampler of ear candy. (The three earlier compilations are available here).

Covers of  legends like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, T Rex, Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Badfinger, The Replacements and many more. Covers by esteeemed genre arttists including Superdrag, Dwight Twilley, Matthew Sweet, The Romantics, Teenage Fanclub and Cheap Trick – to name but a few.

Angelo and crew do incredible work putting these things together. Despite their site name, they are crystal clear that if any out-of-print albums they post become commecially available, they will pull them from the site (and I’ve seen them do it).

December alert: Pay attention to their site for the 2009 PPC Advent Wall of Sound. It works just like an Advent calendar where you open a compartment each day from December 1-24 to find a picture or treat. In this case we’re talking treat – a new powerpop rarity appears daily and only for one day. There are also some twisted holiday comps on the PPC site.

Hope you discover some new artists in the process, and if/when you do, please support them by purchasing their CDs and merch. It’s tough to survive in this business, and every dollar counts.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Sixties Singles Acts

45 RPM record player

I lived my life at 45 RPM

I’m in the middle of a two-part feature concerning three of the best groups of the ’60s (Herman’s Hermits, The Young Rascals and The Turtles) and figured I’d make this week’s theme about ten bands whose 45’s were a staple of my collection. For those born later, AM radio was king, and WMCA and WABC in New York City were among the kingmakers. After an era of crooner pop and teen idol mania, the charts were invaded by surf rock, Motown soul, garage/psych sides and that multi-wave British Invasion. Radio would never be the same.

Many artists have gotten their due critically and financially, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to The Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. Many have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although several are either awaiting nomination or seemingly have no shot despite making a huge impact in a short and magical time.

I’m going to use today’s list to tout ten worthy artists who I feel are very under-appreciated. They’re enshrined in my Hall of Fame and I still enjoy hearing their music today. Not all have decent video clips, so I’m linking to a site where you can at least hear some audio samples and hopefully pick up a greatest hits collection, if not a few of their catalogue albums or a larger anthology.

If you’re a powerpop or garage fan, there are probably no surprises here. But if you only know these bands from a hit or two on oldies radio, I promise you there is more worth digging for.

jukebox

Tommy James and the Shondells: A pretty fascinating story of how a guy accidentally becomes a bubblegum idol, hates it, and then becomes one of the more interesting purveyors of commercial psychedelic pop. How can a guy who strung together that many hits not be more highly respected? One of the era’s better producers as well.  Wiki.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys: Even the involvement of Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell couldn’t overcome the fact that Gary was the son of Jerry Lewis, so how could you take this stuff seriously. But Gary was no Dino, Desi and Billy; the band kicked out seven Top Ten hits in two years (!) and this new collection reveals how much great stuff you never got to hear. Wiki.

The McCoys: The band that spawned Rick Derringer had an immediate hit with the iconic “Hang On Sloopy” and never hit #1 again, but their singles included covers of “Fever”, “Come On Let’s Go” and the underrated “Don’t Worry Mother”. Great stuff on the albums, too; “Mr. Summer” is an unknown wonder. The core of the band would up backing Johnny Winter during his transition from Texas bluesman to arena rocker.  Wiki.

The Buckinghams: Another band whose hits came fast and furious and then they were gone. Catchy songs that added horns and time changes resulting in songs more progressive than most. Sometimes it didn’t work out (the middle section in the expanded version of  “Susan” doesn’t age well) but Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears leveraged some of these tricks in their arrangements. Still  kicking today. Wiki.

The Grass Roots: Not certain why they never get included in the discussion of great groups of the era. Like The Turtles, they recorded the work of great songwriters (P.F. Sloan was even an original member) and had a string of radio hits that extended into the 70s. The songs were not only ear candy but many were socially observant, and they featured a great lead singer in Rob Grill. And yes, that’s Creed Bratton from The Office on guitar.  Wiki.

Paul Revere and the Raiders: Started as a raucous garage band in the Pacific Northwest, launched into America’s living room on an iconic television program and parlayed the opportunity into a string of hit singles, yet those costumes they became famous for led many to dismiss them as cartoonish wannabees. Wrong! Mark Lindsay’s looks got them onto teen magazines but singles like “Kicks”, “Hungry”, “Just Like Me” and the dynamic “Him or Me” cemented their legend. Wiki.

The Box Tops: I’m still amazed how powerful “The Letter” is forty years later, especially for a song that didn’t even hit the two minute mark. And while “Cry Like a Baby” was their only other Top Ten, that only scratched the surface of this great band. “Neon Rainbow”, “Soul Deep”, “Sweet Cream Ladies”…Alex Chilton would reinvent himself with Big Star and time has proven just how valuable Dan Penn, Wayne Thompson, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman were to have around. Soul Deep was not only a great song, but a perfect description of the band.  Wiki.

The Troggs: Another band often mistakenly dismissed as a one or two hit wonder, they had several great sides. And as anthemic as “Wild Thing” might be, “With a Girl Like You”, “Love is All Around”, “All of the Time” and “I Can’t Control Myself” are superior songs. A great blend of garage band and druggy music with Reg Presley’s nasal sneer the icing on the cake. (Also famous, of course, for  the legendary taped argument where one member suggests that a track needs a little more fairy dust on it). Wiki 

Mitch Ryder: Mitch and The Detroit Wheels burned like a comet and recorded arguably the hottest rock’n’roll single of all time in “Devil With a Blue Dress / Good Golly Miss Molly”. Bad management and naive decisions broke the band up within a couple of years, but they had a few great singles and recorded a treasure trove of killer rave-ups. Most don’t know that Ryder continued to make great albums over the next forty years because he gets no airplay. (Hell, even his Wikipedia page isn’t up to date). Wiki.

The 1910 Fruitgum Company: Yeah, I know it’s a bubblegum group, but I will unashamedly put “Indian Giver” out there as one of the best singles of the late ’60s. “Simon Says”, “1-2-3 Red Light” and “Special Delivery” all got serious spin time at my house and remain irresistable hooks. Listen – if Joan Jett covers your song, you’ve passed the cool test. Wiki.

peacefinger

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R.I.P. Ellie, Larry, Ted, Dominick…

I never intended R.I.P. to be a regular feature. Damned if life isn’t forcing my hand.

I’m not one who obsesses over calendars; I don’t have a list of who was born when and who died on any day, but I do have a couple of websites that are easily checked on occasion. The idea about the feature – and in fact the focus of some of the first columns – was to reminisce about artists who impacted my life greatly, like Rory Gallagher, Ronnie Lane and Frank Zappa. Being of a certain age, I sometimes take for granted that everyone is as familiar with these artists as I am, or at least has had the opportunity presented to them to be. Apparently nothing could be further from the truth.

And I guess because I did grow up following these artists and collecting their work, I shouldn’t be surprised that some of them are now leaving this mortal coil. Sure, we still lose too many too soon, but no one can say that Les Paul didn’t have a blue ticket ride on this Earth. But from my vantage point, late 60s is far from old age, and that’s when Larry Knechtel and Ellie Greenwich got the call.

Words plus music equals magic

Words plus music equals magic

Ellie Greenwich – where does one even start? As part of the Brill Building sound she – along with husband Jeff Barry –  gave us some of the greatest rock’n’roll songs ever written. Frankly, some of the bands you revere might not have been in your windshield without her. Hell, Brian Wilson admits that his entire being is merely a byproduct of “Be My Baby” (arguably the greatest pop song ever…and certainly in the upper echelon of anyone’s list). It’s sad that she doesn’t have the public recognition that some of the artists she helped make famous have. From The Ronnettes to The Ramones, from “Chapel Of Love” to “It’s My Party” to “I Can Hear Music”…Ellie Greenwich was rock royalty.

Larry Knechtel might not be a household name, but I’ll bet his handiwork is in your house. Own any albums by Simon & GarfunkelThe Beach Boys, The Doors or The Mamas & Papas? How about Elvis Presley’s famous ’68 special? Fan of Duane Eddy? You’ve at least heard of Bread, yes? Well, that’s musician extraordinaire Larry Knechtel on bass and/or keyboards; an intregal part of Phil Spector sessions that we now know as the Wall Of Sound as a member of the famous Wrecking Crew. Like Ellie, almost 70.

Of course I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ted Kennedy, although this is a date I thought I saw coming many times before. I don’t politicize in the Prescription, and certainly there are a thousand in-depth articles that you will be able to read about the man, so I won’t expound on his faults or his gifts. But for someone who grew up in the Kennedy Era, who cringed and wept and feared for our country when Jack, and later Bobby, were assassinated, this is truly the end of a political dynasty, at least at Camelot levels. Yes, children and grandchildren remain, and we may yet see another Kennedy aspire to the upper ranks of politics, but that will be a sequel, not another chapter.

In a related passing, Dominick Dunne was also familiar with loss – his daughter’s murder resulted in a career pivot that saw this social observer become a watchdog for justice, albeit from a sideline seat. Perhaps his wealth and celebrity standing gave him a pulpit others would never have gotten, but in a society where Nancy Grace is taken seriously I prefer to think of his endeavors as an attempt to hold the famous accountable for their actions. At least his motivation was not as blatantly myopic as that of the former prosecutor.

I Can Hear Music...and thanks to these musicians, I want to.

I Can Hear Music...and thanks to these musicians, I want to.

I should mention that although I was aware of Knetchel’s passing the day it occured, I did not want to make it the headline of the day. I figured I’d drop a relevant post-script into another piece during the week as a way of paying my respects. However, when the number of famous names passing in but a few short days skyrocketed and I decided to air another obituary, I certainly did not want to omit him. Please know he is not an afterthought; I have great respect for his work.

But keeping up with the bad news has been daunting. We’re not quite two-thirds of the way through 2009 and already the losses have been staggering. Many of us have suffered our own personal losses as well.

If nothing else, this week is another reminder that life is short and unpredictable. No grudge is worth keeping. No warm feelings toward someone are worth hiding. No card or letter or email or call is worth putting off. Don’t procrastinate. Because you can’t take your love and warmth and appreciation with you…you must share it.

Peace.

Ellie Greenwich website.

Larry Knechtel website

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