Tag Archives: The Rolling Stones

Not Even Almost Famous

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past two days about the Todd Snider piece, some from long time fans glad to high-five another, some from people who hadn’t heard anything of his later stuff and were thankful for the kick in the ass (you’re welcome!).

Emails like that always put a smile on my face. Although I’ve been writing for years I’m not delusional enough to think that my words set off beacons across the globe. I’m not even almost famous. But I do know that a lot of people are followers and loyal readers; some comment publicly while others drop a private message. And I do it not for the money or the fame, but because this is just another format in which I get to discuss music and film and comedy that I like, just like I’ve done all my life with my friends.

And it’s a passion I will most likely take to my grave. I still participate in mixtape swaps and share tips about new discoveries. Emailing a link to a great video in 2011 is almost as much fun as showing up at Brian’s house with the first Black Sabbath album, or the day Phil, Larry and I sat around the living room at Bristol Place getting our minds blown by My Aim Is True.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of artists over the years, and with the better ones – the ones who have conversations, not just talk to plug product – the subject often turns to collecting music and favorite artists that are underappreciated. I’ve found that in almost every case, that spirit of discovery still looms large in their heart, and the child-like enthusiasm for sharing the passion has never left them.

I thought this exchange from a 2002 interview with Peter Wolf captures it about as well as it can be. Despite worldwide game, Pete still loves to have friends over and spin records in an effort to turn someone on to a new song or artist. He lives for it. Me too.

Peter: The thing is, I don’t consider myself a historian or a record collector. I just consider myself a fan. There are people who will expound on this or that, but I just consider myself a fan. I still go see bands do this or that, grab the new Beck record, keeping up and seeing what’s coming down the pike, be it The White Stripes or The Hives, or going to see James Cotton. I’m interested in all of it.

Me: Well, that’s like why I started writing. I had this need…it wasn’t so much that “I know more about music than you do and I’m going to write about it to prove it.” More that I dig music so much and I love to write about it in hopes that someone reads it and gets the charge that I’m getting. Maybe they’ve never heard of who I’m writing about but the way I describe it gets them interested, and they play a record that they wouldn’t have played, and they get that same…bolt that I did when I first heard it. And then they turn somebody else onto it, and it goes on from there. That’s the big thing. I don’t get that immediate feedback that an artist gets through applause, or the validation that might be measured in sales, sometimes it’s just out there in the void. Did anyone read that? Did anyone give a shit? Or did somebody’s life change because they picked up a John Hiatt record or a Del Lords record after I wrote about it and say “Oh my God…

Peter: Did you like the movie Almost Famous?

Me: I thought that was about my life.

Peter: Yeah, yeah…I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular than it was. I thought it really kind of focused in, for somebody who would be fifteen now, on a mythic era. Or for someone who’d be thirty-five now, or fifty-five! I thought it really captured…it was a sort of valentine to the whole love of music and the records and the sacredness of it, and the innocence of it. And the exploitation of it! I thought it was a really well put-together movie.

There’s a lot of people who bitch about the current state of music and how there aren’t any good bands anymore. I don’t think that’s true, but I do agree that the shifts in popular culture mean that many bands don’t have the outlet that they once did. There are probably some great bands trying to get a foothold, and the radio doesn’t care about them nor does the record industry. But somewhere, a bunch of people are groovin’ to them every Friday night.

So you have two choices. Bitch about the past and do nothing about it…and sound like your parents when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came out. Or follow Peter Wolf’s example, and share your knowledge and your passion and your information as much as you can. Have an old school record party. Write a blog. Make some mixtapes.

Pay it forward.

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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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Taxman, Mr. Thief

Taxman

It’s Only Money, Tyrone

Broke Down and Busted

Money Talks

Salt of the Earth

I’m still broke, but at least I feel better now.

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Under The Radar: The Shys

Most bands get all sorts of undeserved comparative hype. While I am usually guilty of “sounds like” relationships in my reviews, I feel that without them it would be more difficult to communicate the specific sound or direction of the band (if limited to more general terms). But I am flooded with press releases that make such outlandish comparisons that they are merely laughable. The new variation on that theme is to be so patently obscure in your references to appear hip. But the downside of that is communicating so little worthwhile information that the bio is of no use whatsoever.

But you have to admit that a band billed like this is worth a listen:

“California’s Shys are a blistering four-piece featuring Iggy style vox and hints of all the Stones: the Rolling Stones, Stone Roses, and Sly And The Family Stone.”

I really liked this album, as well as their follow-up You’ll Never Understand This Band The Way I Do. I’ll save the references for that one for another time, but here’s my review of Astoria from Pop Culture Press in 2007:

The opening track “Never Gonna Die” kicks off with a blast of ringing guitars and Keith Moon-like drums, transporting the listener to England circa 1977. But although a comparison to the melodic pub punk of bands like The Boys wouldn’t be out of line, these sounds are being made by a band in their early twenties…from California? Vocalist Kyle Krone wraps his throaty Iggy vocals around an album full of strong material, albeit heavily influenced by a myriad of other bands.

“Call in the Cavalry” brazenly swipes a riff and drumbeat from the White Stripes but grows it from there, ditto “Alive Transmission” (“Search and Destroy” meets “Undercover of the Night”) and the Ian Hunter drenched “Waiting on the Sun”. The title track is a Clash-like stomp that builds and recedes like a violent tide. And while they may cop some modern bands, the guitar work is steeped in seventies rock, which makes tracks like “The Resistance” much more than a nod to Oasis. A very, very strong debut.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

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New Album! The Parties

Not quite brand new, but hopefully new to you..

Maybe it was the personnel turnover, maybe the effort to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, but whatever the motivation, Coast Garde is a solid step forward for The Parties. Sounding at times like a merger between Let’s Active and The Three O’Clock, the jangle-pop, harmony-laden album also boasts some primal early Who and Stones DNA for muscle. It’s a great combination that grounds the more ethereal elements with substance, elevating what could be sing-along pop songs into something more substantial. 

Video: The Parties Much Better” (live)

Can’t Seem To Get My Mind Off Of You” is so catchy it could make a bus full of strangers sing along in unison; it’s a sixties AM radio formula repurposed through a current filter. Ditto “The Target Smiles”, a piano pop melody that Paul McCartney would have likely slotted on an album circa Ram. And tell me “Leavin The Light On” wouldn’t have been a smash for The Hollies. But the most impressive bit is the three-part “Suite”, clocking in at over seven minutes and incorporating everything from Kinks references and Byrdsian chord changes to Stones horn riffs and Who-like anthemic flourishes.

Don’t misunderstand – this is way more ambitious than it is derivative, and it’s persistently listenable. If you like the references you’ll love the album.

Listen to clips at Amazon

The Parties on MySpace

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #6

The words “country blues” get thrown around a lot; I do it myself when describing music from Steve Earle to the apex of the Rolling Stones catalogue (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, Sticky  Fingers). But my god, when the form gets attacked by a band featuring a singer with the pipes of Teal Collins and a guitarist with the amazing chops of Josh Zee, the phrase redefines itself. This is flat-out goosebump material. I don’t recall witnessing Janis Joplin jamming with Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but I imagine it might have gone down something like this:

Video: “Love Me Like A Man

The Mother Truckers are an incendiary band from Austin who just keep getting better and better. Last year “Dynamite” was my favorite song of the year, and there were three or four on Van Tour that could have made my top ten this year (if I didn’t concede the whole thing to Ce Lo Green). I mean, listen to this guy shred and this girl wail!

Video: “Dynamite

Van Tour, their fourth release, is a concept album of sorts; on the surface there are surreal songs about aliens and invasions, but it’s just a framework for honky tonk cowpunk, roots rock stompers and a master class in getting your jaw to drop. The Mother Truckers ferociously blend Americana, Patsy Cline and classic fingerpicking roadhouse hoedown with the force of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. But when Collins wants to get all sweet’n’low, she can simmer a ballad or blues song as well as just about anyone (listen to “Keep It Simple” – it  made my spine sweat!) And if Zee didn’t just launch himself onto your short list of great guitar players, well…

This is first-rate chops-meets-attitude. Van Tour might be their best yet.

Listen to clips on Amazon

Video: “Alien Girl” from Van Tour

The Mother Truckers on MySpace

Zep-KISSing “Hot Legs” and making it sound legit.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #7

The Sights’ newest release Most of What Follows Is True might be their best yet, and that’s saying a mouthful. Despite their relatively young age, these garage/pop/blues rockers have distilled the essence of primal garage inspirations like The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Pretty Things with a modern pop sound (many pull out a Supergrass comparison, and that’s not far off).

Video: “Rock and Roll Circus”

But it’s their versatility that slays me. “Guilty” is raucous, guttural rock’n’roll that intimates more horns that it actually contains. “Maria” is music hall crossed with sixties pop – like The Kinks and Small Faces made careers upon; shit, “Tick Talkies” all but has tap dancing in it. “Take and Take” and “How Do You Sleep” (with traces of “Tin Soldier” DNA in it) mine Freakbeat waters, and “Back To You” and “I Left My Muse“? Americana meets garage.

And can they wail? Oh yeah…”Nose to The Grindstone” closes the album with that 60s/70s FM deep track vibe that is so sorely missed today.

Video: “Nose To The Grindstone“.

The Sights are yet one more underrated American band – and from Detroit, mind you – who deserve much bigger and better things. Now a four piece (Eddie Baranek on guitar and vocals, Dave Lawson on bass and vocals, drummer Skip Denomme and Gordon Smith on guitar, keyboards and vocals), they’ve had a few changes over the years including Bobby Emmett, whose solo album was in my top ten last year.  This effort is their first studio album in five years, and it was worth the wait.

All of what follows is true

  • Their albums groove.
  • They’re Nugget-y.
  • You will play them often and loud. 
  • I highly recommend you check out their entire catalogue.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

Enlist in The Sights Army

The Sights on MySpace.

Four guys, totally fab.

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