Tag Archives: Utopia

T.G.I.F. – Ten For Todd Rundgren

Might get the chance to see Todd Rundgren again this weekend; he usually breezes through town every eighteen months or so with a different show every time. Being in a secondary market, we don’t always get the premium themed shows. Last time through he bookended a run-through of his Liars album with some classic hits, but bigger cities got a walk-thru of A Wizard A True Star.

This time I was excited to see him because he’s playing the Healing and Todd albums in their entirety…but then found out that our show is called Todd Rundgren’s Greatest Hits. That’s not exactly chopped liver, mind you, but I was looking forward to being part of a cheering throng singing the chorus of “Sons of 1984” and trying to keep up with “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song” (never could, never will). But he’ll dazzle regardless; no doubt alternating ballads and rockers (as I did below).

Regardless, Rundgren is a true rock icon. He turned sixty-three last week and shows no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping. Always a great song interpreter, his upcoming album re:Production will feature covers of songs he produced for other bands. Considering that list includes Meatloaf, The New York Dolls, XTC, Grand Funk, Rick Derringer, The Tubes and The Psychedelic Furs, this could be a lot of fun.

Yet another reason The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is a sham – one of the most prolific artists, producers and innovators of the last four decades has yet to get an invite.

But he’s in mine, so this week’s TGIF offers Ten For Todd Rundgren

(01) – I Saw The Light

(02) – The Very Last Time

(03) – Can We Still Be Friends?

(04) – Initiation

(05) – Hello It’s Me

(06) – Black Maria

(07) – We Gotta Get You A Woman

(08) – Sons of 1984

(09) – A Dream Goes On Forever

(10) – Utopia Theme

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Do Ya (Feel Lucky, Punk)?

The Powerpop Criminals are at it again…

This time it’s a thematic album composed of rock and powerpop bands covering the classic Move song, “Do Ya“. One of the all-time classics, it’s been a favorite cover tune for a lot of bands with its off-kilter verbal cadence and its anthemic sing-along chorus. Hell, if you only know the words “do ya do ya want my love?” you’re already halfway there.

Video: “Do Ya” (The Move, studio version)

Although the song was first done by The Move, it was one of its spin-off bands that made it more famous – The Electric Light Orchestra, or as they are better known, ELO. I love The Move and Roy Wood, but Jeff Lynne made a much superior version with ELO.

Video: “Do Ya” (ELO, live version from Midnight Special)

Powerpop bands gravitate to this song like moths to a flame – chunky fat power chords, opportune for great background harmonies, and a stomping beat that has serviced every rock band since the invention of the third chord.

So click here!

Included in this compilation are versions by Jason Falkner, Matthew Sweet, Ace Frehley, Yo La Tengo and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, the latter from the initial three-keyboard version of the band. (By the way, those first two albums – Utopia and Another Live – kick serious ass!)

And lest you think this is the first time someone came up with this idea, may I introduce you to the amazing Anna Borg, whose TallBoy Records issued an extended play clear vinyl single in 2002 with four bands covering the classic: Parallax Project, Kenny Howes and the Yeah, Linus of Hollywood and Einstein’s Sister. You can buy that here along with many other great releases (I highly recommend that Sugarplastic series of singles!)

So…do ya feel lucky, punk?

Do Ya?

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #5

You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.

Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.

Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.

Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?

Video: “Speed Of Life

I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.

The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.

Listen to clips on Amazon

The Grip Weeds on MySpace

Outstanding in their field.

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Meet The Beatles, Sorta

Time once again to pay homage to Angelo over at Power Pop Criminals, whose mixtapes (will someone please come up for a less cumbersome word for mix disc?) are always first-rate works of art. And that includes the art, by the way – original work always created with affection, humor and great skill.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tipped you to many of his powerpop anthologies, Beatle album tributes and collections of tribute songs. This weekend I’m recommending you check out two of his more eclectic tributes, starting with Meet The Beatlesque. We’ve all heard bands and songs that make you think of The Fab Four; pretty much any pop band around has some Beatle DNA in their bloodstream.

So where many bands cover Beatle songs outright, here we are talking about bands who are channeling their influence or building off their foundation. Angelo describes the selections as those “who have had a Beatlesque moment, whether consciously or not. Beatlesque means bearing a definite resemblance, often to a specific Beatle song. To be truly Beatlesque,a record must wear that influence openly.”

So who does that? Hmm…how about The Raspberries, Utopia, The Rutles, Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, ELO, 20-20 and The Flamin’ Groovies? That’s only a small sampling…from Disc One! Disc Two features Badfinger, Klaatu, Matthew Sweet, Cheap Trick, Emitt Rhodes, The Gurus, The Jamfifty tracks of fab between the two discs!

So click here to visit PPC and download this great collection. Enjoy!

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Blast From The Past: The New Cars

It’s Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States, but since I have to account for our society’s short-term memory (and McNugget lifestyle), today I’m only dropping back five years!

Let’s turn the Wayback Machine to my 2005 review…

Is nothing sacred? Those were the first three words out of my mouth when I heard that Todd Rundgren and two-thirds of his current band were hooking up with the lesser half of The Cars to exhume the Boston band’s legacy and (ahem) take it for a spin. But with Ben Orr resting in peace and Ric Ocasek – the face of The Cars – unwilling to sign on, how could one possibly take a new version of The Cars seriously?

A famous musician covering others is nothing new. Utopia’s Deface the Music was a brilliant take on The Beatles, but it was an album of originals, not covers. And when Todd has done the cover route, most notably on Faithful, the results have been stellar…but always under his own name. Ringo takes a few…er, ringers on the road every summer, but he doesn’t call it The Beatles. Elliot Easton, on the other hand, had no problem whoring out (*) as a member of Credence Clearwater Revisited.  (And let’s face it, without John Fogerty, what is there to revisit?) Considering the collective history of this quintet of players, they could have called themselves NazzCar or Autopia and at least had a sense of humor about it, but…no.

And the record? Mostly (cough) faithful and energetic live renditions of the Cars catalogue, the faster tunes more acceptably juiced up. Todd channels Ocasek’s vocal mannerisms for “Best Friend’s Girl” and “Shake It Up” but Sulton’s take on “Drive” is a disappointment. One new track, “Not Tonight”, is probably the poppiest thing Rundgren has written in years but is ruined by ridiculous lyrics. Does this longtime pop craftsman really think a Blackberry is good subject matter? As for the other two new tracks, they’re so forgettable that I have thankfully forgotten them already.

The set here, like the live shows, is padded with Todd songs, so the catalogue is obviously thin. Anytime a “band” has more apparel than material, you have to take them for what they are – a money grab, famous guys leaning on a legacy and going for it (read: merchandising) as an over-qualified cover band.

Cars? They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

(* ironic present day update: Greg Hawkes is a Turtle)

Judge for yourself: listen at Amazon

Five years later…I’ve probably softened on my initial reaction since then, if only for the continuing struggle that so many of my musician acquaintances endure. Can’t afford health care…their work shamelessly stolen and distributed by pirates…an entertainment industry focused solely on spectacle and tweens at the expense of a generation of living, breathing musicians.

Still hate the Blackberry idea though…

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Mixtape: Vinyl Devotion

I put this mixtape together many many years ago for a tape tree on the Audities mailing list. I look at mixtapes as something to be taken in one sitting, ideally something slapped in for a car trip where the flow of the music is the center of attention, like I’ve got one shot to program an hour on the radio to win you over. So I started going through my vinyl alphabetically; just vinyl albums – no singles, CDs, or cassettes.

Remember mixtapes? Remember vinyl?

As the people I was trading with have pretty deep roots, I avoided the obvious (ie Beatles, Big Star, Cheap Trick, etc) and went for other songs that stir my stewpot. By the time I got through the “D”s, I easily had twice as much as I needed, and that wasn’t even taking into account the 3-400 albums that were in the “to be filed” pile.

But I came up with a beauty filled with great bands and great songs. I’ve included the original track-by-track annotations that I used for Vinyl Devotion’s liner notes, and since this was in the mid 90s, some of the references will be out of date. But the music is timeless – not a tune that doesn’t stand up today.  Mixtapes were a labor of love; even the needle dropping at the start of side A was intentional.

Side A

01 THE BOYS – “First Time Out”
Since you need something to get you out of the driveway, why not something young, loud and snotty? This was quintessential New Wave pop punk. Billy Joe of Green Day probably has a Boys lunchbox. (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

02 THE ATLANTICS – “One Last Night”
If INXS were cool and they grew up on 50’s and 60’s American radio, they’d sound like this. But they weren’t, andthey didn’t, and they don’t. Singer’s a bit of a crooner, but it’s a cool song nevertheless.

03 DANCING HOODS – “She May Call You Up Tonight”
Yep, the Left Banke song. I think this version is better. I loved this band but Relativity sank like a stone and these guys with them. The singer, Bob Bortnick, is now in A&R and Mark Linkous is in Sparklehorse. Too bad.

04 THE dBs – “Working For Somebody Else”
So why does everyone hate THE SOUND OF MUSIC? I think the Holsapple era is great. This is almost Chilton-ish rock – the harmonica solo, ringing phone, and the great way Peter pronounces the word “car-REEEP”.

05 THE BEAT FARMERS – “Ridin”
God Bless the late Country Dick Montana,who was Keith Richards in chaps. The BEAT FARMERS were the best bar band ever and always kicked your ass from wall to wall. This Joey Harris tune is a nice taste. R.I.P. fellas! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

06 THE ACCELERATORS – “Two Girls In Love”
Another great band no one knows, what is it about that water in North Carolina? This band rules, but they only put out a record every five years; tho I heard they just re-formed. I love the drum sound on this song.

07 BEAT RODEO – “Just Friends”
Slowing it down, this Don Dixon/Mitch Easter production is anything but twee. Despite the cow name it’s just pure pop after all. Saw these guys live and they were absolutely wonderful. I miss songs like this.

08 DON DIXON – “Your Sister Told Me”
I’m convinced that if Motown were in North Carolina, Dixon would be Holland, Dozier and Holland. One of the many on my “how can this guy/band not be friggin’ HUGE?” list. And my hat tip to The Woods, his roots. (LINK TO A STUDIO VERSION)

09 BILLY BREMNER – “When These Shoes Were New”
The true M.V.P. of Rockpile. From the lp BASH which only his parents and I bought. Will Birch co-wrote and produced most of the songs, and it’s wall-to-wall great. I want to play piano like the guy on this track.

10 ANY TROUBLE – “The Trouble With Love”
Clive Gregson just didn’t fit in that New Wave movement, but his band put out five killer records with great songs like this. You may know his records and gigs with Christine Collister and their gigs with Richard Thompson

11 THE A’s – “Heart Of America”
From Philly, natch – is this one of the ten best rock and roll songs ever made? Mott The Hoople meets Elvis Costello and drop the gloves. Killer guitars, horn section, and the one of the most unusual solos in rock history.

12 THE CRETONES – “Real Love”
When Linda Ronstadt “went punk” that year she butchered “Alison” and two of this band’s songs; “Mad Love” is the other. This is pretty mainstream, but fun when you realize there isn’t a female voice on the record.

13 THE DUROCS – “Saving It All Up For Larry”
Try this: Brian Wilson goes sandbox, but instead of Stamos and Johnston the Beach Boys sign up Flo, Eddie, Zappa and Todd. Actually it’s Nagle and Matthews, right around the time they produced John Hiatt. Great, great record! (LINK TO VIDEO VERSION)

Side B

01 JOHN CALE – “Guts”
From the album that even Cale-haters like. Uses the words “parrot shit” and “hyperbole” in the same verse. Top that, Lou Reed! This record is known for a suicide-inducing drone version of “Heartbreak Hotel”

02 THE CRUZADOS – “Motorcycle Girl”
Tito and the boys cooking up East L.A. spunk in the days before they hooked up for gigs as Bob Dylan’s band. Bassist Tony Marsico is now with Matthew Sweet.

03 HERMAN BROOD – “Sleepin’ Bird”
My favorite Dutch ex-junkie porn star rock god, and the best rock and roll band in the world. He’s a famous painter now. Had an American hit with “Saturday Night” in 1978 but put out several searing records in Holland. Yowza! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

04 THE DRONGOS – “Overnight Bag”
Life before Crowded House in New Zealand. What a great guitar player! I wouldn’t try to make love to this song; it’s better suited for popping popcorn! Went to see them one night only to find out they broke up that afternoon.

05 THE DIRTY ANGELS – “Call My Name”
Remember in 1979/80 when everybody got signed and dressed in pastels on album covers? Well, DA had nude mannequins with missing appendages. Ah, so what. But I know the name David Hull from elsewhere.

06 THE DICTATORS – “Heartache”
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and Andy Shernoff both could write big hooks, but the underwater production buried them. Too bad. When you got past Ross The Boss’ guitar god act, these guys had some great songs!

07 CITY BOY – “I’ve Been Spun”
Jellyfish, eat your heart out. These guys could really rock, too, but were known for the unbelievable vocal harmonies. The guitar player, Mike Slamer, makes me grab the air guitar frequently over six records.

08 BLUEBELLS – “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”
No, not the Dean Martin song. You may remember “Cath” or “Syracuse University”, but I always liked this the best. One of those “why isn’t this on CD” records, but frankly most people can’t even find the vinyl!

09 THE DAVE CLARK FIVE – “Because”
Because after 33 years it’s still great. Because Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin played it at my wedding and people were breaking out in tears. Because it’s my tape. Because.

10 ARTFUL DODGER – “She’s Just My Baby”
Even Artful Dodger fans gave up by this record. While earlier records were like a poppier Rod Stewart; I hear a perfect blend of Dwight Twilley and The Records. Why was this band not a major, major hit? (LINK TO THE PROMO VIDEO)

11 MARSHALL CRENSHAW – “Rave On”
Live cut done at the drop of a hat in a Chicago station. Unbelievable how great he and the guitar sound just by themselves! So far he’s played Lennon in Beatlemania, Holly on film, and made one of the best debut records ever.

12 GARY CHARLSON BAND – “Hey Deanie” & “Go Back”
Another live in the studio gig from an incredible pop guy, these are two of my faves. Bought this based on Bruce Brodeen‘s adjectives (it’s an OLD record). So where is he now? And who the hell was this incredible drummer? (LINK TO A GARY CHARLSON MEDLEY)

13 SHAUN CASSIDY – “So Sad About Us”
Yeah, go ahead and snicker. The backup band is Todd and Utopia, and the whole album could have been called Faithful – Part Two! Messed up Shaun so badly he didn’t resurface for years, and then showed up with “American Gothic”!

 

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I Saw The Light

This guitar is weeping, but not gently

This guitar is weeping, but not gently

I saw The Wizard, the true star, although not playing the album of that name.

I saw Arena rock a hall that was not an arena. But it rocked.

I saw Prarie Prince and Kasim Sulton – two performers I’ve seen countless times over the years – deliver in spades like time had stood still.

I saw The PowerPop National Anthem played live six feet in front of me.

I saw the light in his eyes.

Do not miss this tour. I’m filing my post-concert report for Blurt, so keep your eyes peeled for the full review.

Sixty is the new forty

Sixty is the new forty

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