Sunday, September 12, 2010

Don't ask any questions, you won't get an answer

Here is another in a series of songs that appeared on 45rpm in a radically different version from that on the LP. At the time of their breakout hit Stuck In the Middle With You in 1972, Stealers Wheel went through a massive personnel transformation. First off, one of the primary songwriters - Gerry Rafferty - had already left the band. A replacement came in so that the band could tour to take advantage of their radio hit. Then Rafferty came back, all ancillary members left, leaving only Rafferty and the other songwriter - Joe Egan - to soldier on. They release Everyone's Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine as their next single.

The song has a wonderful loping tempo, Beatlesque duo harmonies, perfect little guitar/sitar interjections, and a killer faux-raga interlude with lovely harmonies. As excellent as this song is - and mark my words, it is a nearly perfect single (see my top 100 list for criteria) - it did not catch on with the public and was never released on a followup LP. Meanwhile Rafferty and Egan put out a second LP with a completely different rendition of the song. Slow, plodding, and missing all of those little flourishes that made the single so wonderful. To this day the single version has never been released on CD.

Moving through the city, making all the rounds
Trying different places, didn't like the faces (oh no, oh no)
Rollin' in the gutter, throwin' up my pride
Belly full of whiskey, was it hard to swallow (oh no, oh no)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Happy coursing through my veins

Back in the days of music videos (remember when you could actually hear music on MTV?) I would often stay up late to catch 120 Minutes. It was my refuge from the hair metal and power ballads being touted on that network in the early 90s. Nearly every episode contained a song or two that inspired me to head out to buy a new CD.

De-Luxe by Lush is one of those tunes that drilled itself into my brain on first listen. I knew nothing about the band at that time, and I came home empty handed from the record store after attempting to score this song on CD. As it turns out it was released on a hard-to-find EP and as a promo single. Years later I finally found it on a "best of" CD.

This is exactly the kind of out-of-nowhere song that hits me upside the head. Alternating meters, jangly guitars, and sweet vocal harmonies. The lyrics - how can I say this gracefully - are dripping with sexual metaphors and imagery. But the insistent beat and the swirling guitar layers take me off to a very happy place whenever I hear this song.

When we're wrapped in polythene
What's that supposed to mean
Paper flowers bring me luck
No birds in sight I fear
Stick sticks in you my dear
When I'm up you're coming down

Skip's Song

I have been a fan of that first great Moby Grape LP for years, but only just discovered the song Seeing last year. It was never quite finished by Skip Spence before his departure from the group in 1968 after ingesting large amounts of hallucinogens. The remaining band members finished the song for inclusion on Moby Grape '69.

This song haunts me. It stays in my head for days. I cannot really say why. It just does.

If you'd seen the naked dream
I had of you
Would you care
And would you now come through?

Take me far away
My miles and mind can't beat the dream of death today
Hard to get by
When what greets my eyes takes my breath away

In my dream you are around the stars
I watched your walls all fall away
You were bare of thoughts, we were to part
And we stayed that way

Some try to hide because they lied
They were not true, they were afraid
And they refuse to see or be free
Be on to the gods they prayed

Ahh, save me, save me, save me, save me
save me, save me, save me
I'll save you, can I spend you?

And now this naked dream
I had of you
And will you care
And will you now come through?

Take me far away
My miles and mind can't beat the dream of death today
Oh, no, hard to get by
When what greets my eyes takes my breath away

Oh, cryin', save me, save me, save me, save me
save me, save me, save me
I'll save you, can I spend you?

-- Alexander Lee Spence

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Girls Are Back In Town

I am not about to harsh anyone's mellow with today's post. Back in the summer of 1974 I was between my college freshman and sophomore year, living on my own, and hanging with a new crop of friends. On occasion we would boogie up US 81 to Wichita to hit the bars and spend Sunday afternoons at the city park along the Little Arkansas River.

David was one of my buddies and he drove a hot orange muscle car. I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon on a return trip home. He had his swanky car stereo radio tuned to a top 40 station and three songs by female vocalists were played consecutively. All three were to be big hits. In the case of today's tune, it was that artist's biggest radio hit.

So what were the songs? I love them all but fully expect some groans related to at least one. First was Anne Murray's version of the Beatle's You Won't See Me. Believe it or not I was unfamiliar with that great McCartney tune from Rubber Soul. Ms. Murray's version pales in comparison, but the arrangement really isn't too bad and she had a nice voice that suited it well. Next up was Maria Muldaur and Midnight At the Oasis. The lyrics are as corny as all get-out but I have a real soft spot for this song. Maria has an unmistakable voice and her odd phrasing is frankly quite sexy. Plus the short guitar solo is quite tasty.

So my favorite of the batch? Hands down - Help Me by Joni Mitchell. Joni was entering a very jazz-inflected phase and the amazing procession of odd tunings and 11th chords ushered this song right up into the top ten. This was my introduction to her work and soon afterwards I had worked my way back through her catalog. Certainly not the Canadian folky sound of her earlier work, but it was a breath of fresh air in that summer of '74 and still brings a big smile to my face whenever I listen to it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

You've got your cue line and a handful of 'ludes

Opinions vary on the genuineness of David Bowie as a rock'n'roller. For me it is not so much a question of his theatrics. Nor is it a matter of his chameleon like qualities, shifting from the long haired hippy in a man-dress to an alien rocker to the thin white duke, etc. It all comes down to the music. There are big swaths of his career that lay outside my area of interest, but from 1970 to 1980 he turned out a string of songs - both for himself and for others - that I believe are essential listening.

In 1974 he released Rebel Rebel as a single from the upcoming Diamond Dogs LP. In the spirt of the Kink's Lola, it is a real gender bender - "You've got your mother in a whirl, cause she's not sure if you are a boy or a girl". In the USA the 45rpm release was a completely different production than on the album and on the UK single. The tempo is a bit faster, there are wonderful phased vocal harmonies, the run time is 1:20 shorter, and the mix is absolutely on fire. The US single version is very hard to find. My brother bought the single back in the day, and I finally found it on the Sounds & Vision box set. Some obliging soul has put it up on YouTube, so I suggest you give it a listen. It really rocks my sock off.

And a favorite memory from the olden days - I saw a punk band from Pine Bluff, Arkansas perform this song at the Blue Grotto club on S. Main in uptown Tulsa in 1980. Priceless!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thinking 'bout what to say and I can't find the lines

Back Of A Car is perhaps the quintessential power pop song. Frequent commenter and fellow blogger Who Am Us Anyway recently had a post about Memphis. It made me realize I have never written about Big Star. I am still reeling at the death of Alex Chilton earlier this year. There are no words I could write that would express my deep admiration and appreciation for the short but unique legacy left by that band.

I promise not to write much as the music speaks for itself, but I want to mention that Back Of A Car proves that counterpoint (that amazing guitar work) is just as necessary in rock as it was to 17th century baroque music.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beatles minus one

Back in the late 70s after Apple Records was dissolved, some bright entrepreneur put all of the remaining Apple LPs and singles on sale via mail order. I was a total Beatles nut by that point so I ordered nearly every single I could get my hands on. A good portion of the non-Beatles singles were heinous, but there were definitely some surprises. Ronnie Spector's Try Some Buy Some (a George Harrison tune) from 1971 is really quite lovely and epic. There is a wonderful early James Taylor song - Carolina in My Mind. And of course Badfinger - all of which rules my world.

One tune really knocked me out. George Harrison wrote Sour Milk Sea around the time of the White Album. There is even a rough demo out there with the Fab Four performing it. But alas like so many Harrison songs, this one was never to be part of the offical Beatle's canon. Instead he gave it to Jackie Lomax, an up-and-coming singer who was signed to Apple early on. It was released as a single in the US and UK in 1968. Apparently it sank without a trace.

On the recording you will find George on guitar, Paul on bass, and Ringo on drums. Nicki Hopkins tickles the ivories and Eric Clapton joins George with some blistering licks. It has a "sound" that really works for me. Deep and heavy, with lots of reverb. With Paul and Ringo holding down the rhythm section, how could it not be good?