Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Ever Tried I Don't Know

It is a rare day indeed when a fresh young band releases a record that gets my attention. While visiting my local record store (the fantabulous Music Millenium in Portland, OR) I caught a few songs playing over the store PA. And this incredibly odd and wonderful feeling hit me - was I hearing a never released recording by The Nazz? Or was it a lost 60's psych band with a penchant for sounding like the Beatles circa '66. A giddy feeling took over me and I just had to know what was being played.

So I trucked over to the service desk and looked at the CD.... and see that it is Innerspeaker by Tame Impala. Who the hell was this? I asked an attentive staff member and he mentioned that they were a new band from Australia. Based on what I had heard I purchased the CD, rejoiced as I listened on my car stereo on the trip home. Upon arrival I immediately looked them up on the internet. These young men are barely out of their teens. And sure enough they hail from Perth - way over on the lost coast!

Repeated listenings have only cemented my opinion that these guys have the goods. Not only because I hear echoes of Todd Rundgren, early Pink Floyd, Revolver-era John Lennon, but because they pull together elements of sixties power pop and infuse them with a psych-trance groove in a wicked stew that is totally original in conception.

Choosing a tune to post for this blog was tough but I went with the number that first caught my attention in the store - Desire Be Desire Go. The initial guitar riff is spell-binding with its circular motion. When the middle section comes in with "Everyday..." I swear I hear Mr. McCartney. Goodness - the guitar sound with layers of feedback is just so delicious.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tell me what you're after

Michael Brown is a pianist/songwriter who wrote two amazing hits for his first band the Left Banke - Pretty Ballerina and Walk Away Renee. And in fact just about everything he wrote for that band is top notch. His father was a violinist and Michael often added string arrangements to his songs, lending the "baroque pop" moniker to the Left Banke.

Several years after leaving the band his father introduced him to Ian Lloyd, a singer who was the son of a colleague. They formed a band known as The Stories and released two albums of classical-tinged rock. Michael left the band just as their record company foisted upon them what would become their only radio hit, the despicable Brother Louie. The band soldiered on for one more LP without Mr. Brown, but without his keyboard magic they faded into oblivion.

Those first two albums have a high percentage of listenable Beatlesque pop-rock and some killer string arrangements. Here is Please Please from their second LP About Us. That heavily reverbed piano opening is just so lovely.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Distorted view, see through baby blue

I came late for the party. The Pink Floyd party that is. And even then it was only that wacky, hallucinogenic early period that ever caught my fancy. I expended considerable effort to gain some enjoyment from their 70s heyday recordings, but frankly it all still leaves me cold. But that early Syd Barrett material is another story. Especially those first three singles released before Syd's internal psychic battle resulted in his departure from the band. Arnold Layne beat the Kinks to the tranvestite-themed punch by three years. Needless to say it never garned any US airplay, but what a wonderful little trippy tune it is, along with its witty description of Arnold's predilection for stealing women's undergarments from a clothes line.

As for Syd, he managed to record a couple of solo albums before his internal demons rendered him unable to continue. One of the off kilter tunes from The Madcap Laughs - his first LP - is also a personal favorite. When I listen I imagine an acoustic Kinks song with chord changes inspired by Charles Ives and a lyric that is so obtuse that even John Lennon would be in awe. Ladies and gentlemen, please leave us here to close our eyes to the Octopus ride:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Knitting while blindfolded

I figured it was time I got around to posting about John Lennon, as Macca has received plenty of attention on my blog in the past. It is not that I like one more than the other. To the contrary, when John was "on" - and from '64-'67 he could do no wrong in my book - he was the superior songwriter of the two. There was often an introspective sadness to his middle period Beatles output, including the three little masterpieces that kick off Beatles For Sale. When he kicked off his solo career in 1970 however, his first successful shot out of the gate became for me one of the happiest, most uplifting, and downright kick ass radio hits of my youth. Instant Karma espouses a do-it-yourself personal rebuilding program. Perhaps he wrote the song to himself as an antidote for the awful debacle of the disintegration of the Beatles. But the happy vibe, the cosmic lyrics, and the twin pummels of the piano and the drumming created a sound that was never really duplicated by anyone.

I love this song in a way that verges on being unhealthy. Back in the day it got me through some tough times and I will forever be indebted to John for writing it.

Speaking of John and the Beatles, there is an amazing thread over at Hey Dullblog that started out as discussion of "favorite" unreleased Beatles tracks but went sidewise into a psychological discussion of John and his relationship with his former bandmates. Although I do not agree with everything written the discussion is lively and left me pondering for days.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Macca

I would be remiss to bypass a birthday greeting to Paul McCartney who turned 69 today. My passion for pop music was fueled by The Beatles. To this day their music is an integral part of my heart and soul. But this day belongs to Paul alone, so I picked an old chestnut from his magnificent second solo album Ram. Too Many People was seen by some - including Mr. Lennon - as a poke at his former bandmate. Even if it is true, the poke was understated and good humored. Certainly nowhere nearly as offensive as the attacks that were made against him back in the early days after the breakup.

Regardless, Too Many People is a little Beatlesque treasure, with the prerequisite awesome bass line, Linda's simple harmonies, and a guitar solo that never ceases to amaze me. When Ram was released I was somewhat underwhelmed. But over the years it has grown and grown to the point that I now rank it with Band on the Run as Paul's finest post-Beatles work.

Happy birthday Mr. McCartney - your music has made me smile for 47 years and I am still counting.

Monday, June 13, 2011

More than meets the eye

The other day I was chatting with a friend about pop songs with string quartet accompaniment, and way in the back of my mind I remembered a song of the utmost loveliness. As the final song on the Bangles first full length LP All Over the Place from 1984, More Than Meets The Eye walks a fine line, veering ever so slightly towards baroque pop. Their harmony work is absolutely stunning, but the real clincher for me is the coda - just an acoustic guitar and the quartet weaving in and out.

Why they never ventured down this road again is likely the fault of the record company. With their next album their sound went 80's top 40 and a lot of promise was lost for eternity. But bless them for getting this on vinyl first.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Goin' to Louisiana

Folks have been "borrowing" melodies for ages, from Bach to John Lennon. But perhaps the most outrageous steal involves today's post subject. The Big Three - an early sixties folk group consisting of Mama Cass, Tim Rose, and Jim Hendricks - took Stephen Foster's Old Susanna and wrote an entirely different melody and harmony, calling it The Banjo Song. So give a listen and be amazed at how not just the melody, but even the guitar lick was reused for a chart-topping hit from 1969. I am not naming names but every person alive over 45 should figure it out quickly.

And I have to say that it is wonderful to discover new music (to me) with Mama Cass's great voice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When you see some puddles on the ground

What pop single from the late 60s starts with an awesome acoustic guitar lick, the most ferocious hand claps ever recorded, contains delicious vocal harmonies to extremely bitter lyrics, and ends with a sitar freakout? Why Carpet Man from the Fifth Dimension's Magic Garden LP, of course! Also released as a 45 rpm single on Soul City Records #762, debuted 2/3/68 and peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Another Jimmy Webb gem wherein the upbeat melodies attempt to hide the intense pain of the subject matter.

I would think you'd get tired of hurtin'
Every now and then
It's no good down there that's for certain
And carpets do get thin
And that's when they have to be thrown away
That's what she'll say to herself some sunny day
And she'll say come to my wedding and of course you do
And then the groom and her will have a dance on you
She walks all over you
You know she can, she knows she can
You're a carpet man