Sounds : New Digs

 
         

Yesterday Once More: Digging the '70s' '50s Revival

Any good student of pop-music history knows what happened in the 1970s: The broken bricks from the aesthetic street-fights of the ’60s were scooped up and mortared into a new edifice, “rock,” which housed art- and prog-rock, heavy metal, sententious singer-songwriters and gray-faced corporate music. Then, in 1976, punk arrived and blew it all up real good, reinvigorating rock ’n roll.

Well, kind of. Actually, from the dawn of the decade another force had been quietly at work, chipping away at contemporary “rock,” and its cumulative efforts may well have paved the way for punk’s paramedic arrival. This was the revival of interest in ’50s rock and pop (which, arguably, can be said to have run from 1954 to 1964). When you examine the early ’70s, a lot was going, the effect of which was to legitimize pre-Beatles rock ’n’ roll and thus challenge the notion that all the new hybrid rock forms constituted some inevitable forward motion or “growth”—which was precisely the thesis behind the Ramones-Pistols-Clash attack.

“On Oct. 18, 1969, with backing provided by an office-partition manufacturer, Richard Nader presented the first edition of his Rock ’n’ Roll Revival at New York’s Felt Forum. Headlined by Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and the Shirelles, it was a sell-out, the first of nearly a hundred since…Nader’s projection is that the Rock ’n’ Roll Revival will keep kicking along until the next direction in music arrives in 1974.” – Phonograph Record Magazine, November 1972

 
With hindsight we know that the first signs of a coming sea change were present in 1974 (proto-disco singles by the Hues Corporation and George McRae, the Ramones’ CBGB debut), but these weren’t apparent at the time. Back then the decade’s next direction looked more like Diamond Dogs or Tales from Topographic Oceans.

By ’74 the presence and impact of the ’50s revival was already six years old and growing. The phenomenon’s parents may well have been Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, whose twin 1968 projects almost appear conspiratorial. Where Zappa had been goofing on gooey teen ballads as early as 1966’s Freak Out! (the Paragons’ “Let’s Start All Over Again,” he told one interviewer, “has the unmitigated audacity to have the most moronic piano section I have ever heard”), with Cruising with Ruben & the Jets he delivered a smoochy satiric valentine to early rock ’n’ roll, using his Mothers to perpetrate such send-ups as “Fountain of Love,”  “Stuff Up the Cracks” and “Jelly Roll Gum Drop.” On Doo-Wop, its cover featuring a caricature of a hipster ’50s DJ, Barry Hansen (yet to become Demento) gathered a dozen vintage Specialty sides (Larry Williams’ Beatles-covered “Bad Boy,” Roy Montrell’s “Mellow Saxophone,” etc.) into the world’s first serious oldies compilation. Scholarship and humor jelled: Both albums earned a good deal of play on the then-new rock-FM radio.

Sixty-eight also brought such harbingers as Fats Domino’s acclaimed Fats Is Back LP and the Beatles’ first consciously retro moves (“Back in the USSR,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”). Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and Huey “Piano” Smith got covered on the Flamin’ Groovies’ Supersnazz debut, and a stretched-out version of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie-Q” was the centerpiece of the first Creedence Clearwater Revival album.

Over the next four years, rekindled interest in early rock burst into a great ball of fire, one that was continuously stoked by archeological digging in Creem and Phonograph Record Magazine and, most importantly, in new history-conscious fanzines like Who Put the Bomp. United Artists Records took Barry Hansen’s comp cue, issuing exquisite, double-LP Legendary Masters anthologies on Domino, Cochran, Jan & Dean and Ricky Nelson in 1971 (Lenny Kaye’s epochal Nuggets arrived on Elektra the following year). Sha Na Na debuted (1969), Little Richard followed Fats with a pair of comeback albums, and Dave Edmunds charted with an unlikely cover of Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking” (1970), then cut half a dozen Spectorized remakes at his Rockfield studio. (Edmunds and Andy Kim each took a crack at the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” with Kim making it into the Top 10 in 1969.)

Fleetwood Mac, in its pre-pop blues-band incarnation, was a neo-’50s force of the first order. In ’69 the group masqueraded as Earl Vince & the Valiants to wax the crypto-Ted anthem “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonite”; a year later, guitarist Jeremy delivered an eponymous solo set that flipped a finger at prevailing rock tastes by affectionately covering disparaged vanilla-teen classics by Fabian (“String A-Long”) and Johnny Restivo (“The Shape I’m In”).

By ’71 and ’72, dedicated revivalist bands had moved in from the freak fringe to deliver their own albums: Detroit’s Frut, Australia’s Daddy Cool and Michigan/California’s Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, whose’72 debut, Lost in the Ozone, threw off a hit single (a re-do of Johnny Bond’s “Hot Rod Lincoln”) and essayed a re-examination of rockabilly a full eight years before the Clash fishtailed their “Brand New Cadillac.” If 1972 saw the less than stellar return of Chuck Berry in the chart-topping “My Ding-a-Ling,” it also witnessed the rock ’n’ roll resurrection of another royal in “Burning Love.” The year produced Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” its central riff lifted from Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales” (1962), Johnny Rivers’ smash cover of Huey Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu” and the premiere of the Grease musical. Just as significantly, the mythos of early rock ’n’ roll was addressed in such disparate hits as Don McLean’s “American Pie” and B.J. Thomas’ Beach Boys-inspired “Rock and Roll Lullaby.” (Pre-Beatles elements were becoming visible in the work of more adventurous rockers too—the “primitive” riffs and modified Holly-isms of T. Rex, the stylistic nods on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.)

But 1973 was when the movement really exploded. Ground zero in terms of impact was American Graffiti. The power-shifting paean to early-’60s adolescence was a movie blockbuster whose soundtrack eventually sold 3 million copies. The film transformed Wolfman Jack into an American icon (the Wolfman-hosted Midnight Special concert series always featured a roots-rock act) and launched the ’50s-fixed Happy Days. (In 1976, Steve Barri-produced duo Pratt & McLain scored with the show’s faux-oldie theme song; Cyndi Greco did the same with the ersatz girl-group theme to sister show Laverne and Shirley, “Making Our Dreams Come True”.)

AmGraff and its spawn took ’50s/early-’60s nostalgia out of the “guilty pleasure” category for Boomers and introduced younger listeners to the joys of music before it got “heavy.” The same year that produced Dark Side of the Moon, Houses of the Holy  and Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play also threw one of the revival movement’s more creative developments into high gear: new original music created in the oldies mode, what might be termed “nouveau-retro.” The genre’s foremost practitioner – to this day – would have to be Roy Wood. With the Move, Wood had covered everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Jackie Wilson and cut ’50s-styled rockers like “California Man,” but in ’73 he unleashed his inner JD, declaring unabashed love for the rowdy/pretty old stuff on such singles as “Angel Fingers” and the extravagant Spector homages “See My Baby Jive” and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.” Robert Plant revisited his Rosie & the Originals roots in Led Zep’s “D’yer Mak’er.”

In the wake of Sha Na Na’s success, hundreds of neo-’50s groups strolled onto the scene – none, however, as imaginative as Colorado’s Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids, whose 1973 debut LP revealed them as promising adherents of nouveau-retro. The Cochran-esque “Betty Lou” was a typical FlashCad original: “Betty Lou, Betty Lou, won’t you dance with me, so I can dance with you.”

Seventy-three also returned Jerry Lee Lewis to the charts (“Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O’-Dee” from The London Sessions scraped the Top 40), put Ringo atop the Hot 100 with a remake of Johnny Burnette’s 1960 hit “You’re Sixteen” (the following year he’d almost do it again with the Platters’ “Only You”) and saw the Osmonds corner the cuddly end of the market. Donny racked up hits covering Johnny Mathis (“Twelfth of Never”), Sonny James (“Young Love”) and Jimmy Charles (“A Million to One”), while Marie grabbed gold redoing Anita Bryant’s 1960 ballad “Paper Roses.”

But the real measure of just how far the revival had advanced may have been the Carpenters’ Now & Then album. The platinum LP, which hung around Billboard’s album listings almost a year, devoted a whole side to songs, all from 1962 to 1964, by the Beach Boys, Chiffons, Crystals, Bobby Vee and others. “Yesterday Once More,” the album’s hit single, didn’t merely eulogize the bygone era as Don McLean or B.J. Thomas had; it celebrated the very revival movement itself:

Every sha-la-la-la

Every wo-wo-wo still shines

Every shing-a-ling-ling

That they’re starting to sing so fine

The next two years saw early rock more deeply saturate the mainstream. Grand Funk notched a No. 1 record with Goffin-King’s “Loco-Motion,” John Lennon released Rock ’N’ Roll, and Linda Ronstadt began a 1975-78 covers streak that posted more than seven Top-30 singles with tunes previously cut by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Betty Everett and others. Nouveau-retro prospered: First Class aped California pop on “Beach Baby,” and Flash Cadillac turned in Sons of the Beaches, an entire album of surf-and-summer sounds (thus inventing the Barracudas). Billy Swan went early-’60s on “I Can Help,” Carly Simon & James Taylor flew with Inez & Charlie Foxx’s 1963 duet “Mockingbird,” and Art Garfunkel further etherealized the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Kiss made its singles-chart debut with a reprise of Bobby Rydell’s 1959 “Kissin’ Time.” Across the pond, Pete Wingfield did mock doowop on “Eighteen with a Bullet,” and Mud saluted post-army Elvis with “The Secrets That You Keep.” Roy Wood scaled new heights with the powerfully wimpy “This Is the Story of My Love” and his full nouveau-retro set, Eddie & the Falcons.

By 1975 and 1976, ’50s/early-’60s revivalism had become, if not the dominant trend, a powerful presence in pop. John Denver, Fleetwood Mac and Physical GraffitiBorn to Run (at No. 3) sold 4 million copies. Its sound was pure Spector, its subject the loss of innocence and its second single, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” built in part upon the Orlons’ “Wah-Watusi.” The Four Seasons returned (after a seven-year hit drought), with the chart-topping “December 1963 (Oh What a Night).”  So did the Beach Boys, whose cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” anchored a new album, 15 Big Ones, which sported covers of songs made famous by Freddy Cannon, the Five Satins, Dixie Cups and others. Long before the 70s’ ’50s revival – specifically 1964 on All Summer Long – the Beach Boys had honored their forefathers, in “Do You Remember (the guys that gave us rock and roll),” a song that stood solidly in line with such heroic defenses of the music as Danny & the Juniors’ “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” and the Showmen’s “It Will Stand” and may well have inspired the Ramones’ “Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio.” took top albums honors, but

When they arrived in 1976, first-generation punk-rockers – as well as the pub-rockers who preceded them – were even more attuned to the essential charms of early rock ’n’ roll, though the mid-’60s exerted an even stronger influence. Significantly, one of the Ramones and Pistols’ main inspirations was the New York Dolls, whose 1973 and ’74 albums showed considerable affection for Bo Diddley, the Cadets (“Stranded in the Jungle”) and girl groups, as well as ’65 Stones. And, of course, the Ramones covered Bobby Freeman and the Trashmen, and the Pistols worked over Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry in their formative period. And, once punk happened, it sparked all sorts of offshoots – not just electro-punk and the dance hybrids but numerous revivals of earlier forms, most notably rockabilly, ska, Brit R&B and, later, psychedelic and garage rock.

Although the revival had peaked, the remainder of the ’70s showed the movement’s continuing strength as a repertoire source. With his 1977 interpretation of Jimmy Jones’ 1959 “Handy Man,” James Taylor began a side career in oldies covers, redoing Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” (with Simon and Garfunkel), the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof” and, with Carly Simon, the Everlys’ “Devoted to You.” Blondie did some gender transformation on a re-do of Randy & the Rainbows’ “Denise” in 1977, the same year Shaun Cassidy took his re-do of “Da Doo Ron Ron” to No. 1, and Jackson Browne sang Maurice Williams’ immortal “Stay” (1978). Around the corner in a new decade: the Stray Cats, the Pointer Sisters’ girl-group redux “He’s So Shy,” Ronstadt’s take on Little Anthony’s “Hurt So Bad” and on and on… -GS

Listening pointers:

Flash Cadillac’s Sons of the Beaches is available on CD, though, sadly not their eponymous debut or the even better sophomore set, No Face Like Chrome. Roy Wood’s solo, Wizzard and Eddie and the Falcons (which features the perfectly swinging “You Got Me Runnin’”) are all on CD, but Jeremy Spencer’s first LP is not. Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock is a worthwhile Australian import. The Guess Who’s So Long Bannatyne features Burton Cummings’ nouveau-retro doowop classic “Life in the Bloodstream,” and 2005’s soundtrack to Stubbs the Zombie has some surprisingly cool covers by, among others, Death Cab for Cutie (the Penguins’ “Earth Angel”), Ben Kweller (the Chordettes’ “Lollipop”) and the Walkmen (on the Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby,” singer Walter Martin sounds like Ian Hunter doing mock-Dylan on those early Mott records). Fleetwood Mac’s Earl Vince & the Valiants record can be found on The Immediate Singles Collection.

Intrepid wax-hunters will want to check out two delicious pop singles, Sha Na Na’s “Maybe I’m Old Fashioned” (Kama Sutra, 1974, written by Alan Gordon of Bonner & fame), from the band’s The Hot Box album, and “If I Could Only Be Your Love Again” (Mercury, 1973), written and produced by Frank Zappa for Ruben and the Jets (an actual band, not the Mothers), which also led off the group’s For Real LP.

 

GARY USHER & THE SUPER STOCKS. They should’ve been Warhol’s favorite band, these guys: early Brian Wilson collaborator Gary Usher (“409,” “In My Room,” etc.), his pals and hired L.A. session guns. The height of ad-hoc, the pinnacle of faux, the Stocks’ three 1964 LPs of Beach Boys rips exemplify the knock-off aesthetic like nothing else, except maybe AW’s Brillo boxes and P.F. Sloan’s fake Dyl on “Halloween Mary”—and that’s meant as a compliment.

To be sure, “409” and “Shut Down” are the twin templates of the whole glorious hot-rod mini-fad of ’63-’64, and hot Stockers like “Saturday’s Hero,” on School Is a Drag, and “Ballad of Bonneville,” on Thunder Road, owe their all to, respectively, “Be True to Your School” and “Spirit of America,” but there’s more going on here. These two sets (Surf Route 101 completes the trilogy) are just the best part of dozens of car- and cycle-tunes Usher generated for as many phantom groups (Knights, Kickstands, Ghouls, Silly Surfers, et. al). Listening to them, you get the sense that the pressure to churn ’em out in that chopped window between the end of Surf and the birth of Beatlemania is what makes them as exuberant as they are expedient. It’s as if Ush and lyricist Roger Christian, vocalist Richie Burns, guitar fireball Richard Podolor and the rest saw the Liverpool lorry looming in the rear-view and knew they better hurry up and put everything they had into it. Derivative? Hell yes. Divine, clutch-bustin’ rock ’n roll from the end of the first golden age? Roger.

Thunder Road may be the leader of the pack: the title-track cover of the Big Bob Mitchum song burns, as do “D/Gas Chevy” and the storming, Spectorian “Draggin’ Deuce” (dig the castanets and Leon Russell’s piano cascades), but School Is a Drag has its charms—among them the title cut (the crafty Usher changed a few words and turned the song in as “School Is a Gas” for another bogus band, the Wheel Men!) and Nilsson’s “Readin,’ Ridin’ and Racin’."

All three of these albums are out again, remastered, from Sundazed, and 1996’s Complete Recordings can still be found; it adds a half dozen instros and a two-wheeled adaptation of the BBs’ “This Car of Mine.”

Yes, he went on to produce The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the Bri Fi-inspired salon-rock of Sagittarius, but this stuff was Usher’s finest 70 minutes. Start your engines. -G.S.

More info: www.garyusher.com

THE HARD LESSONS - Gasoline. It’s hard to keep up with all the new bands laboring intently in the field these days. So when one comes up and bites me on the ear, I figure something’s got a-hold of me and it must be good. We’re surely not alone in proclaiming our affection for what’s rolling off the line in Detroit rock-city these days (see SOUNDS for our rave on the Detroit Cobras), so it’s probably no surprise that we fell head-first for this year’s model, Agostino Visocchi (guitar, vocals), Korin Louise Cox (vocals, organ) and Christophe Zajac-Denek (homicidal drumming). But man, have these guys got it! I find ’em not as hit-and-run/home-made-sounding as the DC’s but no less intense, and this gal is a SINGER. Visocchi writes all the songs, and sings in a righteous, rough-hewn, no-pretense way, but when Cox first shows up -- on “That Other Girl” –- it’s like lightning, like Pesci and Ray Liotta torching that tiki hut in Goodfellas. Yes, the pair’s vocal tag-teaming at times sounds like (a more harmonious) X, but there’s more pop, soul and less portent in these Lessons. “Share Your Vanity” is positively unstoppable, Visocchi’s singing top-drawer, and the torrid cut’s overall impression is of Chuck Berry backed by underrated ‘70s L.A. punkers the Alleycats.

On the slowed and funky “All Over This Town” and “Stop! Stop! Stop!” (the latter about a nogoodnik hubby/lover), Cox displays a slight country-ish vibe not evidenced elsewhere, and that’s cool too. The soulful, bare-bones “Love Gone Cold” favorably resembles “Call On Me,” a basic, no-bull ballad from Big Brother & the Holding Company’s debut LP, when Joplin was a member, not the dominator, of that band. "I Can’t Stand It” is faster and louder, and “Inspired/ Admired” sports a truly boss riff; the ger-tar, apparently by the Sights’ Eddie Baranek (or maybe it’s Visocchi), falls somewhere in Drake Levin/Larry Parypa territory.

On their website, the Lessons welcome visitors with what reads like a gentle disclaimer. “Thank you for your interest in Rock N’ Roll,” it reads. “If you are new to Rock N’ Roll music but feel that it might be right for you, please enjoy these songs by the Hard Lessons.” It’s as if America’s greatest cultural contribution, this wild package-liquor party to which everyone was once invited, is now a discreet taste shared among friends who need to be careful in whose company they speak its name. Which makes encountering it in a fresh new band and a record like Gasoline so thrilling.- G.S.

DEKE DICKERSON. It’d eat up too much space to list the many records he’s made under almost as many handles, but the man from Missouri continues to show me and everyone just how much affection he has for American roots music. And he’s done it with great originality, reinvigorating the surf and garage genres with Untamed Youth (see our SOUNDS chapter), ahead-of-its-time hep cornball-country with Dave & Deke, melding rockabilly with Les Paul futurism via his Ecco-fonics.

“Every day when I’m home,” he writes in the liners to his new album The Melody, “I drive past this apartment building called ‘The Melody.’ One day, it hit me -– what happened to the melody? Whatever happened to songs that stay in your head for weeks?” That one should have to fashion a concept album to refocus attention on one of the principles of all music says a lot about the current state of the art: rhythm & beats now dominate pop, with hooks, turnarounds and infectious
licks relegated to mere accent status.

The Melody does a fine job of reinstating the big M, presenting 15 performances intended to insinuate themselves into even the most casual listener’s head. As with much of Deke’s work, countrified rock ’n’ roll underscores most of the repertoire (album-opener “Broken Heart,” “Right or Wrong,” the honky-tonk original “Looks Like I’m in Trouble Again”), but there’s also cool pop-rock (Ricky Nelson could’ve scored with “Waitin’ on My Baby”), haunting modern doowop (“Love Is Like a Song”) and a tough instrumental (“Double Naught Spy”).

While The Melody is a heroic enterprise, it’s also a welcome, highly pleasurable experience. These guys (Deke, guitar; Chris Sprague, drums and piano; Jimmy Sutton, bass) make joyous sounds, effortlessly. All you need is ears. - G.S.

THE FOUR SEASONS. For some reason, the producers of Jersey Boys, the just-opened Broadway musical version of the Four Seasons’ story, thankfully omitted from the score any performance of “Grease,” “Swearin’ to God” or any ultra-late-period Frankie Valli material. It was as if, for once, somebody got it right. The actors portraying Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi stuck to the high notes: truly eccentric mid-century edifices like “Walk Like a Man,” “Dawn” and “Beggin.’”

We’ve enthused about Belleville, NJ’s big noise before (see SOUNDS), but the stage-play reopens the case on the underrated, overpowering pop quartet. On paper, this never should have worked. Three quarters of them were reformed criminals, their producer-lyricist a flamboyant gay, their chief creative (Gaudio, a more stable Brian Wilson) self-described as “the one Italian out of a hundred who’s not into the drama.” But together they made robust, irony-free super-pop, a sort of Neapolitan Spector blend that marched triumphantly from 1962’s “Sherry” through 1976’s “Who Loves You” and “December 1963 (Oh What a Night).”

In between are literally hundreds of gems-in-waiting tucked inside albums like Ain’t That a Shame and 11 Others (“Stay,” “Candy Girl,” the insouciant “Marlena”), Rag Doll (“Huggin’ My Pillow”) and 1969’s art-rocking Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (“Idaho,” “Mrs. Stately’s Garden”) and comps like Rarities, Volume 2 (“Raven”).

Part of the wonder of the Four Seasons is how many sturdy vehicles -- not unlike Motown, whose Stevie Wonder, Spinners and Temptations all cut faux-4S sides -– they were able to construct from a basic frame (Valli’s freakish falsetto, Grand Canyon drums, accordion-pleat harmonies). Their records really demand intense study by anyone remotely interested in the best pop rock ’n’ roll, and most of them are richly rewarding. -G.S.

Basic course: Anthology

Surprisingly solid cast recording: Jersey Boys

 

MINA. In 1961, a lovely ballad by the Italian singer Mina called "Il cielo in una stanza" scraped the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 for exactly one week at #90, whereupon Mina disappeared from America forever. So what? Why should anyone care? Because Mina happens to have been one of the greatest singers of the 1960s, that's why. She combined the best vocal qualities of Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Barbra Streisand - only Mina was cooler, she was sexier, and she was a bad, bad girl. Unfortunately, the English language was an obstacle she could never quite overcome (unlike Rita Pavone), so the U.S. missed out on Mina, even though she was singing in pure pop.

In 1959, the sneering Italian press labeled 19-year-old Mina Mazzini the queen of the "screamers" (i.e., rock 'n' roll singers), but they couldn't ignore her overnight success in music, TV and movies. Her first recordings were clumsy imitations of U.S. records, but she eventually revealed that she was a true rock chick extraordinaire: check out "Pij di te" (1965), her stompin' cover of Tracy Dey's "I Won't Tell," or "Ta-ra-ta-ta" (1966), an exhilarating transformation of Bernadette Carroll's "Try Your Luck," or "No" (1966), an electric-12-string collision between James Bond and "Ticket to Ride."

Mina saved her best for her love songs: "Un buco nella sabbia" (1964), a gorgeous beach ballad about a thousand times lovelier than "Johnny Angel," its closest American relative; "Io sono quel che sono" (1964) a heartbroken ballad with a bass guitar solo from the depths of Dante's Inferno; and "O l'uomo per me" (1964), Mina's insistent declaration of her love for her man, with languorous flute interludes and otherworldly harmonies in the middle eight.

But Mina's greatest achievement is "Se telefonando" (1966), composed and arranged by none other than Ennio Morricone - not quite the Wall of Sound, but certainly the Leaning Tower of Pop. The song's lyrics are in a dark Hal David mode, and the record has knockout trumpet lines, great Hal Blaine-style drumming, a driving string arrangement, a delicious ’60s Europop female chorus and, anchoring the record, subsonic trombones blowing like crazy. With Mina on top, belting her heart out on a chorus that just builds and builds, the listener is in pop heaven: Joe Meek meets Tony Hatch and Burt Bacharach. The only significant cover of this record was by the thin-voiced Françoise Hardy (in French), and her record was an anemic copy -- terribly stiff and stilted. Imagine Claudine Longet covering Dusty Springfield. Better yet, don't. Go find "Se telefonando" by Mina.

As the ’60s ended, Mina steered more and more to the middle of the road, just as her contemporaries were forced to do. She's still around today, albeit reclusive, and still recording, although she stopped performing live in the late 1970's. She is now regarded as the Queen of Italian Music, making all the other pop divas in the world look like pathetic wannabes. But as far as the Catalog of Cool is concerned, Mina is still the Queen of the Screamers.

Check out her incredibly informative website for dozens of vintage LP and single sleeves, not to mention Quick Time videos of Mina's early film and TV appearances, which must be seen to be believed -- especially the one where she breaks into song while being attacked by an alien. –Neal McCabe


Make Mina yours: Brave Mina or Studio Uno

MOTT THE HOOPLE. The dawn of the ’70s forecast a pretty dismal decade. Before the Dictators and punk erupted, the landscape was a mess, as the degenerating corpus of ’60s psyche mutated into stultifying prog, heavy metal and simpering singer-songwriters (hey, kinda like today). You could count the number of good pop rock & roll bands on one hand, maybe even Jerry Garcia’s: Big Star, Raspberries, the first Brownsville Station album— and Mott the Hoople. Their eponymously titled 1970 debut still rings with a unique charge and beauty. It’s almost as if Ian Hunter, Mick Ralphs, Overend Watts and the rest were in such a hurry to run out and play in the r&r gooveyard that they barely took time to finish their rich dinners. So fortified were they by the bread of the champions who immediately preceded them, they just went for it. It’s about hearts on sleeves big-time, the LP opening with a pulverizing instrumental take of the Kinks’ "You Really Got Me," then pouring it all out with Dylan impersonations that would give S. Bono a run for his mozzarella: the absolute genius of Hunter recognizing the latent Dyl DNA within Doug Sahm’s "Crossroads" ("You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul...")!


Then, on the very next track, they trump the Son one himself with a blazing cover of "Laugh at Me"! They follow that with Hunter’s own faux-Zim fakeout ("Backsliding Fearlessly," which has no problem bowdlerizing "The Times They Are A-Changin’").

Toss in a couple more rumbling instros ("Rabbit Foot and Toby Time," "Wrath and Wroll"), and, for the hell of it, take the Stones’ then-new molten rhythm template (it hadn’t even solidified into "Bitch" yet) as a mere jumping-off point for a blazing original ("Rock and Roll Queen"). And it’s all done with such fearsome power and innate sense of fun (despite Hunter’s penchant for twinkling piano intros, Bruce Springsteen he’s not. No pretense allowed in this room). Then it was on to Bowie, epochal Spector homages ("Roll Away the Stone" [on Hoople] and the amazing "Saturday Gigs" [on Greatest Hits) and more, where the derivative quotient dove and it all emerged as what it always was anyway, the great MTH. -P.L.

MONSTER ROCK * If asked to name the lamest holiday, I’d have to pick Halloween, a one-time kidhood event now utterly usurped by adults. How about the dopiest musical genre? Yeah, heavy metal (one of my fellow Catalog of Cool contributors called it "30 years of taking Halloween seriously"). But what’s one of the unintentionally funniest and (therefore, by some measure) coolest subgenres, one so consciously insular and programmatic that it makes hardcore punk seem like free jazz?


It’s monster rock, that school of novelty pop that flourished mostly from 1962 (Bobby "Boris" Pickett’s "Monster Mash") to 1965 (when Famous Monsters of Filmland hit its circulation peak). Its subject matter and lyric pool even more circumscribed than hot-rod rock’s (where "quarter mile" was only allowed to rhyme with "asphalt aisle"), monster rock is sheer purposeful silliness in flight: all those growling creep-show hosts, creaking coffin lids and impetuous Igors hitting unrelentingly on their 1-D riffs, it’s like James Brown’s one-chord jams or the uni-plots of all those Dukes of Hazzard episodes.


The whole school was, of course, brilliantly (and affectionately) parodied by SCTV’s Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty) of Monster Chiller Horror Theater, who perfectly "got" the goofspace: the small-market Karloffs reciting their threadbare repertoires, then gushing flop-sweat as they exhaust their lines ("Whooo! Scary, eh? Ow-oooahhhh!!!"). Indeed, the fades are where m-rock singles often hit their stride. At the close of their Gary Usher opus "Dracula’s Deuce," the Ghouls’ singer babbles mindlessly about Fang, Natasha and Boris in the broadest Lugosi accent.


Among personal favorites are Buck Owens’ late entry (1974), "It’s a Monsters Holiday" and the early Zappa single (1963) "Dear Jeepers"/"Letter from Jeepers." The former’s an ultra-catchy, characteristically economical item ("Frankenstein was the first in line, and the Wolfman came up next/ Dracula was doin’ his stuff, breathin’ down my neck") worth the price of admission for Buck’s pronunciation of the word "zombie." The latter’s a heavily scripted epistolary blues from a local L.A. spookshow host who overreads lines like ere there's a will... what's the way?" and "I must admit I was worried when you said the main course was fish-and-chips. But my fears were allayed when I discovered to my delight it was silverfish and buffalo chips!" amid gremlin laughter and bubbling-cauldron effects.

But the cornball apex of it all, to these ears, is "The Pistol Stomp," a left-of-center parody of the Dovells’ ‘61 doowop hit "The Bristol Stomp" by Philly’s "Cool Ghoul" Zacherle (now Zacherley). Among dozens of Zacherle monster-rockers (1958's "Dinner with Drac" was the progenitor of the school), this seems to transcend the genre. Zach’s post-Boris K mid-Atlantic accent makes him sound more merry than scary– like a jovial headmaster– as he speak-sings over poorly recorded gunshots. His demands of "No more rough-housing now!" do nothing to dispel the gun-crazy teens, so he advises his date to hide with him behind the Coke machine, throwing in a Floydian "Ow-oooohhh!" for no good reason. What makes it, I think, is that he’s so genuinely into the whole cheap-suit fakery and shtiklach, no matter how hackneyed and worn thin it is.

It’s that kind of appreciation for this kind of nonsense that reminds you that, by the time they recorded "The Human Fly," the Cramps had forgotten more than Marilyn Manson or Slipknot will ever know. -P.L.

OOP: Count Floyd’s EP (RCA 1982), feat. "The Gory Story of Duane & Debbie," "Treat You Like a Lady," "Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania," "Count Floyd Is Back."

Terror-filled site: www.zacherley.com.

SON OF MONSTER ROCK!
15 Silly Sick Picks To Click


Horror-schlock singles from the voluminous vampiric vaults of Dick Blackburn (above: Morgus of New Orleans' WWL-TV)

"Igor" by Zacherle (Cameo). This is the original title of "Dinner with Drac," the 1958 hit by NYC’s famed TV horror host that kicked things off, horror-schlockwise. Other cities had their own horror hosts: Ghoulardi (Cleveland), Mr. X (Detroit) , Jeepers Creepers (L.A.). Bob Jeffers recorded the Frank Zappa cult item "Dear Jeepers" b/w "Letter To Jeepers" (Donna). I knew the second Jeepers (Fred Stuthman – the actor who gets his throat slashed by Sir Larry Olivier at a subway entrance in Marathon Man). Fred was a cadaverous Anglophile who drove his beat-up Chevy around L.A., a sagging cardboard box on the backseat full of mail from precocious fanboys.

"The Monster Twist" by Tyrone A’Saurus (Warner Bros). Dumb but funny as the monster with three heads ("I’ve got my own vocal group") is interviewed. A perfectly idiotic cartoon picture sleeve accompanied this.

"Summertime" by the Thunderbirds ( Ermine). Gershwin his ownself might’ve gotten a chuckle from hearing a Bela Lugosi imitation shred his beloved standard ("Your daddy’s rich and your mother’s a vampire!").

"Vampire" Bobby Garrett (EM). Kinda R&B with gal chorus. Garrett has a great hick accent. "He’s a vaym-pie-uh!"

"The Mummy" by the Naturals (Era).A truly Bizarre rocker! Promoter sings of taking the reluctant mummy ("Put me back in my tomb") on a rock & roll tour where fans rip him to pieces.

"(It’s A) Monster’s Holiday " by Buck Owens (Capitol). "Frankenstein was the first in line/And The Wolfman came up next." They’re all here in the Buckster’s inimitable Bakersfield country rock.

"Night Of the Vampire" by the Moontrekkers ( Parlophone UK) . One of the best of countless horror instrumentals. Creaking coffin lids and screeches (plus the vinyl debut of Screaming Lord Sutch) with dead-serious spook fan Joe Meek at the controls. Also good: Sutchie’s "Till the Following Night" (HMV).

"Were-Wolf" by the Kac-Ties (Shelley). Wacked-out R&B vocal group offering. Especially notable for the use of Tarzan as a deus ex machina to rescue the lead singer ("Please don’t eat me, Mr. Werewolf!").

"At The House of Frankenstein" by Big Bee Kornegay (Go). Gravely voiced R&B rocker outta NYC. Gets the job done in fine style: "There’s a knocked-out cat by the name of Frankenstein!"

"Spookie Boogie" by Cecil Campbell’s Tennessee Ramblers (RCA). Oddly literate lyrics ("Satan rises like a pallid beast") and steel-man Campbell’s zinging strings keep this early boogie hopping. Kinda like a C&W version of the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from Disney’s Fantasia. Also good: "Haunted House Boogie" by Happy Wilson. Same bag, different label (MGM).

"Monster Holiday " by Lon Chaney, Jr (Tower). Yet another recycling of Bobby "Boris" Pickett’s beyond-classic "Monster Mash," albeit with cool Yuletide lyrics and a gen-u-ine horror star narrating. Santa gives Igor a brace, Wolfman an electric razor, etc.

"The Jungle" by Diablito (Parkway). A mocking narrator laughing evilly over relentless drums, which pursue the fleeing listener through the dense vines of this obscuro gem. "You can never escape – the jungle! Mweehahahahaha!"

"Haunted House" by Roy Buchanan (Polydor). A classic novelty rocker that inspired several answer versions. Done first on Specialty by R&B singer Johnny Fuller, later covered by Gene Simmons (the cool one) in a hit version on Hi, this is my favorite, by the late great D.C. rock & roll stringbender.

"Rockin’ Zombie" by the Crewnecks (Rhapsody). Supposedly healthy caucasoid male contemplates bopping with undead gal. Unwholesome.

"Morgus The Magnificent" by Morgus and the Ghouls (Vin). Morgus the Magnificent was New Orleans’ boss ’50s – early ’60s TV horror host on The House of Shock show. Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) was a fan; with his pals, he recorded this rockin’ trib. Morgus himself cut a very obscuro N.O. waxing on Shock Records, viz: "Scientific Experiment by Morgus The Magnificent," which relies heavily on the ever-popular "bubble machine."

"Graveyard Rock" by Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers (Meadows). Super obscure, and it delivers everything the title and artist’s name promises. The flip "King Kong" is no disappointment either.

Bonus track
Best comedy horror bit: Richard Pryor’s "Nigger Meets Dracula" ("You bettuh git yo’self to an orthodontist!").


NATHANIEL MAYER * He secured his place in the annals of rock and soul greatness with his 1962 hit “Village of Love.” And he’s just released a dynamite comeback, I Just Want to Be Held on Fat Possum Records. Too often, forgotten legends make comebacks with weaker, sanitized music. Not Nay Dog, who’s taken his churning soul sounds into a new dimension.


It’s hard to compare anything to Mayer’s ’60s recordings for Detroit’s  tiny Fortune label – including one that maybe bears the greatest song title of all time, “I Want Love and Affection (Not the House of Correction).” If Motown was “the Sound of Young America,” Fortune’s rough stuff was “the Sound of the Ghetto.” On the new set, Mayer revisits one of his prime Fortune sides, “From Now On,” and it holds up well.


What makes I Just Want to Be Held so great, like Mayer’s earlier work, is its spontaneity and edginess. The production values are sloppy and loose in a good way. Mayer’s written most of the material, and it’s strong, especially the gut-wrenching tearjerker “You Are the One.” And dig his testifying performance on “I’m in Love”; the consequences of aging and abuse here only enhance Mayer’s soulful delivery. There’s also “Stick It or Lick It,” which needs no description. “What’s Your Name” and “You Gotta Work” are insane, possessed performances. Jack Yarber from Memphis garage kings the Oblivions contributes guitar work to the excellent “Satisfied Fool.”


Mayer still knows how to turn it out live too. His show at the second annual Ponderosa Stomp (2003) was a revelation: Nay Dog is a man on a serious mission, and you owe it to yourself to check him and I Just Want to Be Held out.  – Charmin’ Larmin

More Mayer: Village of Love (import CD)
More info: www.fatpossum.com

MASON WILLIAMS * It was an Amazon customer review that gave me the hook I needed for the MW encomium I’ve longed to write. “If you want to explore some deeper 1960s culture beyond the surface hippie/ Woodstock /drug explosion,” wrote the anonymous young college student, “try Mason Williams or the Smothers Brothers. It might be quite a culture shock.” Well, yes. The one-time Texas-Oklahoma folksinger and head writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour occupied an overlooked corner of the ’60s campus. While bare-chested, bandoliered revolutionists declaimed “We are all outlaws in the eyes of Amerika!” and “They got the guns, but we got the numbers,” Williams and Brute Force practiced subtler stuff, a kind of softcore surrealism that went for the whimsical, as in the bluegrass-orchestral pomp union of “Classical Gas” or the 11 other pieces that comprise Williams’ 1968 debut, The Mason Williams Phonograph Record.


That record (accompanied by stellar Stan Cornyn notes) paired Mike Post-produced pop-rock (“All the Time,” “She’s Gone Away”) and poignant country-pop (“Long Time Blues”) with atmospheric instros (the suite-ish “Sunflower,” the sunshiny “Baroque-A-Nova”) and jokestuff (“The Prince’s Panties”). Its out-of-print successors, The Mason Williams Ear Show (1968) and Music (1969, cover by Ed Ruscha), refined the approach. Wry wit and the gentle touch color them both – as they do the dada-lite collection of poems, song fragments and photos, The Mason Williams Reading Matter (self-published in 1969, OOP but well worth the search).
Williams continued/continues to work (for the full story on his music and TV credits, the Pat Paulsen presidential campaign and more, go to www.masonwilliams.com), but it’s his performance in the final quarter of the big ’60s game, when the coaches lost control and so many out-of-uniform players crowded the field, that he tore up the creative turf, quietly and coolly. He was an idea cat with a head full of ideas driving him insane. Lucky for us he got so many down on paper and polyvinyl. -G.S.

Classically gassed best-of: Music, 1968-1971

BARRY HOLDSHIP * Among many benefits of living in L.A. is Art Fein’s annual Elvis’ birthday bash (January 8), a public gathering of the faithful at which a coterie of rockabilly cats, loungers, punkers and names (Dwight Yokam, Doug Fieger, Dave Alvin) cover a wide assortment of things by the King. For the last
several years, I’ve found Barry Holdship’s two- or three-song sets to be one of the night’s highlights. The ex-Michigan Angeleno always hits that late ’50s/early ’60s Presley pocket– you know, “Devil in Disguise,” “One Broken Heart for Sale”– and he just kills. Holdship’s latest album of original songs, Ruff Trax (Bad Axe Records), runs off that same pre-Beatlespop-rock energy. You’ll also hear jangle-folk, Del Shannon, a bit of frat (that S. Medallions quote in “Hearts Won’t Lie”), Armed Forces (the other Elvis) and a dollop of P.F. Sloan (“Nothing Means More Than This”). But the net result is always fresh, integrated, something new, rather like the work of major synthesists Bobby Fuller and Marshall Crenshaw: aware of the precedents, inspired by (uniformly cool) influences, yet
solidly their own men. If you don’t think anyone can pull off this kind of unaffected rock ’n’ roll anymore, dig “Where to From Here?,” “We’d Be Good Together” (rockabilly-meets-gum) or the instantly classic “Fractured Lullaby” and think again. -G.S.

Try some, buy some: bholdship@yahoo.com

THE GUESS WHO * Yes, we raved about them in Too Cool (see SOUNDS), but the arrival of a recent two-fer makes the case anew for these idiosyncratic Canucks. Once Randy Bachman left (1970), the band largely became Burton Cummings’ baby, which 1971's So Long Bannatyne makes abundantly clear: Nobody could beat them at hard pop-rock, but now the quirks and experimental impulses, thankfully, get pushed stage center, which makes the hit-making machine infinitely more interesting. Dig the Zappa-phonic “Goin’ a Little Crazy” (“Sneeze! How far away is the bin?”), the swingin’ shuffle “Rain Dance” (with its disturbing refrain “Where’d you get the gun, John?”) and the incontestably bizarre “One Man Army,” an anti-critic volley built around lounge-y interludes, a men’s-room conversation and fake Mexicans (“Why doan you set down wit us an’ pass a dreenk to Jumbo? He would like one”).


Nineteen-seventy-three’s #10 is a more consistent affair; Cummings’ vocals, much like Dion’s or Van Morrison’s at their best, are so deliciously chewy--like some rum-spiked taffy--it almost doesn’t matter what he’s singing. Here he’s on about groupies (“Miss Frizzy,” with a great outro that recalls both Frisco’s Charlatans and the Hollywood Argyles) and how much he hates RCA labelmate David Bowie ("Glamour Boy": “For $49,000 you can look like a woman tonight.”). Plus the melodies are strong, the band consistently soulful and rockin.’ Beyond cool, are the G-Who pop’s most underrated group? –G.S.

Best Guess: Anthology

 

FATS DOMINO * Full frontal disclosure: I recently annotated a Fats Domino reissue. I’m not here to hawk it but to pull a few coats to an underrated artist. The reason Fats Domino’s not as widely lauded as the rest of his ’50s peers is, I think, fairly clear: He doesn’t meet the main requirement of the rock canon, established (largely in the ’70s) and rigorously enforced by the rock crits: that the music or the men and women behind it be bad-asses, threatening, at odds with all established order. Hence Presley’s accredited: his sexy stage act outraged the squares, Chuck Berry flipped them off when he was indicted for violating the Mann Act, Jerry Lee Lewis mocked convention by marrying his teenaged cousin, and Gene Vincent earned points as a pioneer pill-head who medicated himself for the pain of a game leg.


Fats Domino just made terrific rock ’n’ roll records, in New Orleans: simple bluesy ballads bathed in piano triplets (“Going to the River,” “What a Price”), joyous uptempo rags (“The Fat Man,” “I’m Walkin,’” “I’m Ready”). There’s no justification for Fats Domino music. It doesn’t “mean” anything or practice a politics of pushing anyone up against a wall, mother. Like Louie Jordan’s music, it’s extremely rich in feel-good content, saturated with soul and simplicity, un-gilded. The proof’s in the grooves; start with The Fat Man: 25 Classic Performances, but also his 1968 Richard Perry-produced Fats Is Back (feat. “Lady Madonna) and, if you can find it, his Reprise single of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby?”

But it’s also in the songs, whose strength is visible in the wide variety of uses to which they’ve been put. Domino compositions have been made into searing rockabilly (the Burnette brothers’ “All By Myself”), crackling super-pop (the Four Seasons’ “Ain’t That a Shame”), babbling proto-punk (Dion & The Belmonts’ “I Can’t Go On, Rosalie”) and more (he’s probably, along with Buddy Holly, the most-covered ‘50s writer-rocker).

He’s not a rebel. But just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does, that’s no reason to keep you from the discreet pleasures of the Fat Man. They’re many and the most. -G.S.

“That clipping! Just what interest does it hold for Lizz?”

THE SMITHEREENS * Some New Jersey exports, it seems, draw far too much praise and others too little (Four Seasons, Knickerbockers). In the early ’80s deluge of punk-primed bands, it was easy (for me, at least) to overlook the Smithereens; the occasional “Girl Like You” or “Elaine” snuck through, but there was so much else to listen to. Now that there’s so much more Smithereens to listen to (the two-CD Smithereens Anthology: From Jersey It Came!), some things become clear. This unassuming quartet forged a completely unique style from timeless (mostly ’50s and ’60s) pop-rock elements. Their game is mating indestructible, often achingly beautiful melodies with crunching guitars, and their capacity for playing endless yet distinct variations on the theme (“Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Baby Be Good,” “Girl Like You”) is remarkable. But so is their willingness to undertake side trips without ever losing their grip on the wheel (string-stirred soul on “Too Much Passion,” loose-limbed rockabilly on “Much Too Much”). Higher-profile acts may have commanded more initial attention, but in the long run groups like this will turn more heads. It’s about the body of work. Home-state bonus: “Now and Then” recalls the Knickerbockers’ “High on Love.” -G.S.

MARSHALL CRENSHAW * From his eponymous 1982 debut album to last year's stunning What's In the Bag (Razor & Tie, 2003), Marshall Crenshaw hascrafted indelible melodies, sublime hooks, finely crafted lyrics and, in the process, established himself as our foremost exponent of Intelligent Pop. In fact, as the culture enthusiastically embraces the terrifying Orwellian concept of "prolefeed," where musicality and intellect are supplanted by the numbing parameters of the lowest common denominator, Crenshaw may be the Last Great American Songwriter.Novitiates should pick up Rhino's The Best Of Marshall Crenshaw: This Is Easy (Warner Archives / Rhino, 2000). Converts should click on www.marshallcrenshaw.com, commit the discography to memory, and purchase everything the maestro has ever recorded. -R.S.

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LITTLE BOB AND THE LOLLIPOPS * Getting there late can be a drag: The food’s gone, the tub ice melted and the potables depleted. But, still, you’re there.I didn’t get to Little Bob And The Lollipops until 2004, too late to have heard or seen Camile Bob and his Louisiana six-piece in their ‘60s prime. But I’m there now, solely because of the recent reissue Little Bob And The Lollipops: I Got Loaded, which showcases Bob’s original version of the title cut (I only knew it through Los Lobos’ version on How Will the Wolf Survive?) and 25 other soulful swamp-pop/R&B groovers. Stately piano triplets flow through the S. Cooke-ish “Please Believe Me,” and Bob’s vocals pour heart through every measure of the album. If not as incandescent, much of Bob’s music springs from the same place as Gino Washington’s fiery R&B (see his Norton set Out of This World), and Bob works a gait as swingin’ as Bobby Bland’s on the original “Are You Going My Way” and the Dee Clark cover “Nobody But You.” This stuff isn’t cool just because of the (late) context in which we’re hearing it, when so much contemporary music is so featureless. It’s the rill thing, now, then and tomorrow too. Load up. -G.S.

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"Hey, Daddio, make that Type O!" The '50s Cornball Cool of Nervous Norvus

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You have to wonder just what contemporary culture-makers' beef with the '50s is all about. Time and again, it seems, movies and TV are hell-bent on depicting the decade as the apex of bland, repressive, unrocking conformity. (Think Pleasantville, Far From Heaven, Mona Lisa Smile.)

If the portrayal is inaccurate and overplays certain '50s realities while consciously omitting others, this could be the reason. To keep alive the myth that modern times (the '70s onward) are terribly enlightened and progressive, a convenient straw-man is needed, some yardstick of squareness against which our age looks positively cool, calm and collectively knowing. (Beating up on the '70s and '80s has been fashionable for a while now, but it's unlikely that either era will suffer the cultural hate-crimes the '50s has.)

But, of course, the popular reductivist judgment against the '50s works only because much of the evidence was lost on the way to the courthouse. Exhibits A through Z might include the decade's righteous anger (Ginsberg's Howl) and angel-headed hipsters (Lord Buckley, Kerouac, Jazzbo Collins, Babs Gonzales) and the crockpot of ideas and experiments out of which bubbled Mad magazine, the Steve Allen Show, Ernie Kovacs, outlandish car design, pro wrestling, Sputnik and short shorts.

If there's a single liberating quality (OK, three) that the '50s had that all subsequent periods lack (excepting late-'70s punk and Bootsy Collins funk), it's reckless abandon, pure silliness and the awesome power of not taking what you do too seriously.The mass surrender to these impulses is what gave the world, in 1956 alone, "Tutti-Frutti," "Hound Dog," Buchanan & Goodman's "Flying Saucer" records and Nervous Norvus' bloody great "Transfusion."

Make no mistake: Such great works defy meaning, refute all attempts at interpretation and show why the '50s could never have abetted Sting, April Lavigne or the 567th rap "poet" bringing the news of his thug life. Back then, the official cultural-church doctrine of the Assumption of Content had not been enacted. Pop was not yet seen as a science-drop vehicle, the principal conveyance for air-lifting wisdom pearls from philosopher-songwriter shamans to the public.

But the '50s did make possible Norvus' coolly crazed nonsense. The ex-trucker Cali alky (born Charlie Drake) and his baritone uke crashed the Top 10 with "Transfusion," which Time at the time pegged "a nerve-jangling rock 'n' roll tune." Nominally a cautionary tale about the mixing of hootch and hot rods, the record is really just an excuse for loud noise and linguistic riffage ("Pour the crimson in me, Jimson!," "Pass the claret to me, Barrett!"). The record's flip, "Dig," is even better. It's a bopster's anthem, a frantic, Slim Gaillard-inspired exhortation to soar and groove: "D-I-G means gaze/ D-I-G means ogle/ D-I-G means observe/ D-I-G means goggle."

On the new Stone Age Woo: The Zorch Sounds of Nervous Norvous, the first-ever compilation of NN artistry, there's much more nuttiness--"Noon Balloon to Rangoon," "Does a Chinese Chicken Have a Pigtail?," the zoot-attired braggadocio of "The Fang," and "Ape Call," which, in one fell swoop, anticipates "Alley Oop," "Gitarzan" and "You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla" and jungle-hops to lines like "Old papa tiger was the boss of the Nile/ A sport-model cat with a solid style."

They may not make 'em like this any more, but you can still get the stuff. -G.S.

Get Nervous online @ www.aspma.com/drake.

 

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THE BRITISH INVASION REVIVAL * After the surf, lounge, garage and rockabilly revivals, Brit-beat was a natural: winsome melodies, cool uniforms and no reverb. Scotland's Kaisers are the movement's kings, having been at it for a decade. Their turf is actually pre-Invasion Hamburg Beatles: pilled-up Lennon twitching through Little Willie John covers, rhythm section joyously fast and unfunky ("Whatcha Say?" off their Beat It Up! album). L.A.'s Bangers & Mash are the newest mock mop-tops, a trio so dedicated to faux retro (wigs, phony accents, song titles like "Moon Over the Moors") that they cover the Buggs, one of the pioneer fake-Beatle acts from 1964. Their 2003 debut, Why Do They Laugh at Our Hair?, is a hilarious homage; not as broad as the Rutles, not so genre-specific that it can't include "(What You Doin') Rod McKuen," an open letter to the bard of Stanyan St. that rivals J. Richman's best little rockers. Originality has its place. So does the affectionate send-up. Fab. --P.L.

Kaisers roles: Beat It Up!; Squarehead Stomp; Twist With; Wishing Street.

 

BAJA MARIMBA BAND * It can be argued that Herb Alpert hipped up what a later age labeled "lounge music." His Tijuana Brass sides left the middle of the road for the pop side of the street, with brisk tempos, big sound (the Larry Levine-engineered "South of the Border" is virtually vocal-less Spector) and a conceptual playfulness ("Spanish Flea," the Whipped Cream cover). No less with-it were the Brass' younger siblings (and labelmates), the Baja Marimba Band, led by ex-Martin Denny vibist/Wrecking Crew percussionist Julius Wechter. In fact, BMB took the wink factor further. To conceal the fact that none of the Brass was Mexican, much less from Tijuana, LP sleeves rarely showed band members. The photo on the Bajas' first album featured nine people, in sombreros and fake moustaches--among them two women, art director Peter Whorf and A&M founders Alpert and Jerry Moss. From their second LP (1965's Rides Again) on, almost every BMB cover depicted one member, his back to the camera, taking a leak.

And the music: creamy 'Latin' takes on classics ("Moonglow"), jaunty originals ("Brasilia") and raucous novelty ("Woody Woodpecker Song," "Fowl Play"). In the manner of the Village Stompers' "Washington Square," a typical Baja trick was to start with a quiet guitar intro, then gradually add in flute, marimba, more guitar, trumpet and trombone until the tune teetered, a precarious Dixieland rockpile, braying into the fade. Delish. -G.S.

BMB on CD: Best Of The Baja Marimba Band, either the U.S. version or the import. Out-of-print vinyl: Baja Marimba Band; Baja Marimba Band Rides Again; Heads Up; Fowl Play; For Animals Only; Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

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LOS STRAITJACKETS * When asked why he stopped taking LSD, Prankster chief Ken Kesey replied, "After you get the message, you hang up the phone." One wonders why so many nouveau surf bands are still on the line (thousands, it seems, since the '90s). Especially when Los Straitjackets have got all instro action locked up like a Link Wray deadbolt. The quartet plays it fierce ("Hornet's Nest") and cool (Celine Dion's titanically slushy "My Heart Will Go On" becomes a surf-and-turf "Telstar"), and no '63-'64 combo wrote anything more beautiful than "Close To Champain." The albums are great (The Velvet Touch Of Los Straitjackets, Sing Along With Los Straitjackets--featuring, among other vocalists, Mark Lindsay), but the 'jacs live--in Mexican wrestler masks, rocking out in hilariously stiff surf-band choreography--is the realest of deals.

--G.S.

Straits site: los.straitjackets.com. More albums: Damas y Caballeros; Viva Los Straitjackets; Supersonic Guitars In 3D.

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“Meanwhile, an entirely unrelated circumstance deserves our attention for just a few seconds.”

LOS STRAITJACKETS, ROCK EN ESPANOL. Why not? Yet another cool concept disc from our fave guitar-led foursome. In the trad of 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets and Sing Along with Los Straitjackets comes Rock en Espanol, which finds the masked surfers laying it down behind a variety of singers putting forth pop and rock classics in the lovin' tongue. Especially sharp is Big Sandy's underheated yet cookin' take on Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardops" (here "Lagrimas Solitarias"), which really, if one needed it, offers substantial evidence of both vocalists' superior chops. Almost in the same league are versions of Barbara Lynn's "You'll Lose a Good Thing" ("Tu te Vas") and Art Alexander's sublime "Anna" ("Ana"). In addition to Sandy, other guest vocalists include Little Willie G of L.A.'s famed Thee Midniters (one of two pure instros here is a cover of their "Whittier Blvd.") and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, who produced the set. When it comes to constant flame-keepers, Los S have fuel aplenty--and no matches: As rock 'n' roll instrumentalists (and backing cats), they are nonpareil. -G.S

JOHN D. LOUDERMILK. Here’s an entry we should’ve made long ago. While nominally a country cat (born Durham, N.C., 1934), this hep and fantabulously flipped songwriter probably belongs alongside the great Roger Miller, or maybe next to John Sebastian and the early Cat Stevens, or perhaps beside Phil Ochs and Frank Zappa (for his twin embrace of the topical and the totally unique).

The hep and hard-to-classify John D. Loudermilk.

The latest occasion to celebrate JDL is the recent release of The Open Mind of John D. Loudermilk, a sampling from five RCA solo albums (cut between 1961 and 1969) that shines as a bright beacon of weird pop. While his overall output ranks him as one of the most diverse and dexterous tunesmiths of the pop-rock age (one of his first hits was Eddie Cochran’s “Sittin’ in the Balcony”; see below), the material on Open Mind marks Loudermilk as among the idiom’s funniest, most perceptive – and strangest. Dig the sociological sitar-psyche of “Goin’ to Hell on a Sled” and “The Joneses,” the dead-on seriousness of “No Playing in the Snow Today” (an anti-nuclear tune to rival Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew”) and the chamber-pop morality tale “To Hell with Love.”

Open Mind also offers JDL’s versions of some of his biggest hits, including “Tobacco Road” (there’s nary a bad version of this one, from Lou Rawls and the Nashville Teens to the Blues Magoos, Jefferson Airplane and Spooky Tooth), “This Little Bird” (Marianne Faithfull) and “Indian Reservation” (Raiders, Don Fardon). Bear Family’s Sittin’ in the Balcony fills in Loudermilk’s early teen and C&W sides—“A-Plus in Love,” “Somebody Sweet” and 1957’s timely “Asiatic Flu” (our man had a minor hit with it himself, masquerading as Ebe Sneezer & the Epidemics). Bonus breadth and background: And then he wrote… George Hamilton IV’s country classics “Abilene” and “Break My Mind,” Stonewall Jackson’s wacky Nappy saga “Waterloo,” Johnny Ferguson’s candy-pop “Angela Jones,” the N. Teens’ “Tobacco” follow-up “Google Eye,” the Everlys’ “Ebony Eyes” and more.

For once, “a true American original” is not hyperbole. He’s got the goods. -G.S

Suddenly Single:When ’60s Undergrounders Made Peace with the Top 40

A couple of Scrams ago (#21), A couple of Scrams ago (#21), we did a piece, “M-O-R Goes Hip,” that looked at the ’60s phenomenon of middle-of-the-road singers trying to swing with the new youth market by recording pop-rock material. The more familiar examples would be Steve Lawrence having Top-40 hits with Goffin-King material (“Go Away, Little Girl”), Andy Williams doing the same with Pomus-Shuman stuff (“Can’t Get Used to Losing You”) and Frankie Laine mid-charting with Mann-Weill’s “Don’t Make My Baby Blue.” A lesser examined but equally cool event, it turns out, was taking place at roughly the same time, at the other end of the telescope.

It’d be hard to name a more tumultuous pop-music time frame than 1965-to-1967. Monthly, it seemed, new avenues of expression were being bulldozed across the landscape: Brit invaders, folk-rock, blues-rock, goodtime music, new Dylans, sunshine pop, acid-rock. Until late ’67-’68, when the West Coast psychedelic movement, with its establishing of the LP as the coin of the realm and the advent of “underground” FM radio, toppled the age-old hegemony of hit singles, concessions to the old machine had to be made. A band needed a 45, as a sort of aesthetic business-card and introduction to the public. This requirement led to some fascinating records, on which the new boundary-stretching artists got a chance to show their creativity in a way that still fit the commercial strictures of the day.

The earliest example of this is probably the Yardbirds. An initial handful of straight blues covers failed as singles, and the decision to cut the cool but clearly un-Chess-like “For Your Love” (no slide guitar, plenty of harpsichord) precipitated a huge rift within the band. The group’s first hit came from the pen of pop scribe Graham Gouldman (who provided Top-40 fodder to the Hollies and Hermits, later founded 10 cc and even made bubblegum records), which led directly to the departure of Muddier-than-thou guitarist Eric Clapton. GG next gave the ’birds the even poppier “Heart Full of Soul,” while Manfred Mann drummer/vibist Mike Hugg contributed the socio-spiritual “(Mister) You’re a Better Man Than I.”

It would be a while before Clapton could shred freely and fill the Fillmores with 20-minute “Spoonfuls.” While Cream’s ’66 debut album sported instrumental adventurousness and some truly unusual songwriting, it was preceded by the atypical “Wrapping Paper.” Jack Bruce’s sporty piano sortie sounds like a pleasant Sopwith Camel outtake or an entry by one of a dozen Lovin’ Spoonful sound-alikes.

Other free-formers complied with the rules of the game too. The Grateful Dead’s first album boasted a couple of extended cuts, but the bet hedge was Side 1 Track 1, the single “The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion).” The jubilant, two-minute cut features a tight, ringing Garcia solo, frequent choruses and old-time movie-serial organ on its intro and fade. The single’s flip, which I recall the band introducing as one of their first original compositions (from the Fillmore stage in 1966), is a breakneck rocker that mashes a Dyl-lite vocal with the spirit and sound of the Animals’ “I’m Crying.” (Sadly, the disc was a stiff, as was the band’s second Warners seven-inch, a three-minute edit of their “Dark Star” opus.)

Seattle’s Daily Flash were also improvisers (a bootleg CD offers their 13-minute version of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”), but their debut single pairs a feedback-packed blues adaptation (“Jack of Diamonds”) with a familiar cover (“Queen Jane Approximately”). L.A.’s eclectic Kaleidoscope eschewed the often lengthy excursions of their live sets for a pair of 45’s that aimed for radio-friendliness. “Please” b/w “If the Night” was a double deck of exceptional folk-rock (a later release coupled “Please” with “Elevator Man,” which rather recalls the Stones’ “Off the Hook”), and “Why Try” was a conventional pop tune, albeit with Middle Eastern accents. Its B-side nodded to the camp predilection of the day—“Little Orphan Nannie.”

Blues bands, like their cousin psychedelicians, were obliged to pop up too. The (Barry) Goldberg- (Steve) Miller Blues Band cranked out the buzzing garage rocker “The Mother Song” in 1965 (Billy Sherrill, who recorded the Remains, produced) and appeared on Hullabaloo to promote it. Goldberg’s subsequent Barry Goldberg Blues Band issued the noisy, attitudinal Dylan homage “Blowing My Mind.” Even more interesting are the Blues Project singles. Early on, these relied on the dominant ’65-’66 folk-rock trend. The A-sides of the first two issues were written by Donovan (“Catch the Wind”) and Eric Andersen. The BP’s rendition of the latter’s crypto-Zimmy “Violets of Dawn” was one of several recorded in 1966 (others were done by the Robbs, Daily Flash and the Mitchell Trio).

Far more innovative was the Project’s next pair, both composed by keyboarder Al Kooper. The former Royal Teen, Dylan accompanist and material source for various girl groups, Gary Lewis and Gene Pitney first delivered the smoldering “Where’s There’s Smoke There’s Fire” (a collaboration with writing partners Irwin Levine and Bob Brass; the duo later penned Dawn’s first hit, “Candida”). The Tokens (of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) add vocal heft to the track, and it’s a gem, but sadly a flopped 45. The same fate befell the rockin’ “No Time Like the Right Time,” cut in December ’66. This one’s got it all: an insistent melody, Kooper’s Queens soul-patrol vocal and a mid-song instrumental breakdown (featuring AK on the spacey Ondioline keyboard), all of it perfectly in synch with the flavor of pre-Pepper psyche. The band’s post-Kooper “Gentle Dreams” b/w “Lost in the Shuffle” couples a quirkily arranged A-side (its fussy arrangement almost suggests the BS&T of “Spinning Wheel”) with an undistinguished Curtis Mayfield-derived blues.

The period, of course, subsequently saw real smashes originate from the new rock community; records like “White Rabbit,” “Light My Fire” and “Piece of My Heart” would have been unthinkable visitors to the Hot 100 in 1965 or even ’66. Eventually, the ascent of psychedelia and album-rock meant that hit singles were unnecessary, impossibly unhip and maybe even counterrevolutionary. Rather like the Byzantine contortions that govern the maintenance of indie-rock cred today, when you think about it. -GS

All of the tracks discussed are available on CD; the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band’s Hullabaloo appearance is available on DVD.

BARRY & THE REMAINS. The hard-to-overestimate Byrds always get the nod as America's first-response team to the Brit Invasion. In truth, by late '64 two valiant defenders were already in place, one on each coast. Frisco's Beau Brummels (see separate SOUNDS entry) matched Mac-Len melodically and, of course, evolved into art-rock pioneers and justly revered country-rock practitioners. Boston's Remains, led by singer-guitarist-writer Barry Tashian, worked off the harder rocking Kinks-Stones-Beatles creativity axis and were also strikingly original. That fact was blasted home in mid-2006 when I saw, for the first time, the reunited band perform in L.A. Not only was the energy of their first-album performances present, but so was the incontestable strength and beauty of their songwriting; "Don't Look Back," "You Got a Hard Time Comin'," "Say You're Sorry" all shined, sounding at once solidly in the '64-'66 pocket and utterly modern. These songs, along with their "Diddy Wah Diddy," which battled it out with Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's version for regional mid-chart status in 1966, are highlights of the comp Barry & the Remains, which is still obtainable. The shame is that, after being one of Columbia/Epic's first post-Beatles American band signings (they opened for the Beatles on the latter's final tour) and getting shots on Hullabaloo and The Ed Sullivan Show, they failed to connect commercially. The glory is that their music can still be heard - on disc and, if you're lucky, in person. -G.S.

ROCK 'N' ROLL NOVELTY RECORDS. It was a late-20th-century entry in the index of going-going-gone, just "one more victim of fate, like California state," as The Band sang ("Where Do We Go From Here?"). The rock 'n' roll novelty record was largely booted off Top 40 radio (and written out of all serious histories of pop music) in the mid-1970s, a result of the same programming-consultant wisdom that had already (early-'70s) excised instrumentals from the broadcast canon.

The appearance of a new Ace Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll volume, Special Novelty Edition, makes an eloquent one-volume case for the crazy cut-ins, satires and nonsense songs of the '50-s and early '60s. Certain staples you'd expect are here - Buchanan & Goodman's groundbreaking "Flying Saucer," Larry Verne's anti-heroic yokel saga "Mr. Custer," David Seville's silly "Witch Doctor"; indeed, while it's always a gas to dig "Ape Call" and "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" (see our SOUNDS chapter), you can delve deeper elsewhere (Nervous Norvus' Stone-Age Woo; Edd Byrnes' Kookie).

The real treats of this set are Bobby Hendricks' 1960 hit "Psycho," the Ivy Three's impossibly stupid, quasi-beatnik "Yogi" (also 1960) and Spencer & Spencer's "Russian Bandstand" (1959). The latter is a near-perfect one-line joke funny for its utter redundancy, time-period provincialism and expeditious use of machine-gun fire. Host Nikita Clarkchev hosts a Russky dance-party show that spins Top 40 tunes, pushes sponsors' products ("Light up Stroganoff, new short-length cigarette...Is only cigarette with microphone-filter," etc.) and cheerfully silences dissidents. At the end of the record, after he's massacred singing star Nikita Presleychev and much of his audience, Clarkchev announces, "Tomorrow ve have new No. 1 singing star! Tomorrow ve have new No. 1 song!," only to be answered by a throaty chorus which yells, "Hey, comrade, tomorrow we have new host of Russian Bandstand!" and stun-guns him.

Maybe you had to be there. But now you can. -G.S.

BUBBLEGUM MUSIC. In the film documentary made from the book Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, there’s a particularly revealing example of cultural bullying. In a clip from a forgotten ’70s Saturday Night Live clone, host David Steinberg announces that, in response to popular demand, the Archies have finally reunited; the animated video for "Sugar Sugar," with stiff Reggie and go-going Betty, is shown, after which Steinberg and the cast snigger about the Archies’ performance and their "talent."

It’s pretty common for fans of bubblegum music to be defensive. Not only have succeeding generations of rock crits been able to bash it as the benchmark of the lowest-grade pop, but the genre is one of the very few to have been systematically banished from oldies-radio playlists. (Despite their accrual of legit Top 40 hits, see how often the Ohio Express or DeFranco Family pop up on your local retro station; probably about as frequently as Fabian.) Doubly bubbly ironic is the fact that rap and hip-hop, which critics tend to exalt, adhere to even more simplistic schoolyard jump-rope rhyme schemes than such nursery rockers as "Simon Says" and "May I Take a Giant Step."

The best b’gum is, of course, great pop music. There’s even something about the deliberate leanness and underproduction of "Chew Chewy" that edges it toward the elemental and thus closer to punk/garage (the Ohio Express opus was, not surprisingly, preceded by the band’s landmark larceny song, "Beg, Borrow and Steal," itself purloined from the riff for "Louie Louie"). Infectious, often fraught with blue overtones (see the Naked Truth chapter "Vice Is Nice"), good gum more than holds its own in the household of unserious rock. If you haven’t sampled them lately or at all, rip open a pack of 1910 Fruitgum Company ("1-2-3 Red Light," covered early in their career by Talking Heads), the DeFrancos ( Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat") or Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods ("Billy, Don’t Be a Hero," but especially "House on Telegraph Hill") or Ron Dante’s Archies ("Jingle Jangle," "You Little Angel You").

Don’t let the revisionists excise one of the most glorious chapters in popular-music history. Keep it in the canon. – S.Z.


Gum up the works: Absolutely the Best of the Archies or The Archies' Greatest Hits; Bubblegum Hit Pack; Yummy Yummy Yummy: The Best of the Ohio Express; Simon Says: The Best of the 1910 Fruitgum Company.

HOLLAND/ DOZIER/ HOLLAND. Heaven Must Have Sent You (Hip-O). The broad contours of the story are well known: Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier kept adding ever more luxurious suites onto the house Berry Gordy built. As Adam White��s annotation to this three-disc set makes clear, the songwriting trio ranks right there with the Gershwins, Dylan, Bacharach-David and the rest.

What��s especially cool are the lost chapters that show up on this history, alongside the hits. That means Dusty Springfield��s as-good-as-the-original "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" (1964), the super-pop, strings-washed "Just a Little Bit of You" (1975, one of the last Motown hits by little Michael Jackson) and the Originals�� "Good Lovin�� Is Just a Dime Away" (what a great title, even if rate hikes ruin the metaphor).

The aforementioned lesser-known cuts all still bear the stamp of classic Motown, like solid Olds and Pontiacs molded onto the basic Chevy frame. Less Motown-like, funkier as it were, are the tracks H-D-H cut for their own post-Gordy label, Invictus: Flaming Ember��s pulsing "Westbound #9" and the Chairmen of the Board��s trilling "Give Me Just a Little More Time" (both 1970). And, if for case-making purposes you disqualify Eddie Holland��s jubilant Jackie Wilson rip "Jamie" (1962), the sharpest cut by any of the H-D-H principals has to be Dozier��s "Fish Ain��t Bitin��," a 1974 semi-hit on ABC. The song, H.B. Barnum��s arrangement and Lamont��s performance (a soul tirade against Nixon��s busted economic policies) is one of the set��s highlights. Considering the company, that��s really sayin�� something. -G.S.

JOHN MARTYN, "DANCING." - Quiet epiphanies can have their charms. I have nothing against John Martyn. The sometimes jazzy, often somber Scots writer-singer surely deserves respect, but he’s rarely moved me in a visceral, rock ’n’ roll way. And why should he? But then a friend gave me Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology (late-’70s, ’80s material). I poured through the first of its two discs with no charge.

Then it hit me, subtly, three cuts into the second CD. It’s called "Dancing,"and its exuberant mood swings so coolly and unpretentiously that I found myself playing and replaying it. Maybe a minor Martyn song, definitely atypical, but the feel of it really soared, in the manner of the best sugar-rock highs. "Dancing" is that rare track that is what it’s about: in this case, it impels you to get up and move. In music, feeling should, and does, precede analysis, but the latter has its place. Somewhere into my second dozen spins of "Dancing." I realized that the cut, probably without parent Martyn’s consent, conjoined two earlier pieces no one would have deliberately attempted to walk down the same aisle in a million years: the Grateful Dead’s "Dark Star" and a failed 1962 single by Barry "Who Put the Bomp" Mann titled, coincidentally, "Hey Baby, I’m Dancin.’"

Martyn’s tune fades in, some twinkling sonic quark, just like the Dead opus, and that guitar figure keeps blinking throughout the song. Meanwhile, the melody, quite simple and unabashedly pop-ish, has begun; it too is inevitable and relentless (in a good way), funkier than Mann’s teen-idol terp piece but every bit as infectious and pegged to a common lyric theme.

It’s such a delight to find such a shining gem this late in the spelunking game, and from such an unlikely confluence of musical precedents. And the cherry atop the sundae? In certain spots, Martyn affects a vocal blur that may or may not be an homage to Dean Martin. As Esquivel himself put it, "too much-o!" -G.S.

Mann’s "Hey Baby, I’m Dancin’" is available on the three-CD gray-area collection "Inside the Brill Building"

THE NEON PHILHARMONIC. The NP’s The Moth Confesses is a tough one to contextualize. Does it belong in the Rococo Room of late-’60s Warner Bros. salon-rock, a venue whose house bands included Triangle -era Beau Brummels and later-period Harpers Bizarre? Was the Phil (basically composer-arranger Tupper Saussy and singer Don Gant) a link between Pet Sounds’ orchestral maneuvers and Eric Matthews' 90s chamber pop, or a quirky Warners side rail – one that split off from the main line with Mason Williams’ debut and stopped when the bucks and audiences started chasing harder stuff?

Truthfully, it’s probably a little of all of the above. Saussy, a witty Nashvillean ad-man and jinglist, plucked strange, ornately arranged songs from unusual sources: Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp (he saw The Moth Confesses as an example of "failed seriousness"), Crayola crayons ("Brilliant Colors"), a Tom Wolfe article on California’s emergence as the uber-state ("The New Life Out There") and World War II’s worst pre-atomic bombing ("Are You Old Enough to Remember Dresden?"). When friends pestered him to read Tolkien, he responded by writing "The Mordor National Anthem."

The NP enjoyed a Top 20 hit with the bittersweet "Morning Girl" (1969), came up with one of the more clever jazz waltzes in "Cowboy"and cut a second flop set in The Neon Philharmonic (1970).

Then, like the moth that flies off a monarch – and the ephemeral age of experimentalism that birthed such a project – the Neon Philharmonic vanished.
The curious are advised to grab a copy of The Neon Philharmonic/ Brilliant Colors: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings, stare into the pastel cover of The Moth Confesses and spin under Saussy’s compelling spell. -H.D.

GODFREY DANIEL. Is Joni Mitchell’s "Woodstock" one of the most insipid songs of all time? No argument from this quarter. To be fair, virtually all attempts at writing youth anthems seem to be doomed affairs. Besides, which of them could possibly stand up to the genre’s greatest, The Trashmen's "Brand New Generation"?

But "Woodstock" has its place. Literally, on the recent reissue of one of the 70s’ most curious albums, Take A Sad Song by Godfrey Daniel. Here the tale of God’s Yasgur’s-bound children, plus 11 other songs, mostly classic hits of the late ’60s and early ’70s, are joyously– and, some might say, disrespectfully – recast as ’50s doowop. The transformations are revelatory and often just south of awesome.

If you’ve never developed a taste for vocal-group music (you’d have to be over 50 to have heard it in its original AM-radio habitat) or been left cold by the media’s standard presentation of it as little more than the OST to Grease and Happy Days, Take a Sad Song might change your mind. It’s not Sha Na Na, not even Zappa’s Ruben & the Jets but a cool deconstructive exercise that removes all the unnecessary accouterments from familiar songs and uses their melodic, harmonic cores to fashion something that is both "older" and, in a way, timeless. Thus "Woodstock" and "Hey Jude" (whence the album’s title) are liberated from their own (respectively) corny and cloying lyric sentiments and emerge as uncorrupted musical expressions of utter joy, the former in a style that marries the Cadets’ "Stranded in the Jungle" with Del Shannon’s "Runaway," the latter much like the Valentines’ "Lily Maybelle."

This stylistic strip show works almost every time. Chestnuts like "Whole Lotta Love" shimmy out of their cumbersome overgarments to rock out as pure sound, doing their thing anew at a sort of aesthetic ground-zero. What you hear is what you get: "Honky Tonk Woman" as it might have been interpreted by the Cadillacs of "Speedo" fame, "Purple Haze" with its nonsense lyrics ("Excuse me while I kiss the sky") sounding as if this version were their original point of origin, and wonderfully soulful harmony on ballad takes of "Let It Be" and (the first half of) "Proud Mary." Further (non-doowop) changes are worked on "Groovin,’" which becomes a ’20s-style jazz piece, and the second pass at "Hey Jude"; you’ll be surprised how appropriate this molasses-speed, Spectorized Righteous Bros. arrangement feels.

So who were the people who perpetrated this welcome radical act? Neither the original 1972 nor its CD reissue lists personnel, and the coverup is compounded by liner notes (penned by a DJ from "Radio Station KAKA") that inform, "Now you can thrill at home to the group that’s been knocking them dead coast to coast with the sound of today." The likely suspects, as they’re the only credits on the LP, are arranger-producers D. Palmer and A. Solomon; probably Amboy Dukes keyboardist Andy Solomon and drummer Dave Palmer. A tip of the Catalog of Cool stingy-brim to whoever’s responsible. -P.L.

THE GRATEFUL DEAD. If you have an adverse reaction to those three words, you should probably stop reading at the end of this sentence. Or maybe you shouldn’t. The Grateful Dead you’ll encounter on Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966 (www.GDStore.com) is nothing like the band you may be familiar (and less than impressed) with from the later ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. In the introduction to the original Catalog of Cool in 1982, we ran a vintage photo GD photo and captioned it: "Lost their cool: San Francisco’s Grateful Dead, preferable as proto-punks in ’66 than as terminal hippies later." And we meant it. So does Rare Cuts & Oddities, an 18-cut grab-bag of live-concert (Frisco, L.A.) and rehearsal tapes in (surprise) excellent audio.

This Grateful Dead is young and pumped, charging through an array of covers (and obscure, quickly discarded originals, like the tough "Standing on the Corner"), some of them then-current hits (their version of the Rascals’ treatment of the Olympics’ "Good Lovin’") or recent chart items (Fontella Bass & Bobby McClure’s "You’ll Mess Up a Good Thing," Pigpen again), some of them garage-y everyband classics ("Walking the Dog," "Promised Land," the Stones’ great "Fortune Teller" rip "Empty Heart").

Presumably, Jerry Garcia got "Betty and Dupree" off Chuck Willis’ 1958 hit version. Credit Garcia, too, for recognizing the innate soulfulness in Dorsey Burnette’s aching ballad "Hey Little One" (1960), which serves as something of a prototype for the band’s take on Bonnie Dobson’s "Morning Dew" on the band’s debut L P a year later. That album’s stellar "Cream Puff War" is here too, in an earlier, regrettably slower, take.

None of this is going to make anyone a believer in the later band’s tie-dye mythos, nor should it. But Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966 does offer the curious a clear window into what it was all about, and how this hustling little quartet rocked, at the very start of things. Me, while I can dig the craft of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, Live Dead is about where I clock out. But this Mach I version of the band, which I was privileged to catch live, is what really does it. Hear for yourself. -G.S.


Still more of a good thing: The Golden Road (1965-1973 box set

 

MUDDY WATERS
Electric Mud

HOWLIN’ WOLF
The Howlin’ Wolf Album


First time I heard Shannon’s great "Let the Music Play," the first thing the massively dense track reminded me of was this pair: two of the most widely denounced LPs of all time. The backstory: In 1967, Chess Records junior honcho Marshall Chess thought he’d "update" the sound of the label’s two Chicago blues giants, sort of bring the elders more in line with what the campus crowd was digging. He hired arrange Charles Stepney, fresh from Rotary Connection's psyche-soul hits, and the two put Muddy Waters in front of an eight-piece band featuring flute, amplified sax and mad ger-tar slingers Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch.

The result was a delicious noise-stew, thick with polyrhythms and fonked-up solos. Think David Axelrod’s Songs of Experience, with more focus and meat and fat on its frame. Muddy – and later Wolf, whose set the same crew built – became mere bricks in the wall, like Darlene Love or Ronnie Spector. But what a wall!

Electric Mud's the better of the pair, opening with a thunderous "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (it sounds like Cream and Sabbath jamming). On "Tom Cat," saxophonist Gene Barge runs Coltrane riffs through a jungle of burry fuzz and wah-wah. Muddy catches the spirit on "Herbert Harper’s Free Press News" (a salute to an underground paper), barking joyously as the guitarists hurl Hendrix and Cipollina licks against pulverizing piano, bass and drums. The Howlin’ Wolf Album is something of a replay of Electric Mud, with a few twists (Wolf’s signature "Smokestack Lightning" gets a flute solo and an echo chamber). The album, though, is worth its price (if you can find one) for "Evil." The classic mean blues is reconfigured around a descending bass line and screaming guitar riffs that drop and scatter like a bag of marbles hitting the sidewalk. Talk about multi-tasking: the whole track wobbles, swings and rocks mightily.

These albums illustrate a rare and powerful equation: roots + irreverence = a whole new thang. – G.S.

(This New Digs item is an adaptation of an entry in the new book Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed.)

THE DETROIT COBRAS * I guess it was a ruling by the high court of rock-crit wisdom, that unanimous decision that a rock ’n’ roll band earns its stripes only by "growing into" its artistic phase, moving from covers-reliant wannabe’s to original-material auteurs, in the process producing an "ouevre" and insuring that its latest album will be referred to by public-radio announcers as "a new work."


Oh really? Like the Rolling Stones who sprouted pandering claptrap goat-horns on "Sympathy for the Devil" ("What’s my game?" indeed) are somehow superior to the insolent punks who ripped up Redding’s "That’s How Strong My Love Is" or boffed Sol Burke’s "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"? No purchase: I ain’t buying.


All of which I’ll use to support my contention that the Detroit Cobras – an all-covers-all-the-time quintet– are among the finest of the few bands extant who’re even bothering to essay authentic rock ’n’ roll. Live or laser-read, they are that good. On their latest, Baby, they reduce Clarence Carter’s chuckle-buck "Slippin’ Around" to raw power essentials, and they honor the great lost-beats-meister Gary U.S. Bonds with a torrid tear-down of his "I Wanna Holler (But the Town’s Too Small)." The brilliance to even conceive of covering the Chiffons’ "Oh My Lover" or the Ronettes’ pre-Spector "He Did It" – the kind of move only a John Lennon would’ve made – is reason enough to grab a copy of Life, Love and Leaving, but the actual execution is better still.


And don’t start me talkn’ about their raucous reworking of fellow Motor City saint Gino Washington’s insanely wondrous "Out of This World" or Jackie D’s "Breakaway" on Mink, Rat or Rabbit. -G.S.

BRUTE FORCE * In 1967, when flower was in power and the sartorial style-book specified long hair and eclectic ensembles, only two (rock) album covers displayed their creators shorn, in smartly tailored suits: Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band’s Safe As Milk and Confections of Love by Brute Force. The signage was unmistakable: These natty cats were not your father’s purple Owsley, and they were tough and clever enough to toss their pinstriped bouquets into the market no matter what the arbiters of hip were dictating that season.

Brute was and is Stephen Friedland, New York songwriter, singer and (like Mister Morrison) vaudevillian philosopher. Confections of Love is where the former Token and composer of the Chiffons’ psyche-pop classic “Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ on in My Mind But Me” and Randy & The Rainbows’ late doowop diamond “Sharin’” first showed his wild new sides. Here are smart, silly songs as dada as Zappa but strictly formally constructed, a Main(stream) Street full of left turns: “In Jim’s Garage,” “To Sit on a Sandwich,” “Tierra del Fuego,” “Tapeworm of Love” (“Whenever we hold hands, I can hear it munching/ Whenever we kiss, I can feel it lunching”).


Brute calls Confections his “heavy/funny” genre work, but, in truth, the twin themes color most of his work, from his banned 1969 Apple single “King of Fu” and the same year’s live album,
Extemporaneous, to his 2004 shows with U.K. outfit Misty’s Big Adventure.

Mister, Brute is not to be missed– especially live (his throwdown at 2001's Scramarama in L.A. was an art-pop milestone). But the albums are no less rewarding. Learn, baby, learn more at www.brutesforce.com. While you’re there, stop and dig the “sexy eyebrow pics.” -G.S.

 

UKULELE MUSIC * In one of his books--I think it was the one on television viewing, Amusing Ourselves to Death --critic Neil Postman advocated a 'thermostatic' approach to education. The idea was that, to maintain a well-balanced society, schools should de-emphasize those subjects dominant in the popular culture in favor of equally important but less exposed interest areas. Too rich a science diet? Then go heavier on the humanities, and so forth.

The plucky little instrument from the islands is sort of like that theory. Unobtrusive and commonly dissed as the six-string's junior brother, the uke is everything that the guitar, at its most noxious, is not: Ukes don't inspire overheated performances or pyrotechnic displays (Townshend go home).

On How About Uke? , Lyle Ritz proves the uke to be the epitome of understated cool. A reissue of the Wrecking Crew bassist's original 1957 Verve LP on CD, the album's full of sublime uke jazz, taking in pop standards ("Lulu's Back in Town," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore") as well as originals ("Ritz Cracker"), with Lyle backed by bass, drums and occasional flute. Doubt the little four-string can be evocative? Dig "Little Girl Blue."

The stuff's seductive and can be highly addicting. How About Uke? could just be the gateway substance that leads to Ukulele Duo, Ritz's swingin' duet set with Herb Ohta. Trainer wheels: the various-artists compilation Legends of the Ukulele . Everything you need to know about uke: Jumpin' Jim Beloff's site, fleamarketmusic.com. --P.L.

AL KOOPER * Recently, making the case for Frank Zappa's genius, Mojo suggested that the Lumpy Gravy-trainer might not have got his proper due because "he did so many different things so well." Maybe. He surely did Freakout, Absolutely Free and Ruben And The Jets well, but would his c.v. have been all the more impressive if he hadn't done Baby Snakes and the smut-rock that won him a bonehead fan-base near the end? We'll never know.

He's still awaiting induction into the R&R Hall of Fame, but Al Kooper gets my vote for the coolest in the multi-tasker game. A concept cat, he's the musical equivalent of all those Wally Wood-worked ad-agency guys you used to see in Mad, sitting around dreaming up groovy new pitches and products. Y'all know his biggest roles: organist on "Like a Rolling Stone" and Blonde on Blonde, architect of the first (and only good) Blood, Sweat & Tears album, "Guy That Picks The Music" on the Crime Story series (see our TUBE chapter), discoverer/producer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, A&R guy at Columbia who got Odessey and Oracle its U.S. release, "This Diamond Ring," Super Session, the Royal Teens, yadda yadda.

Kapusta's also one of the few musicians who's a dedicated follower of music, as in rabid fan, and he writes knowledgeably and enthusiastically about it. His autobio Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards is easily the equal of Andrew Oldham's excellent insider accounts (see our INK chapter) and even funnier.

Where to begin on the sound front? There are a slew of AK solo sets, and, as imports, they can be pricey. Start with his first, 1967's wildly eclectic, idea-ridden I Stand Alone (styles essayed: Stax, Philly soul, bluegrass, Nilsson). BS&T's Child Is Father to the Man still stands, along with the first two Band sets, as one of the last great grand-idea albums of the '60s. No one married brass and reeds to rock so well, and the arrangements still dazzle ("Just One Smile," "My Days Are Numbered"). Kooper's imperfect vocals ("I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," "Just One Smile") are the apex of honk-soul: sincere and as soulful as the guy can make it, and just fun to dig. Child's the polar opposite of the pompous, fussy BS&T LP's that followed.

The real sleeper of Kooper's career may be his work in the Blues Project. These days, apart from ZZ Top, white-guy blues is, probably deservedly, a tired day at the ball park. In the mid-'60s, there were only two games in town, Paul Butterfield's and the Project's. Listening to the BP almost 40 years later (check Anthology ), it's amazing how they just ripped, turning the old Chess-nuts into fast, almost irreverent psyche-rock, swinging hard for the fences ("You Go and I'll Go With You," "Wake Me, Shake Me," Kooper's own "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes"). And the band's failed Top 40 singles (both on Anthology), "No Time Like the Right Time" and "Where There's Smoke There's Fire," are so '66: deliberate, boundary-stretching pop records that could have been made at no other time. Kooper wrote 'em both. The former, featuring his theremin-esque Kooperphone, even earned a place on Lenny Kaye's original Nuggets album. -- G.S.

Not the Welcome to My Nightmare guy: All Al all the time at www.alkooper.com

JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON * How much do you want from this guy, anyway? Sly Stone owes him big-time, and Etta James has called him "the baddest and the best. He taught me how to squall." In early-'50s L.A., he pre- Hendrixed with "Space Guitar" and dissed a car-crazy cutie in "Motorhead Baby." He drained the macho out of the "I'm a Man" riff, distilling it into the playful funk of 1963's "Gangster of Love," and, in 1965, commenced a scorching duo act with Larry Williams. That union resulted in the unstoppable R&B of "Two For the Price of One" (see Larry Williams & Johnny "Guitar" Watson: Best of the Okeh Years and the drone-soul-psyche of the pair's collaboration with Kaleidoscope, "Nobody" (see Infinite Colors, Infinite Patterns: The Best of Kaleidoscope).

By the mid-'70s, Watson was putting down classics like the lazy-cool "A Real Mother For Ya," one of the juiciest grooves of that decade. Everything JGW did was gonna be funky. As he often said, "Ain't that cold?" P.L.

 

My Dear Watson: Blues Masters: The Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson, In Loving Memory: The Very Best of Johnny "Guitar" Watson and A Real Mother For Ya.

 

THE BEAU BRUMMELS * If you define coolness as unique artistic expressions that exhibit enduring freshness under fire, then the Beau Brummels practically made a (brief) career of coolness. "Laugh Laugh" (1964) and "Just a Little" ('65) proved them to be both the first American band to 'capture' the British sound and the pioneer San Francisco group of the '60s--though hippies eschewed them for their Top 40 success (You don't dig these one-button toreador suits and fruit boots? Get yourself a crewcut, baby). When they went art-rock (Triangle, 1967) and country (Bradley's Barn, '68), nobody did it better--or sacrificed less of their essence (Ron Elliot's inventive songwriting, Sal Valentino's plaintive vocals) to genre demands.

Of their handful of albums, every one's recommended, from the silvery folk-rock of the Sly Stone-produced Introducing and Volume 2 to the rarities collection Autumn of Their Years and the 1975 reunion The Beau Brummels.

Box it up: Magic Hollow, the four-disc real deal (www.rhinohandmade.com)

Monster-rock: The band performs "Woman" and "When It Comes to Your Love" in the 1965 flick Village of the Giants. Stoner rock: Animated Beau Brummelstones perform on the Dec. 3, 1965 episode of The Flintstones. --Perry Lane

BARBARA & THE BROWNS * For their one stunner, "Big Party," which singed the bottom of the Hot 100 (No. 97) in mid-'64. A flat-toned guitar lick kicks off this gem of gospelicious pre-soul, from an obscure Memphis quartet produced by Chips Moman. The lyrics tell a typical betrayal tale (Don't-bother-to-save-the-last-dance-for-me is its theme), but the tune's the thing: simple, direct, somewhere between swamp-pop and the Falcons' "I Found a Love," it rolls, river-like, inevitable. Barbara and her sisters stir it up vocally, effortlessly. Would I recommend buying the four-CD Stax Story just to get "Big Party"? Sure, since the bonuses are the best of Otis, Carla and Rufus, Sam & Dave, the Staples, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG's, the Dramatics and Little Johnnie Taylor. --Perry Lane

VINCE GUARALDI.

"Some a' you mothers come in here, you had me worried...All you could play was the melody! You wouldn't know a melody now if it hit you in the mouthpiece." --Hipster's commencement speech at progressive-jazz school, by comic Ronnie Graham

Vince G would've flunked out of Bop U. His tunefulness and sense of play didn't just make him the perfect choice to score all those Charlie Brown specials. It enabled the late pianist (1928-1976), allegedly JFK's favorite for his Top 40 hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," to fire off a canon that still sounds uniquely smart and cool. "Linus and Lucy" is but the whimsical tip of an iceberg that includes driving Latinate swingers like "Ballad of Pancho Villa" and "Treat Street" (the former off his collaboration with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, From All Sides, the latter on Greatest Hits) and his sublimely lyrical take on the Beatles' "I'm a Loser" (Greatest Hits). And that hip-pocket waltz "You're in Love, Charlie Brown" (on Oh Good Grief!: It starts as a minuet, then speeds up to arc off the same time tangent as the Grateful Dead's "The Eleven," Guaraldi chasing multiple melody lines on piano and harpsichord like high kites. A jazzy gas. --G.S.

 

 

 

 

VG on CD: The Latin Side, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Live at Grace Cathedral.

Vinyl worth the search: Warner Bros, albums Almaville and The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi.

 

 JACK SHELDON * I don't know much about jazz, but I know what I like. The New York Times knew Sheldon, with Chet Baker one of the young lions of the late-'50s West Coast Sound, to be "a classy trumpeter with a brassy wit." The L.A. Times lauded his "unerring sense of swing." And, yes, when I've dug him live, he's been all that and more. But what I most like about him is the wildly original persona he's created--or, more likely, allowed to naturally pop out of his flip-top noggin on a five-decade solo. You've probably encountered it: hearing him sing "The Amendment Song" on The Simpsons or "Conjunction Junction" on Schoolhouse Rock, or watching one of his half dozen performances on Dragnet. (In 1969's "Narcotics" episode, he's "Pork" Hardy, a pot dealer cat-and-mousing it with Friday and Gannon; a K-9 cop sniffs out his stash behind a light-switch plate.) Maybe you saw him as Merv Griffin's bandleader/sidekick on the latter's '70s show. He even had his own sitcom, Run Buddy Run (1966-67).

Whatever his role, Sheldon's sensibility invests it with a wonderful off-beatness, ever wry and woozy. It's not the full dense dance of Fred Willard or the sly mince-steps of Louie Nye but a whole other bit of American character choreography, descended from classic jazzbo's.

 

The 1962 Capitol LP Out! mates Sheldon's chops and character in what the liner notes call "an incohesive collection of songs sung in a most unusual manner." On the instro side: the breezy, "Cute"-like "Girl in the Muu Muu," the un-square dance "Funky Jones" (Billy Strange solos on electric guitar) and the folk-derived "What Was Your Name in the States?" Vocally, Sheldon professes his love in "Atomic Bomb" ("Chlorine gas may spread around, burn my lungs to a crisp/ Oh I'm sure that wouldn't change the way that I love you/ I guess I'm fascinated by your lisp"), waltzes through "By Strauss" and sends up the blues (in "Hair Like Sunshine," the object of his affection is fine and just his size, "but ain't it too bad/ The yellow-headed woman ain't got no eyes").

His trumpet graced the original themes to Peter Gunn, The Munsters, Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Subterraneans, he's played or sung with Dizzy Gillespie, Rosemary Clooney, Frank and Sammy, Tony and Anita and Diane Schuur and acted in dozens of flicks. He' still at it too, the last hepster left standing--tall and coolly one of a kind. --G.S.

Know Jack: Check www.jacksheldon.com for complete discography, new releases and concert schedule.

 

STEW * You'd probably have to go back as far as Randy Newman to find a songwriter who's put pathos and irony to such good use. No mean feat, and that's not even mentioning this guy's melodies. Founder of L.A.'s underappreciated Negro Problem, Stew's one of the new millennium's few originals: an architect of thoughtful pop that touches on the personal (the meditation on mom-and-child, "Love Like That") and the social ("Statue Song," with its evocations of abandonment and homelessness) and elevates the whimsical to the transcendent (everywhere you listen).

Last year's Something Deeper Than These Changes is full of funny, heartbreaking songs, sparse yet perfect arrangements and Stew's intimate vocals, a kind of sing-speak that's all about uncluttered space and clarity. In a loud world, he recognizes quiet as a virtue and employs it freely (like mid-period Donovan, minus the twee factor). Nobody's writing or singing songs like the sobering "Kingdom of Drink" (the unsponsored flipside of all those carefree booze campaigns) or "L.A. Arteest Café," a Dylanesque rumination on ambition and the art-commerce tug. And few contemporary artists are so effectively countering the prevailing musical trends (anger, self-absorption, overproduction) by simply doing their own thing naturally. Get up, get involved. --P.L.

 

Hearty Stew: The Naked Dutch Painter and Other Songs and Guest Host, plus the Negro Problem albums Post-Minstrel Syndrome and Welcome Black.


Hard-copy Stew: Exclusive interview in the current issue of Worldly Remains.

 

“Taking a ‘watch’ from his vest pocket, the faker flips open the case and dresses the ‘stem’!”

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