"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Friday, May 19, 2006
1. "The Slacks" (Trip Shakespeare). This delightfully weird tune opens with some neo-folky harmony (think a sloppier New Christy Minstrels) setting up the narrative:Can I tell you a romantic story
About the one-eyed lady in France?
I guess the King decreed that all the various princes
Should try to get inside her pants
Then the guitars and drums kick in, as the Rashomon-style story unfolds. We hear several of the lady's suitors claim to have conquered the fair maiden; the different versions agree in no particular but one - the key to bagging the babe lies in wearing the proper trousers.
2. "Thank God and Greyhound" (Roy Clark). Cheatin' songs don't get much more cynical than this. I especially like the way that the melody is slow and sad during the setup, then gets peppy when the philandering harpy gets on the bus as it pulls away from the depot. Good fun!
3. "For What It's Worth" (Rush). I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I knew I was getting old when I stopped hating Rush. This is from their recent all-covers EP, Feedback, and features some tasty guitar work by Alex Lifeson. It's also cool that the record has been released on vinyl.
4. "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight" (Alice Stuart). I saw Alice Stuart do a free lunchtime concert in the park last year, and was absolutely blown away. She's getting to be an old woman now - she's been in the business for over 40 years - but she can still play some seriously greasy Telecaster, has excellent taste in material, and sings with real soul. My only beef with this track (an achingly beautiful Chris Wall tune, made more-or-less famous by Jerry Jeff Walker) is that my copy is a lo-fi MP3 downloaded from Stuart's website. One of these days, I'll have to buy the disc, especially since it also features a nice version of the song I want played at my funeral, Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings."
5. "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" (Kenny Rogers and the First Edition). You never know where a good song will come from. Long before he afflicted the world with bad fake country music (and bad fried chicken), Rogers recorded this bizarre, acid-drenched gem with the help of a then-unknown session guitarist named Glen Campbell, who had obviously just invested in a whole rack of effects pedals. Easily one of the strangest songs ever recorded.
6. "I See the Rain" (Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs). I absolutely love this all-covers album by two artists who were clearly born too late, but most of the selections are fairly obvious. Not so this minor masterpiece originally recorded by The Marmalade, however, which Jimi Hendrix once named as the best British single of 1967. That endorsement notwithstanding, it was a flop everywhere except in the Netherlands, where it was a hit.
7. "Run to Me" (The Bee Gees). The Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs record also includes a version of this old chestnut, but the original is superior. By the way, am I the only one who didn't know that long-time Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar used to be in the Bee Gees?
8. "Obvious Song" (Joe Jackson). As much as I appreciate Elvis Costello, I never understood how he became so universally beloved even as Joe Jackson fades into semi-obscurity. Even his failures are interesting, and when he hits the mark he hits it hard. He is also one of the best live performers I've ever seen. This tune, from the otherwise uneven Laughter and Lust LP, is a good one, even if the lyrics are a bit (ahem) obvious, and features some killer piano ("killer" as in "Jerry Lee Lewis, if he had gone to Julliard").
9. "It Only Makes Me Laugh" (Danny Elfman). When is a solo album not a solo album? When it's So-Lo by Danny Elfman, which (curiously) features the contributions of Oingo Boingo on every track. If I ever meet Elfman, I'll ask him to explain that to me - right after I tell him how much I like this song.
10. "High School U.S.A." (Tommy Facenda). A slab of minimalist rock'n'roll from 1959, which features the name of several high schools from your own town - assuming you hail from one of the two dozen or so cities for which customized versions of this recording were made. I have the Seattle, version, of course, but feel free to look for your own.
11. "Beauty Deluxe" (Visqueen). Speaking of Seattle, how about a shout-out for the late, lamented Fastbacks? God, they were great - on certain days, I would argue that Kurt Bloch is the second best guitarist our fair city ever produced. The Fastbacks finally sputtered out, however, and bassist Kim Warnick went on to form Visqueen with drummer Ben Hooker and singer/songwriter/guitarist Rachel Flotard. Visqueen is slicker and heavier than the Fastbacks ever were, but shares their ear for a catchy pop melody. Alas, Warnick has since retired from music entirely (effective shortly after the recording of the album from which this track is taken) and has been replaced, for the time being at least, by Muffs' bassist Ronnie Barnett. And what about Kurt Bloch? He was last seen in a Blue Öyster Cult tribute band called 7 Screaming Diz Busters. The more you know....
12. "Echo Beach" (Martha and the Muffins). Part Canadian white-funksters, part New Wave power-poppers (kinda like Gang of Four meets the Go-Go's, and eats back bacon), Martha and the Muffins were too idiosyncratic to make it big. Too bad, 'cause this song's a classic.
13. "Last Hard Bible" (Kasey Chambers). I first raved about this album over two years ago. I will not repeat myself here, except to say that you're a fool if you don't own a copy. One question - what the hell is a "hard Bible?"
14. "Look-Ka Py Py" (The Meters). Wow! This is some seriously funky shizzle, ya' knizzle what I'm talkin' abizzle? Of all the many tragedies arising from the destruction and subsequent criminal neglect of the city of New Orleans, the one that may be felt hardest for the longest time (among those of us who did not lose friends or family, that is) is the loss of the New Orleans musical community. If this doesn't make you dance, you're officially beyond hope.
15. "Long Black Veil" (Marianne Faithfull). This old Lefty Frizell tune has been recorded about a zillion times, and pretty much every version is a winner (I have yet to hear Dave Matthew's version, so the possibility remains that there is a truly awful recording of the song in existence). Some people love Faithfull's voice, and some don't - I'm firmly in the former category. So, you do the math - a great song, a great singer (and throw in some nice guitar work), equals a hella great recording.
16. "A Certain Girl" (Yardbirds). The original version of this song is by First Gear; my favorite version is by Warren Zevon. This version was probably the biggest hit of the bunch, however, and it's not bad at all. Hardcore Yardbirds fans probably consider this a lightweight throwaway; but then again, hardcore Yardbirds fans cling to the illusion that Jeff Beck isn't a hack - so what do they know?
17. "Maureen" (Fountains of Wayne). One would have to be a slavish, slobbering fan of quirky power pop to tolerate Fountains of Wayne. Fortunately, I'm a slavish, slobbering fan of quirky power pop - I love 'em!
18. "Superman" (The Clique). If you thought this was an R.E.M. tune, you failed Rock History 101. Follow the Amazon link above, and not only can you buy a copy of the CD (for the serious-collectors-only price of $48.99, as of this writing), but you can read the customer reviews, in which a couple original members of the band communicate with each other for the first time in years. Cool!
Taken all together, there's an hour of your life you'll never get back. And finally - happy birthday to my man Pete Townshend, who turns 61 today. Never fear; the kids are still alright.