Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Words Fail

I need to put the blog on indefinite hiatus.

Bereft of freelance gigs for the time being, I'm cranking out anywhere between four and seven articles for various content Web sites every day. The pay per piece is poor, so volume is key.

Either staring down a day of producing 2,000 publishable words by dawn's early light or mentally panting from the effort of having typed out 2,000 words as the sky turns reddish-orange from the sun's set, I am finding it impossible to muster the energy to type for fun and no profit.

I will eventually resume this project, edifying you at some future time on the wonderments of The Wonder Stuff and warning you away from Wilco.

Thank you for reading. Hope to be back soon.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Perfection Takes About 17 Minutes

I have several Smithereens' albums queued up for the next round of posts, so I won't go into depth about what makes the band's debut EP Beauty and Sadness such a perfect distillation of the essence of power pop.

Instead, I'll just steer you to the songs themselves, link you to this rave retrospective review of the album and others, and remember at you that the cover art for Beauty and Sadness spent many years as a huge panel attached to the outside wall of the Tracks record store at Wards Corner in Norfolk, right next to the Arc of a Diver panel. I loved driving past -- and going into -- that record store.

Check out the Beauty and Sadness tracks for yourself. You'll be lad you did.

  1. Beauty and Sadness
  2. Some Other Guy
  3. Tracey's World
  4. Much Too Much
Up Next: The Smithereens, Especially for You, 1986

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Thought Counts

Album: Sex Pistols, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, 1979 (UK Import)

Best Track: "My Way"

Lasting Memory: Two video clips always run through my mind when I think about or hear any Sex Pistols' song. The first clip is the one of Sid Vicious singing "My Way" on French television. (I actually conjure the Sid and Nancy movie scene, but here is what purports to be the original performance.)

The second mind film I always see is Johnny Rotten ending the Sex Pistols' final show in 1978 by asking a San Francisco audience, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" Because, yeah, I end up feeling a little disappointed by the experience of listening to the Sex Pistols.

The band always worked much better as an idea than an act. Sex Pistols founder, producer, and manager -- but never performer -- Malcolm McLaren never made any bones about that, even naming the group's postbreakup collection of studio outtakes, hits, overseas remixes and ephemera, as well as its accompanying documentary, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. Just in case anyone missed the joke at their expense, the first track on the Swindle soundtrack is a spoken-word piece in which McLaren explains that he selected the members of the Sex Pistols based on the eventual members' looks (Sid), attitude (Johnny), criminal background (Steve Jones), and proximity (Glen Matlock and Paul Cook) rather than musical vision or ability.

Taking McLaren at his word, it's easy to convince yourself that the Sex Pistols were either a latter-day Monkees or a forewarning of the Spice Girls. In fact, the Pistols did produce a credible garage band version of "Stepping Stone" and a disco remix of "God Save the Queen," both of which appear on Swindle.

But then the party line on Swindle is that the story McLaren tells is highly fictionalized and self-flattering. I'm not so sure. The Sex Pistols never would have succeeded on their musicianship alone. It's more than telling when the lads try and fail to perform covers of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode" and the Modern Lovers' "Road Runner," only to have Johnny Rotten ask his bandmates, "Don't we know any other fucking people's songs" before requesting, "Stop it! It's fucking awful."

Where the Sex Pistols did excel was in pushing attitude and image. "Anarchy in the U.K." was absolutely a thumb in the eye of British culture, and the song certainly hit the airwaves as a much-needed corrective to the music of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. But the sentiment of "Anarchy" is more bratty than rebellious, and for all of their wussiness, the boys in ARS were far superior musicians.

All of this is not to say that I dislike the Sex Pistols. My point is that I have to appreciate them as a concept instead of as an actual band. The Sex Pistols did inspire dozens of other groups that did channel ennui and disenfranchisement into powerful rock songs, though, and that deserves respect. Also, Sid Vicious' "My Way" is punk through and through in the way it embodies the message of the lyrics while subverting the paradigm from which the song emerged. And then a song like "Friggin' in the Riggin'" is just plain fun.

On balance, then, I'll take the Sex Pistols' legacy even as I feel, well, swindled by the band.

Up Next: The Smithereens, Beauty and Sadness, 1988 (cassette reissue)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Serenade You Like a Gentle Rain

Album: Scorpions, Love at First Sting, 1984

Best Track: "Rock You Like a Hurricane"

Lasting Memory: I have promised innumerable people innumerable times that I would rock them like a hurricane simply by showing up or doing my job. I have always failed to deliver on the grandiose pledge.

So did the Scorpions on Love at First Sting.

"Bad Boys Running Wild"? More like Rum-Tum Tugger slinking through alleyways.

"The Same Thrill"? More like the same four chords I've heard in every other song you've played so far, only faster.

"Crossfire"? Maybe if I duck and cover my head, I won't be able to hear this song any longer.

But you know what? You would have to pry this album from my cold, dead boom box. I revel in the lameness and inanity. If that's a crime, lock me up and throw away the key.

Whatever auditory sins the Scorpions commit when they strive for the heavy side of metal, they more than atone for by including the powery-est of ballads like "Still Loving You" (see above) and "I'm Leaving You" on Love at First Sting. Those songs just tug at the heartstrings, or maybe someplace else.

Up Next: Sex Pistols, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, 1979 (UK import)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Know This Now

Even when I don't post for a spell, know that

I'm still loving you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What's the Hurry?

Album: Rush, Moving Pictures, 1981 (dub)

Best Track: "The Camera Eye"

Lasting Memory: Rush's Moving Pictures was the third album I ever bought with own money. It's probably among the first five acquisitions of every man who matches my demographic of 40, paunching and white. Sometimes it's good to be part of the gang.

It is always great to hear "The Camera Eye," Rush's 10-minute rock ode to rock opuses. Jam bands like Phish and Rusted Root could learn a lot from studying "The Camera Eye" (or Rush's other masterwork "YYZ," for that matter). The song never hurries, but it also never meanders. "The Camera Eye" is, for my money, the tightest 10 minutes in rock 'n' roll.

Of course, Rush did not have a hit with "The Camera Eye." Where Canada's answer to Yes made its splash was with the one-two punch of Moving Picture's "Limelight" and "Tom Sawyer." Both tales of alienation -- the former through fame and the latter through, apparently, sociopathy -- practically compelled the suburban adolescents of the early '80s to run to their local record shops and fork over $7.99 for Moving Pictures. Why these songs still hold such appeal for me and millions of other classic rock radio fans is probably speculation left unspeculated.

What I will cop to is that I'd dearly love to jump in MP's fabled "Red Barchetta," crank up the "Spirit of Radio," and "Fly by Night" out of the "Subdivisions" and get "Closer to the Heart." Even though not all those songs are on Moving Pictures. But you know what I'm saying.

Up Next: Scorpions, Love at First Sting, 1984

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stones Soup

Album: The Rolling Stones, Gigantes del Pop, 1982

Best Track: "Get Off of My Cloud"

Lasting Memory: This exceedingly eclectic collection of Rolling Stones songs produced for the Spanish market includes the band's cover of "Not Fade Away." I have always loved that song. So have dozens of other people judging by the no-doubt partial list of covers appearing on Wikipedia. In fact, the "Not Fade Away" has been covered so many times so faithfully that I almost always forget that Buddy Holly and the Crickets performed the song first and best.

But I'll resist trying to get back into my go-nowhere rant about the Rolling Stones being a covers band (see below) to gape at the jukebox-style discography of the band's volume of the Gigantes del Pop series:

Side A
(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66
Fortune Teller
I Wanna Be Your Man
Poison Ivy
Not Fade Away
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
Get Off My Cloud

Side B
Jumpin' Jack Flash
All Sold Out
Parachute Woman
Live With Me
Honky Tonk Women

Now that's what I call olio!

But you know what? It works.

The Stones installment of Gigantes del Pop comes nowhere close to qualifying as a greatest hits compilation, or even a hits collection. It sure does present a comprehensive overview of the best years of the band's career, though. Hell, throw "Sympathy for the Devil," "Dead Flowers," and "Miss You" on the album, and call it day for what you need to know about the Stones' influence and legacy.

Good job anonymous Spanish song licensing negotiator.

Up Next: Rush, Moving Pictures, 1981 (dub)