Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Alice Cooper - “Reflected”
Some rock ‘n’ roll urban legends are salacious, like the Rod Stewart/emergency room/stomach pump story. Others are curious: Bruce Springsteen supposedly wrote “Billie Jean”, this is backed up by a photo of Bruce mimicking that song’s video on the back cover of the “Dancing in the Dark” twelve-inch. Some are hilarious: In the late eighties a story swirled that Depeche Mode played concerts with backing tapes instead of real instruments, one time the tape machine malfunctioned, and the band had to start the concert over with the tape rolling from the beginning. My favorite of these legends is the “evil rock act has origins in something harmless from your youth” genre. I first heard one of these during my childhood in the early seventies. Alice Cooper was taking the nation by storm (documented in “Elected”) with a double-punch of their horror-movie-influenced live shows and a concurrent takeover of the radio airwaves with hook-filled teen anthems like “School’s Out” and “No More Mister Nice Guy.” A rumor circulated that lead singer Alice was none other than Ken Osmond, the actor who had portrayed Eddie Haskell in the sixties sitcom Leave It to Beaver. Turns out in reality Ken Osmond went on to become a cop in Los Angeles, was shot in the line of duty and survived, which may have been the genesis of the other rumor involving the cast of the show: That show star Jerry “Beaver” Mathis had been killed in action in Vietnam.
The next variation I heard on this legend was in the mid-eighties. My brother said that our cousin had told him that he had heard that the members of Motley Crue used to be the band Bread. To be honest, I love this one more than the Osmond/Cooper rumor. Purporting that Bread, known for a run of saccharine AM radio hits in the seventies, went on to become PMRC bad boys Motley Crue is rich. In The Wonder Years, Winnie Cooper gave Kevin Arnold a Bread album. Kevin feigned enthusiasm (because Winnie, woo woo) but in voiceover admitted his disdain for the band. Which would explain why a fading David Gates knew that the typical teen male wouldn’t go for his songs. So he turned to Tom Werman to punch up some tapes he had sitting around ("they’re like ‘Mother Freedom’, only more rockin"), convinced his bandmates to wear makeup and change their names, and start paying attention to this thing called “MTV” ...
Speaking of The Wonder Years, in the nineties a rumor circulated that Josh Saviano, the actor who was Kevin’s best friend Paul Pfeiffer, grew up to become Marilyn Manson. I didn’t hear of this one in typical urban legend third-hand such as “my sister’s neighbor’s friend told me ...”, instead I read it while surfing the Net via AOL. By this time I was in my thirties, had an interest in urban legends, and spotted the motif instantly. At a family reunion, a teenage cousin was into Marilyn Manson and tried to present his whole shtick as shocking. Her mom, a fellow child of the seventies, simply chuckled and said: “Oh yeah, Alice Cooper.”
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Van Halen - “Dancing in the Street”
Per Wikipedia, the David Bowie and Mick Jagger cover of “Dancing in the Street” had two lead singers, three guitarists, two bassists, one drummer and a variety of other hangers-on who participated in that absolute mediocrity. But three years earlier, Van Halen made some seriously great white funk with the same song using just the four guys in the band being produced by the irreproachable Ted Templeman. The Bowie/Jagger song was produced by the duo of (seriously, I’m not making these names up) Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer, who no doubt were paying more attention to their black pudding and/or bangers and mash than to bother working with a couple of fading postage-prepaid superstars and put out anything that anyone would want to listen to decades later. Some didn’t want to listen to it the following week back in ‘85, either.
RIP Edward Van Halen, 1955 - 2020
Tuesday, October 06, 2020
The James Gang - “Funk #48”
The James Gang debut Yer Album has an interesting side one. “Take A Look Around” is a possible influence on The Who’s “Pure and Easy,” as they share a similar keyboard part. As recounted by John Swenson in The Eagles: Headliners, Pete Townshend was blown away by the Gang as openers for The Who in 1970. It also features covers of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” and the Yardbirds’ “Lost Woman.” Not to mention the side starts with a classical-to-folk move and the “funk” song is preceded by a beatnik rap.
Said song is “Funk #48”, because you can’t have can’t have a “Funk #49” without a “Funk #48,” that’s just the way numbering works. As to what happened to Funks one through forty-seven, I haven’t heard. At one of my elementary schools in the seventies, the principal’s name was Mr. Funk and I could have asked him, but I was unaware of The James Gang at the time.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Husker Du - “Whatcha Drinkin”
I miss bars. Specifically I miss sitting in Morrissey’s Irish Pub, the Bulldog, or the Blue Door Pub mid-afternoon with a book, taking breaks from reading to check Twitter or text a friend. And while bars are now open in Minnesota in a limited capacity, the damn virus still has me too freaked out to go hang out anywhere in public. No coffee shop, no patios, no bars. Upside, maybe: I have found the five optimal (and given that it’s a one-bedroom, likely only except in bed but that’s too damn depressing) places to drink in my apartment:
- Recliner: Classic. Kick back with a martini or beer on the end table, streaming Mad Men, Workaholics, or one of the many, many games that are suddenly available.
- Writing desk: Old-Grand Dad bonded neat, typing notes or rewriting and revising. You see, it adds “atmosphere.”
- On floor in front of the stereo: Grain Belt or PBR + headphones while (takes a quick glance at recently played in Apple Music) blasting the Yardbirds, Run-DMC, Boston, the Commodores, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Bob Seger, Faces, Screaming Trees ...
- Standing by the kitchen window: Bonded bourbon here as well, staring at a clipboard with a work in progress locked in it, reading it aloud to see how it sounds. Alternately, poignantly looking out, hoping the muse arrives. (Okay, actually hoping some crows show up.)
- In the shower: Canned beer only!
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Big Joe Turner - “Shake, Rattle and Roll”
At some point during quarantine, I decided that it would be a good idea to get reacquainted with some of the classics. So I grabbed Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years before Elvis by Nick Tosches, first published in 1984. I have the 1999 reissue from Da Capo Press. The book covers R&B and country artists in the forties and early fifties, some who recorded things that could be considered rock ‘n roll before “rock ‘n’ roll” had become the term for this music. Tosches confides in the introduction, ”You and me, pal, in our mutual quest for worthless knowledge,” Not all of it worthless, of course, as among others this Tosches insight is brilliant:
“Within a year, Bill Haley had gone from being one of the first blue-eyed rockers to the first decadent show-biz rocker. In other words, he played out the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll about two years before anybody ever heard of rock ‘n’ roll.”
The lockdown-pertinent song I came across was Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, with its Fauci-endorsed opening line of : “Get out of that bed, wash your face and hands.” It is regarded as one of the first big rock ‘n’ roll hits, but Turner later stated: “It wasn’t but a different name for the same music I been singing all my life.”
So it’s been enjoyable the past few weeks to grab this Tosches book, pick out an artist, and fire up their music on Apple Music and get a glimpse into those wild years before Elvis. Faves have included R&Bers The Clovers and the smooth blues of Charles Brown. Recommended reading also: Any Tosches you can read, but if you’re looking for music books Country and Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story are both breathtaking. The Nick Tosches Reader gives a great overview of his writing up until 2000.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Cream - “I Feel Free”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best album, Second Helping, is also arguably the best rock guitar album of the seventies. On “The Needle and the Spoon,” Allen Collins unleashes a brilliant Clapton-in-Cream-like wah-wah solo. That handiwork got me back into listening to Cream — guess I (ha ha) needed a break from the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and the original Jeff Beck Group ha ha. Whew, some of those songs: “White Room,” “SWLABR,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Deserted Cities of the Heart” are incredible. Most fascinating lately for me is “I Feel Free”, the first song on the US version of their debut album. It’s short on guitar histrionics and has more of the great weirdness of Jack Bruce. The opening bomp-bomp-bomp scatting I did one night repeatedly weeks ago while walking around my apartment when lockdown boredom had hit full effect. Then Twitter pal @bennyc50 pointed out one could sing “quarantine” instead of “I feel free.” Genius. So, of course, I moved on to singing THAT all the time. Boredom lifted, at least for a bit.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Bachman-Turner Overdrive - “Roll On Down the Highway”
I was going to write this as a short ramble:
While this song celebrates a road trip, blasting it while on the elliptical or out for a walk makes me want to hit a dive bar, order a PBR tallboy, put some BTO in the jukebox, get a cheeseburger and fries, and thank the Lord that despite some bad habits I don’t have the physique of the BTO guys ...
But then I decided to look at the lyrics to see if I might glean some insight (as one does with BTO lyrics) and hoo-boy came across this ...
“I’d like to have a jet but it’s not in the song”
Oh man, just like Alice Cooper in “School’s Out” (”we can’t even think of a word that rhymes”) — they broke the fourth wall! That BTO pulled this off along with the self-employed anthem “Takin’ Care of Business” and the straight-up weirdo “Hey You” just amps up my respect for these guys. Time for another tallboy.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Shoes - “Capital Gain”
I had plenty of majors in college, started out with engineering undecided as my dad had said: “The world will always need engineers and accountants.” The calculus was too tough so I switched to undecided then to business undecided, then to management. My brother said: “You’ll end up managing a Kmart in Mandan,” so I went with banking and finance, then because I was having trouble with Intermediate Accounting 302, I slid over to economics which meant no more accounting and more reading*. This was especially true with Economics 400: The History of Economic Thought, a class I rallied around. The professor was a youngish bearded man lecturing about heavily influential economists of the past and their theories: Smith, Veblen, Marx, Malthus, Keynes. The class-ending assignment was to meet with the professor in his office for thirty minutes, tell him which school of historical economic thought you’d like to write on, and he’d advise you on reading materials and give you guidance on how to start and outline your paper.
I said I’d like to write about Marxist economics. Oh yeah, he said, as his eyes lit up a little. Nobody else was writing on this. He listed countries that used Marxist economics: the Soviet Union, Cuba, China ... then mentioned that the prior night he had had some Chinese beer and asked what us kids drank these days. I said I was a Schmidt man and then couldn’t resist taking a shot at the frat boys and their Corona** and limes. He dismissed Corona as a poorer man’s Miller High Life. We spent the last half of our session talking beer, then as time was wrapping up he gave me a reading list and an idea of how to to tackle my paper.
I spent hours at the library with Marx, Engels, and Lenin interpretations and dissertations, along with other assorted light reading. Then I sat at a table and typed and typed and typed. I wove all that Marxist economics stuff together and also managed to rip Soviet-leaning authors of one book for never mentioning the USSR’s 1939 invasion of Finland. I hesitate to dig around and find this paper now, it is best romanticized and left in the past. Then again I should pull it out for the parts where I quoted Bruce Springsteen, U2, and Megadeth. I figured I would either get a C+ for the effort or an A for the audacity, I got an A. Hooray.
*And now I earn a living from my day job of running my own bookkeeping business of twenty years.
**One of my roommates that senior year was a bartender at Whitey’s in East Grand Forks. He told the tale of how some afternoon regulars starting ordering bottles of Grain Belt Premium with a slice of lime in them to mock the frat dorks. They referred to it as a “Green Preem.”
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Gary Stewart - “Whiskey Trip”
I was looking for Wild Turkey rye, this was before the Bonded Whiskey Revelation of 2018*. Dude working at the store asked me if I needed help, told him what I was looking for. (A mistake, if it wasn’t on the shelf surely they didn’t have it.) He said he could get someone from the back who knew “the guys” from some up-and-coming distiller. “I think you’d get a great whiskey at a good price point.” Um, price point. I briefly saw a graph with X and Y axes and me dully nodding in affirmation as my bang for the buck was reached. Geez Louise, I just wanted some rye ... “good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing “this’ll be the day that I die”... I didn’t want to sip samples and talk to the assistant-to-the-assistant-manager, who would invariably be wearing a tie or a vest (or both) about my palate or food pairings or any other such babble. Because I had to get the car back to the hub, sometimes those HourCar rentals are a beat the clock situation I mean I had fifteen minutes to drive home, drop off the booze and cat supplies and get the car back to 31st and Lyndale, and while the offer to stand around in this store which was once featured in Dark Star commercial spots on The Sports Show swilling errr “tasting” whiskey was tempting, I ultimately simply had a rental car to return. “That’s okay,” I said, “I’ll just go with the Old Overcoat,” then grabbed a bottle of Old Overholt off the bottom shelf and headed for the beer cooler.
*Revealed in the Netflix limited series Godless, where Sam Waterston’s character walks into taverns and orders “whiskey, bonded.”
Tuesday, July 02, 2019
Black Sabbath - “Never Say Die”
I’m not going to let the heat and humidity beat me this year, I got two AC units in my apartment, summer beer like Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, a go-to cocktail in the paloma (hell yeah Hornitos plus Fresca on the rocks with a slice of lime) and I’ve found my summer rally song.
I need a song of triumph — I’m putting Motörhead’s “Live to Win” on the b-side —
because my psycho downstairs neighbor has moved out, she of “you’re walking too loud” infamy, she of yelling and cursing at me from below. It started with me putting on my pajamas and her yelling “f**k you!” some nights, escalated to me making breakfast and my hand holding the milk carton shaking because she was right below me yelling f-bombs and screaming “bleephole!” I debated getting into a Volume War with her every time she started yelling or starting blasting crappy folk music from what sounded like a chintzy boombox. I could have retaliated with the Stooges, AC/DC, Funkadelic, Blue Cheer, Run-DMC out of my living room JBL speakers ... “yeah TAKE THAT Kingston Trio!!” But I didn’t use volume, I simply took my concerns to the landlord like a good citizen (ending each email with a variation on “I don’t think I should be yelled at for living my life”) and I think they told her they wouldn’t renew her lease if she continued to be a menace. (A menace, seriously. I saw her in her car blow through a neighborhood stop sign that is both across the street from a playground and is located at an intersection where kids catch the school bus in the morning. South Minneapolis boomer self-entitlement or what? Stop signs are optional for these people?)
So the psycho is gone. And I’m thinking with coffee and a new Mead five-star notebook and my iPad and a new writing app and listening to this tune — I have never heard Black Sabbath this glorious or be so Dare To Be Great in sound and lyrics, sounding like part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal even — I might even embrace my newfound peace of mind and get something written by Labor Day.
(Artwork on the Sabbath album cover by the masters at Hipgnosis.)
Tuesday, June 04, 2019
Lynyrd Skynyrd - “Workin’ for MCA”
I. PLAY IT PRETTY FOR ATLANTA
I scored a used copy of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s double album Gold & Platinum back in my early eighties high school days in the bins at Mother’s Records in Grand Forks. This was my Skynyrd album to rally around (one of my many faults is that I tend to rely on anthologies and not albums of artists’ masterworks) and it did yeoman’s work as I played its live version of “Free Bird” over and over and over while watching in glee as the Minnesota Vikings choked away the 1998 NFC Championship to the Atlanta Falcons. (Ronnie Van Zant: “Play it pretty for Atlanta.”) I remember resetting the needle over and over again to listen to that song, volume muted on the TV. I was temping then, living in a shoebox apartment and making jack. I did a shot of whiskey after the game, had some beers, and splurged by ordering a Domino’s, chuckling over all the fans with their Purple flags on their cars, that morning they had been convinced that their team would wipe out the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The memory of this day still brings joy.
For some reason Gold & Platinum only had ONE song from Second Helping, their best album. “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Workin’ for MCA”, “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”, “The Needle and the Spoon”, “Call Me The Breeze” ... hell. “Workin’ for MCA” being the track that blows the most doors down. The hardest and best hard rock of the seventies, here Skynyrd’s guitar attack lives up to all the hype, as the sound shreds and leads are traded back and forth furiously. On the rear sleeve of the album, it lists what type of guitar each of the three six-stringers and bass player uses, while Ronnie Van Zant is noted as being a J&B man.
II. TOP FIVE PEOPLE OR THINGS DISSED BY RONNIE VAN ZANT ON SECOND HELPING:
5. Fools who didn’t appreciate Curtis Loew
3. People who ask question rather than talk fishing
2. Pencil pushers
1. Neil Young
III. ANOTHER LIST! BEST ANTI-RECORD LABEL ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SONGS
4. The Sex Pistols, “EMI” — Damn were the Pistols fun. I still like John Lydon’s claim that fired bassist Steve Alford was brought back to play bass on Pistols recordings, meaning these punk nasties used a studio musician rather than Sid Vicious.
3. Graham Parker, “Mercury Poisoning” — “He’s got Mercury Poisoning” the background singers declare, like in a long-lost sixties blue-eyed soul gem. Graham Parker is at his best when he’s pissed off.
2. The Clash, “Complete Control” — Depending on what day it is, this might be number one, imagine my surprise well into adulthood finding out that dub master Lee Perry was the producer of this hard rock masterpiece. But I wanted to write about Lynyrd Skynyrd, so this week it’s number two. Maybe Joe Strummer decries pencil pushers in this one, but I can’t understand much of the lyrics.
1. Workin’ for MCA — A rare song about a record company executive who doesn’t smoke a big cigar (see AC/DC “Show Business”, The Animals “The Story of Bo Diddley”, Boston “Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”, and Pink Floyd “Have a Cigar”), here the exec is a Yankee slicker. Ronnie decries pencil pushers in the same line as honky tonk queens. A few years later on “Gimme Back My Bullets” he would rail against pencil pushers again. Makes me feel guilty for all my time spent working in offices, especially in my twenties where my and a bud changed the lyrics of this one to “Workin’ for HGA.”
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Bachman-Turner Overdrive - “Takin’ Care of Business”
Look at me I’m self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day.
In the past twenty years or so: 1) I’ve complained about my long-ago time in Corporate America and, 2) gloated about working from home as my own boss. As my twentieth anniversary of being self-employed approaches, I decided to gather up my instinctive making-it-up-as-I-go moves as Real Knowledge, available only as a correspondence course. So here you go, excerpts from Accounting 666: How To Run Your Own Bookkeeping Business.
First off, recent study shows that if you’re over forty, you shouldn’t work five-day weeks. I read this in Martha Stewart Living magazine when looking for recipes for my mini crockpot. Actually an algorithm in my Pocket app sent it to me, but cooking dinner in your mini crockpot makes the end of your day rather easy — no dinner to prep as you did that in the morning —though you have to smell the deliciousness brewing in it as the afternoon goes on. Load up on almonds when the hunger pangs hit.
Do not set your alarm in the morning. Being woken up when you’re not ready to be awake causes crankiness. Scientists say that you should sleep until you wake on your own, this is best for your sleep habits. Lord, I love science. Then again, maybe I read this one in Martha Stewart Living as well.
And if you’re not knocking off by three p.m. (no matter how late you sleep), you’re doing it wrong. The elliptical machines at the gym will be widely available or you can take your (non- business related) reading material to the coffee shop or you can get a head start on happy hour.
WORDS TO LIVE YOUR BUSINESS BY:
“Get the money up front.” This one has stuck with me since I was a kid and had no idea what I was going to be when I grew up. Maybe I dreamt of being a scientist who would convince people not to use an alarm clock. The quote is from a commercial that constantly ran for a kids version of The Joker’s Wild game show. It was some smartass kid who cracked the host up.
“TCB: Taking Care of Business.” Cosmo Kramer said this on Seinfeld when he inadvertently stumbled into a corporate office gig and Jerry asked him what he did. Say it with the utmost confidence.
“That’s a Quickbooks bug, given Intuit’s knack for making an upgrade a downgrade.” This is one of my own quotes. It’s true, and never hesitate to blame any sort of glitch in reports on Quickbooks. It’s reputation precedes it.
“100 dollars a day, plus expenses.” Said by Jim Rockford, who should be your patron saint. Sure, he got beat up every episode and never seemed to get paid, but he lived in a trailer by the Pacific Ocean*, had an answering machine (BIG in the mid-seventies, and the messages were always noteworthy), didn’t have to wear a tie, drove a cool car, and was always taking attractive women out for tacos.
I’ve extolled the virtues of being self-employed before: No dress code, no jerk boss, scheduling paying job around writing schedule, no nosy coworkers, charging bags of coffee beans to my business’s expenses, etc. But have I mentioned: I hardly have to sit in a meeting ever? I telecommute most days and do almost all my communication via email. The last meeting I was asked to be a part of I attended from home, it was a teleconference. The last in-person business meeting I was at? I couldn’t tell you for sure. Meetings are more often than not useless. They take you away from what you’re supposed to be doing — working — and usually exist to advance somebody else’s agenda, this agenda is usually advanced by somebody above you and involves giving you and others more work.
Hence, working at home with no boss: Just gimme a stack of papers (via email or cloud, please, don’t ask me to stop by your office for them) and I’ll get ‘em into the software and then head out to the coffee shop, blissfully blasting music on headphones and continuing to enjoy my meeting-free life. Lord, it’s awesome not being in an office that has meetings. Don’t have to sweat it out hoping that the coffee is good. Don’t have to sit around listening to other people talk. Don’t have to hear awkward attempts at humor. Don’t have to kill time by hoping I have a pal across the conference table to play nickel hockey or paper triangle football with if the meeting starts late because some big shot is on a phone call. Don’t have to hear others use big words to show their insecurity over looking dumb. Don’t have to play mental run-out-the-clock, hoping I’m not called on … where I use small words and look smart.
The downside (I guess) to all this working at home/not leaving the apartment except to hit the coffee shop or get some exercise is that whatever limited social skills I had have diminished. Socializing is something I never learned to handle quite well and as I’ve gotten older I’ve shrugged and stopped worrying about whether I can carry on a conversation. I’ll save find the right word, dammit for writing. At least then I can edit away in glee. So now I pick and choose when I socialize. More often than not, I choose not to. Why leave this apartment when Narcos: Mexico is on Netflix, there’s books on my phone, and my turntable beckons?
If a client doesn’t pay up, threaten them with the ELCA (Enlightened Lutheran Collection Agency.)
Also, music will help you as you study the assignments in this class. My self-employed accountant acoustic blues album will be out soon on the Elektra label. First single will be "Your Love (Is Like A Bad Debt Expense)" b/w "I Got The Schedule C Blues Again". Ask for it at your favorite record store.
*Adjust for inflation.
**Better location and view than my likely retirement destination of a trailer in Richfield. This is my plan to retire in the south.
Tuesday, March 05, 2019
Wilson Pickett - "Sugar, Sugar"
I was at my Mom’s place having my morning coffee in the TV room, playing the Solid Gold Oldies channel on Comcast when they played “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett, “The Jolly Green Giant” by The Kingsmen, and then BOOM more Wilson Pickett with “Land of 1,000 Dances”. Soul, punk, and then a dose of more soul. I damn near spit out my Folger’s. The blatant power move by whoever programs Music Choice channel 430 to go Pickett two out of three and then the blunt realization that I have failed myself for decades in yet another area ... why the hell haven’t I spent more time listening to Wilson Pickett? Why spend time trying/failing to get into oh-so-English sixties Kinks (gimme seventies arena-rock Kinks) or digging out my vinyl copy of Disraeli Gears (and forgetting to take the needle off before the horrible side-ending tracks, geez BOTH SIDES) or forcing myself through another listen to Television’s Marquee Moon (“See No Evil” is the only song that grabs me though it is great) when I could be listening to a soul hero who recorded at Stax and Muscle Shoals and had the audacity to cover both The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (using Duane Allman on guitar) and The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar”? I’ve got catching up to do, some fun homework to tackle.
And I realized that this newfound Pickett interest can help me big-time. Like how having a bad back allows me to beg out of helping people move, the music of Wilson Pickett has made me see that I have better ways to spend my hours. And hell, this isn’t going to apply to just whatever overrated whiteboy music act that friends and acquaintances want me to dig. You want me to watch your latest favorite movie, latest favorite TV show, or listen to your latest favorite (of course it’s plural) podcasts? No way world: I’M GOING TO GO LISTEN TO THE WICKED PICKETT.
(Artwork from the incredible Rock Dreams by Guy Peellaert and Nik Cohn.)
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
The Donnas - "What Do I Have To Do"
A great thing about getting old is nobody asks me what’s new in music. All for the best, because I can’t stop spinning Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’s “A Taste Of Honey” on the turntable and my favorite station these days is WDGY.* My latest (but not new) obsession is The Donnas. Not sure what happened to these gals, I daydream about them barnstorming across the country and playing the 7th Street Entry someday and me actually going out on a Friday night like back in the old days. (Does the Entry still sell Colt .45?) I hadn’t gone through a Donnas phase in years, was pleasantly surprised to find out that their latest album was titled Bitchin’, and was chagrined to see that it came out back in ‘07. Then I shrugged my shoulders. Many say I peaked back in ‘97 and I haven’t put out a zine since ‘09, so who am I to cause a fuss over recent output? Good news, it’s another great listen from the gals.
The opening title track starts off with a siren like It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back which leads into Sabbath riffs, swirling background vocals, Beck-era Yardbirds guitar, and speeds up into proper Donnas madness with a Kiss reference (lick it up), a Judas Priest reference (heads are gonna roll), and a chanted promise that they are going to kick your ass all over this album and you’re gonna love it. Then they proceed to kick our asses all over the album and we love it. Great riffs, awesome beat, hooks, gorgeous harmonies and background ooohs and ahhhs, and production so sparkling and flawless you’d think it was Chris Thomas manning the board (it’s not.) This is rock ‘n’ roll at its best, proof is that one of the songs starts out with the same cowbell lead-in as “We’re An American Band.”
I’m 99 to 100 percent sure The Donnas didn’t get the recognition they deserved because of the usual Smart People bias against hard rock. I remember a reviewer in some local alternative paper bitchin’ (ha) about how The Donnas weren’t a punk band after all (he had fallen for the head fake of them having Ramones-like names) and were more like a hard rock or (gasp) metal band. The joke was on him, The Donnas can play, their drummer rules, and their metal riffs kick more ass any play-fast-don’t-worry-about-the-production outfit could come up with. The Donnas sang about the guys they wanted, were clear-cut on how they were going to win said guys over, and left the woe-is-me lyrics to overhyped songwriters on the usual sad sack trip. (And people wonder why some of us don’t listen to Doofus ... I mean Rufus Wainright.)
Not only is this a fun album, it has some fun coincidences. The cover reminds me of that Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle poster, which was itself a throwback to Loverboy’s second album cover. (And Drew Barrymore sang along with a Loverboy song in that movie, but mostly I remember Demi Moore handling a gun in a certain way ...) AND: Importantly on Bitchin’, there’s a song called “Wasted”, which is also the name of a Def Leppard tune on High ‘n’ Dry. This Def Lep nod freaked me out last fall as I was walking around south Minneapolis with this album blasting on headphones, also dually freaking out as I was approaching that duplex due south and east where the two blondes suntan in bikini tops on a blanket with beers ... because The Donnas also have a tune called “What Do I Have To Do” — as did Stabbing Westward, who I’m pretty sure in my zine twenty-some years ago wrote that they sounded like Def Leppard. Ripley’s man, I’m tellin’ ya.
*Weegee! A weird but powerful mix of almost-forgotten sixties/seventies oldies and seventies deep cuts. Available in HD on the FM dial in my office and via TuneIn/Chromecast on the living room hi-fi.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Scorpions - “Loving You Sunday Morning”
Scorpions are like that Tombstone pepperoni pizza I cook up Friday night after a couple, three, four Premiums and few knockbacks of Finlandia: there’s something vaguely off but still ON about it ... I shouldn’t love it so much — not with Heggies and other top-shelf frozen ‘zas now available — but the sodium, cured meat, amped-up punching-above-its-weight sauce, and gooey mozzarella cheese just tastes right and makes me feel like there’s nothing else I’d rather be sampling.
Similar sentiments lurk with the Scorpions. Sure, I could listen to Zep, Sabbath, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, or even UFO but at times the Scorps are the ones that just hit the spot. I remember years ago specifically driving to Cheapo on a Friday afternoon because I HAD to have the Blackout LP on vinyl. And last year when I was on a walk around the neighborhood, “Loving You Sunday Morning” came on Ozzy’s Boneyard on SiriusXM and once it was over, I flipped over to Apple Music on my phone just to play that gem a couple of more times.
Sometime back in the eighties in whatever magazine I was reading, a writer declared Dieter Dierks the greatest hard rock producer on the planet. Tough to argue when you hear how masterfully those classic Scorpions songs were assembled: crystal-clear and crisp, major riffage abounds, and hell even Klaus Meine is made to sound palatable. No pedestrian riffs and forced crap vocals here (cough, Dio). No, not in Dieter’s shop — it was tight! Plus, I just like saying “Dieter Dierks”. Hey Dieter: if you’re ever in Minneapolis ... a Tombstone pizza and a couple, three, four Premiums on me at the pull-tabs-featuring bar of your choice, my man.