Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Smashing Pumpkins - "Cherub Rock"
In those heady days of my Z-Rock obsession they played grunge, which was sweet because grunge was a great subgenre of metal: bottom-heavy, Sabbath-influenced, and played by guys who guzzled beer and wore flannel shirts. Hell, the Pearl Jam guys even loved sports - thereby reinforcing grunge's populist appeal.
On 1992's Singles soundtrack, the one that you swore up and down was "going to be a mainstay of everybody’s album collection in twenty years”, Smashing Pumpkins' “Drown” dropped into all the grunge so beautifully. The following year, I debated buying the Pumpkins' second album, Siamese Dream. The first single, "Cherub Rock" was exhuberant, anthemic. The second single, "Today", had an annoying chorus that was childlike and not in a good way. The sinker was that the third single, "Disarm", it had the “I used to be a little boy” line sung so whinily by frontman Billy Corgan. Along with this was the increasing realization that this Corgan character was something of a dork.
This realization was vindicated after reading an article in the April 1994 issue of Spin on Soundgarden that had major moments of levity, all inadvertently provided by Corgan. To wit:
- Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil drink beers, while Corgan orders a strawberry margarita.
- Corgan riffs on Jungian therapy, then actually asks Thayil what astrological sign he is.
- "Ooh," Thayil says a little too loudly as Corgan walks away, "I'll bet he's going to call his therapist in Chicago, wake her up at four in the morning, and tell her about that big, mean bear who made fun of him."
- Corgan walks past wearing a long-sleeved Superman T-shirt like the one your four-year-old nephew probably owns."You hurt me deeply," Corgan says, touching the giant S on his chest and pouting. "You hurt me deeply in my heart."
(At this point I must say I imagine that Jim Parsons - Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory - of course plays Corgan in the Smashing Pumpins biopic.)
As a music fan, it seemed you had to take the Corgan drama queen nonsense with the anthemic, surging guitars. I couldn’t get my head around that, especially at that age when I had an idealized view of rockers. I spent the rest of the nineties chuckling at Billy Corgan. The next Smashing Pumpkins album was titled - get this: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and had lyrics like "The world is a vampire" and "God is empty … just like me." Whoah, deep stuff there William! After that, there was the inevitable dabbling with electronica and when they put out an album titled MACHINA/The Machines of God I figured laughing at Corgan wasn't even worth the effort any more. Ryan Adams - an equally annoying whiner had appeared and The White Stripes were on the horizon to provide hope and optimism in rock 'n' roll as I entered my late thirties.
These days, I play some Smashing Pumpkins and have fun with nineties nostalgia. I remember the odd moment of seeing Billy Corgan as a panel member on Midwest Sports Channel on the Chicago-based cult favorite The Sports Writers on TV, which meant he wasn't one hundred percent dork. I can hit "skip" any time "Disarm" is played on a device and it's not like I have to hang out with Corgan. And every once in a while, I dwell on that time when “Cherub Rock” was an indicator that Smashing Pumpkins could be the next fave band - I remember what street I was driving on and what the weather was like when I first heard its opening chords - and the oncoming unraveling of the knowledge that their brand of alt rock wasn't exactly the Little Richard funhouse rock 'n' roll that I revel in.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
The Hellacopters - "Carry Me Home"
I saw The Hellacopters at the 400 Bar just over ten years ago, they were hyper and skinny Scandavian dudes. You know how most American bands will introduce a song, play it, then say "thank you"? The Copters would do this: "This one's called 'Like No Other Man.' Thank you!" Then they would play the song. It was quite endearing and while I have never found their studio releases all that consistent, they recorded enough hard rock anthems to find a steady place in my music rotation. Especially when I need that one song to blast away bad thoughts or distractions in my brain.
I first got into The Copters early in the first term of George W. Bush. I bring this up because of a theory being held by certain music fans I talked to at the time. The theory was this: With a conservative Republican back in the White House after eight years of a Democratic president, there was a good chance that this would bring back the glory of Reagan-era punk rock. (Think Minutemen, Black Flag, Husker Du, etc.) It seemed like an odd theory to me - these same people were badmouthing Bush for his politics, but then out the other side of their mouth were saying: "But think how great punk rock is gonna be in a few years!" As the early years of the Dubya administration played out, there was a punk revival - but it was led by the likes of The Strokes and The White Stripes and was a garage rock revival that had nothing to do with being a reaction to the Bush administration.
So what does all this have to do with The Hellacopters? They are sympton of yet another hole in this theory I'm addressing: The Copters weren't oppressed by some right-wing administration allegedly turning their country into a police state, they were garage rockers from Sweden, which everybody knows is a generous welfare state. Then note that the original punk rock - the American garage rock of the mid-sixties - was born in the midst of LBJ's Great Society. Yet nobody runs around claiming any type of link between big government and garage rock. Seems to me the only conclusion to draw is rather plain: These punky garage rock spikes happen when kids have garages.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Jethro Tull - "Bungle In The Jungle"
Decades before indie rockers across the land totally dweebed out by recording albums of children's songs (makes sense though as whiteboy crappy vocals and lazy rhythm sections - the hallmarks of indie rock - have "childish" written all over them), Jethro Tull placed one of the all-time great child rock songs at number 12 on the U.S. charts. Being eight years old at the time, I'm confident I knew what a great child's song was. The title rhymed, it mentioned animals, and it was catchy. What more could a kid ask for?
Also, "Jethro Tull", like "Led Zeppelin" sounded cool. (I assumed both were men, not bands.) In the last half of elementary school, "Bungle In The Jungle" was a fave. I didn't buy the 45, I didn't buy many 45s. But along with Star Trek reruns, Strangely Enough!, and game after game of Risk and gin rummy; it provided entertainment and entertainment only. Being a kid was no fun, except when it actually was.
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
UFO - "Rock Bottom"
I. UNLESS IT'S LINK WRAY, WHY BOTHER?
Guitarists! I have had guitarist-loving friends who have bought certain albums just because Steve Vai or Dave Navarro played on them. Oh boy! It's a strange little subculture, the fetish over the likes of Vai, Navarro, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, and Yngwie Malmsteen (who, if he didn't exist, would have to be invented.) This is a world where a bore like Journey's Neal Schon is considered worthy of attention and acclaim.
II. THE NUMBERS ALL GO TO ELEVEN
Gear! Like car buffs and computer enthusiasts, guitarists do that male thing of breaking down and detailing all of the equipment and technology involved in the endeavor. Just check out any guitarist's Wikipedia page to confirm. To wit, here's the wiki on Dave Navarro: Since late 2008, Dave's been seen using live and in studio a custom white Ibanez RG, with a humbucker/single/single pickup layout, gold hardware, and a vintage style tremolo... essentially an Ibanez version of his PRS Guitars Signature Model. Dave previously used a vintage Marshall JCM800, but now plays through 2 Marshall JCM900 amplifiers which are dubbed Tanjerine and Peach. For large gigs he will also use a Marshall Mode 4 for clean tones. In the studio he is also commonly known to use a Vox AC30 for cleans and a Bogner Uberschall for dirty tones.
Me, I like my writing gear: Mead Five Star notebook, Pilot pen, MacBook. One of the best moments in the fabulously great Almost Famous is that snippet on Writer's Gear between Lester Bangs and William Miller:
LB: What do you type on?
WM: Smith-Corona Galaxis Deluxe.
III. MICHAEL SCHENKER HAS STARRED IN TWO SEPARATE GROUPS NAMED "MSG", BUT WHY DOES MY FAVORITE CHINESE TAKE-OUT PLACE BAN THEM?
Recently I was thinking about the guitar/guitarist fetish that some guys have while listening to The Essential UFO. They were the complete package for fans of seventies hard rock: Great riffs, catchy tunes, compelling singer, with Michael Schenker pulling brilliant and inventive leads that avoided jamming and wanking. Like Eddie Van Halen, Schenker played with a certain metallic exuberance that lifted tunes like "Doctor Doctor", "Shoot Shoot", and "Cherry" into the stratosphere. Prime example is "Rock Bottom." It's six-plus minutes of hard rock fury filled with Schenker pyrotechnics. I would never buy an album simply because Schenker played on it, but he's one of those rare axemen who lives up to his hype.
AND IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING … Schenker's Wikipedia page states that: Schenker's main guitar for much of his career was a Gibson Flying V, which he typically played through a wah-wah pedal (used as a parametric equalizer to strengthen the "sweet spot") and Marshall amplifiers.
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
The Long Ryders - "Looking For Lewis And Clark"
The Long Ryders named themselves after the Walter Hill movie, but used the sixties/Byrds spelling of "Riders." So while "Looking For Lewis And Clark" is undoubtably one of the more compelling songs of the mid-eighties roots rock movement, you get the feeling something other than the typical back-to-basics may be looming. For instance, The Ryders are looking for Lewis and Clark, who were explorers themselves: Get it? (Not proud that it took me damn near thirty years to get it.)
The song kicks in with a whistle and a howl, so you get the feeling you're in for a good ride no matter what happens with the lyrics. There are mentions of Tim Hardin and Gram Parsons in the same verse in a bid for Songwriter Credibility, but then they mention their own band name and that seems a tad forced. There's also a bizzarre mention of the Yellow Pages, which you kids out there will have to Google. And speaking of which: HEY DEX AND VERIZON, WHY DO YOU STILL DROP OFF DOZENS OF PHONEBOOKS IN MY APARTMENT BUILDING'S LOBBY?? The song ends with a nod to "Louie Louie", which establishes garage rock credentials. And geography credentials also, as Lewis and Clark finally reached the Pacific near Portland … where both Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Kingsmen both recorded "Louie Louie" in the same week and in the same studio in 1963. Incredible!
Flipping the album cover over (advised, since the cover eerily mimicks what Lester Bangs once wrote about White Witch: Observe the dude standing on the left … a true dork) to scan the credits and you see that it was recorded at a studio in Oxfordshire, England. Hey that's not roots rock at all! What gives? Also, this: "The Long Ryders wish success and happiness to all bands." I smell a simmering feud and hope it involved The Paisley Underground and/or Dwight Yoakam. One can only daydream.