Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday Tuneage
Rainbow - "Since You Been Gone"

Russ Ballard is a man who has written a billion songs, of which a couple of hundred have become hits for others. While reading up on him recently, I found something a little odd. Within one year of Head East covering a Russ Ballard song, Rainbow would cover the exact same song. To wit: Head East recorded "Since You Been Gone" in 1978, Rainbow in 1979. Head East did "I Surrender" in 1980, Rainbow in 1981. Typical Brit rockers, those boys in Rainbow. Wait for Americans to do something, then rip it off. That Ballard is British and hence was in Rainbow's own back yard makes this even more egregious. But it also makes sense. Rainbow leader Ritchie Blackmore, who once declared his love for Foreigner and how Lou (Freakin) Gramm influenced him, probably also loved the merely-competent Midwestern hard rock of Head East. Maybe he tracked their ablums when he was looking for something "with an edge" and picked up on those Ballard songs.

"Since You Been Gone" is one of those songs that's been covered numerous times. Go to YouTube and you can find the Head East and Rainbow versions, plus by a band called Clout, Cherie and Marie Currie, and Russ Ballard himself. The Rainbow version is the most familiar if you grew up listening to AOR radio. I seem to remember reading where somebody from Rainbow or one of their fanboys congratulated the band on having a unique take on the song because they tacked a guitar solo on to the end. (Ritchie Blackmore looking for another solo? Shocker!) It is quite a fun tune, and Rainbow's version earned it airplay.

Then consider the video: The keyboardist dresses like the dork who sat in front of you in math class, the drummer wears a windbreaker, the bass player wears a blazer and tie. The lead singer has short hair and sports sneakers, and with this being the UK in 1978 that may have been a bid to get the band new wave/street credibility. Then there's Ritchie Blackmore, the enigmatic leader of the band, who is seen at the start of the video than not much until the end. You keep waiting for something explosive to happen, that Ritchie will of course crank up some fretboard histrionics and then his appearance in the video will be like when Orson Welles showed up in The Third Man. But Blackmore has all the charisma of a stone wall, the rest of the musicians follow his non-lead, and it leaves the singer look like he's trying too hard. But hey - to Rainbow's credit, their version of "Since You Been Gone" is a hell of a lot more energetic than Head East's. I'd still rather watch Cherie and Marie Currie though. They're like half of an ABBA with twice the fun!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday Tuneage
REM - "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

The best way to read the "A" section of the paper these days is with a healthy dose of disconnect. It's a mess out there. A recent trip through the headlines with a red pen generated a sixteen-team apocalypse field, complete with seeds and a bracket. A larger field would of course include nuclear powers like the UK and France, but for now they will have to hope for an apocalypse NIT. Here's the seeds, and here's the bracket:

1) Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine
2) China, India, North Korea, USA
3) Hamas, Iran, Japan, Syria
4) Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic State, Taliban

That creeping feeling of dread is back with us. Last Thursday when everything seemed to be falling apart, an hour or so in a downtown bar with the British Open on the screens was a respite, but that night was a gloomy affair of Surly (appropriate) beer, leftover soggy bar nachos, and an inability to turn off the cable news. Putting things in a bracket is always fun, but problem is: Ultimately in an Apocalypse Bracket, there ain't no winners.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday Tuneage
Nazareth - "This Flight Tonight"

Talk about two tunes that deserve a mashup - the Joni Mitchell original and Nazareth's cover of "This Flight Tonight" - mostly because both Mitchell and Nazareth's Dan McCafferty have, um, distinct singing voices. Yes, those crazy Scotsmen in Nazareth went and covered Joni Mitchell because Judy Collins was too busy that day to handle it herself. And you just know sweet Judy wouldn't have been able to throw that sly Slade/Mott the Hoople-like short chant into a chorus like Nazareth did. Next time I tune into a big game at Fenway and see chrome-domed James Taylor grinning with an acoustic guitar, I'm muting the TV and blasting this one loud 'n' proud. Because: FOLK ROCK BABY!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Tuesday Tuneage
Poison - "Unskinny Bop"

One wonders if Poison had come along in the early seventies rather than the mid-eighties they would have been solid AM hitmakers, maybe a scrappy/garage/American version of Sweet. Their eighties work had a "sounds great on the radio, won't buy the album of course WHO DO YOU THINK I AM" quality to it. Sing along to them in the car during the lunch break run to Wendy's, then head home after work and listen to Metallica albums and think serious thoughts. After recently hearing them on Jack FM (natch), I realized just how much fun Poison were, how for a few years they put out a handful of radio-friendly tunes that hold up quite well, thank you. Recorded towards the end of their run as hit-makers, "Unskinny Bop" has nonsense lyrics, seamless harmonies, a hook that won't quit … all adding up to make a nineties bubblegum/pop/metal/whatever gem. I had mostly forgotten this one, but it now stands unforgettable. It also stands (serious thought ahead … somebody get this guy some Wendy's … ) as proof of the redeeming power of commercial radio.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tuesday Tuneage
The J. Geils Band - "Angel In Blue"

The other night while listening to random iTunes tracks under headphones, "Main Street" came on and I tweeted: Only Bob Seger could write a great, poignant song about a stripper. Top that, Jackson Browne. Not so sure why I was being so snarky on Browne, I must have grabbed whatever iconic singer/songwriter popped into my head. Seger is as worthy as any of the highly hailed Songwriters, why not just tweet that?

The next day I slapped the J. Geils Band's Freeze-Frame LP on my turntable for a spin. What's lost with time and their mass success with Freeze-Frame is that in the seventies they were a contender for the never-crowned American Rolling Stones, as Dave Marsh once wrote: "(They) came closest to the Stones' synthesis of rhythm & blues, bravado and strong sense of outrage." Also lost is the mastery of some of their finest songwriting, like the incredible "Cry One More Time" and the stunning "Teresa." On side two of  Freeze-Frame is "Angel In Blue", a song I had loved in high school. It's great, poignant (nice writerly word Tuomala, "poignant") and is about a stripper. So in that one tweet I needlessly cheapshotted the man who wrote "Doctor My Eyes" and my initial assertion was wrong anyway. The lesson here is to not drink and tweet, kids. (Drink, then tweet the next morning with coffee.) And oh yeah - check out the J. Geils Band catalog. Better than Elvis Costello!