Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Inside Experience - "Tales of Brave Ulysses"

In the continuing effort to drown out the window AC unit, the Brown Acid compilations of proto-stoner metal from the late sixties and early seventies have been employed. The music is more amateurish and stumbling than the likes of Frijid Pink and Blue Cheer, as the Nuggets-era bands started embracing harsher drugs, became slower and heavier, headed for burnout, and brought about the comedown referenced in the series’ title.

This cover of the Cream song by Eric Clapton and Martin Sharp starts out as a bummer, then stumbles into a higher gear. There’s no sign of Clapton’s wah-wah guitar, kinda like how when The Litter covered The Yardbirds’ version of “I’m a Man” they neglected to attempt the Jeff-Beck-treats-his-guitar-as-a-percussion-instrument thing. But the cool (yes, cool) touch these slouches pulled off was the sudden laughing and cackling kicking in at the end. The Sirens, of course. The tune sounds like it was recorded in the dankest of basements (hence the band name) and we the listeners are up on the porch drinking lukewarm Miller High Lifes. (If this had been recorded in the nineties, some joker would have told you that you were listening to “lo-fi.”)

And after buying Cream’s Disraeli Gears forty years ago in the used racks at Mother’s Records, a kicking-myself realization: While this tune is about Ulysses from Roman mythology, a later verse doesn’t namecheck Venus and instead uses Aphrodite from Greek mythology. Hey Clapton: Shoulda brushed up on your Edith Hamilton!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Coverdale-Page - “Pride and Joy”

I was working my first post-college temp job at the Richfield Lunds grocery store in the summer of 1987. My task was to sit at a table with another temp and some senior volunteers and help people sign up to obtain at-home colon cancer screening tests. It was a campaign promoted by channel 5’s Dr. Michael Breen, who once stopped by to say hi and thank us for helping out. (Imagine my disappointment decades later while watching the NBA Finals and finding out ABC’s Mike Breen is a completely different guy, coulda done the Jeff Spicoli “ah, I know that dude” bit.) Later in the summer the reachout effort tamped down and the table was down to one-person shifts and there weren’t many interested patrons. (Though I was referred to as “sir” for the first time ever by a high school kid looking for the deli section ... I was twenty-one, sigh.) The manager of the store took a liking to me and said it would be fine if I flipped through magazines at my station during the slow stretches. So it was in a magazine there — I forget which — that I read Whitesnake’s name described as “seemingly both racist *and* sexist.” That line sounds like a Spinal Tap outtake, bravo.

Tawny Kitaen (RIP) aside, I never cared for Whitesnake. Glossy corporate metal that became increasingly laughable once Guns n’ Roses appeared and dumb without enough fun to make up for it. (No, I didn’t care about the hire-Steve-Vai move.) While I could go back to David Coverdale’s solo album White Snake (two words, not one, a complicated fellow this Dave) and try to find a song, instead I’m using a Coverdale-Page song here because Jimmy Page’s efforts in the nineties to resuscitate Led Zeppelin were pretty damn funny.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Deep Purple - "Flight of the Rat"

Deep Purple in Rock was the debut of the fabled Mark II edition of the band. As Billy Altman wrote in The Rolling Stone Record Guide (original red edition, 1979): “(Ritchie) Blackmore began to pull feverish and original solos out of nowhere, as he and (keyboardist Jon) Lord began to serve as counterpoints to each other.” The best case of this on In Rock is “The Flight of the Rat.” The album also has one of the great seventies album covers. In Chuck Eddy’s excellent tome Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, he writes that Deep Purple disguising themselves as Mount Rushmore on the cover of In Rock was “a very Spinal Tap thing to do.” Thinking of this made me note other Spinal Tap-ish things that have occurred in real life. Soon I will be listing others here and maybe I’ll actually write something instead of quoting others. To get the writing juices flowing, I can look to the lyrics that came with Deep Purple’s Machine Head (Mark II's masterpiece), they’re hanging in my office.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Mick Jagger with Dave Grohl - “Eazy Sleazy”

“Deep dive” is one of those phrases thrown around a lot the past few years, and I can safely say that such excursions aren’t working for me when it comes to certain current events, even though these days I have all kinds of time. Even counting time washing masks, streaming shows, applying for PPP loans, coming up with excuses not to attend the inevitable post-pandemic parties, cataloging my grievances against my newly-adopted cat (who is doing the same), and avoiding neighbors in the hallway ... I have time. In fact, I have too much time on my hands but yet I don’t want deep dives. I only want shallow dives. Wait, with such a dive you could injure your head and neck in shallow water. No, I only want shallow swims these days. Subjects that aren’t deep, like: Figuring out which University of North Dakota football players have scored points in Super Bowls, Cheap Trick’s eighties output, Everybody Loves Raymond reruns, those three great songs from Badfinger, digging up the rules of board games I played as a kid, and this Jagger/Grohl song. It’s garage-dance rock, dumb as hell, and a lot of fun.

And after a couple of spins and an afternoon dance party is contemplated, soon some time has been killed and it’s time for more coffee. A caffeine-plus-jitters diet is keeping the weight off, saves me from taking a deep dive into how to stay healthy when shut inside month after month. Coffee, water, and then daydream about beer. Friends are taking deep dives into craft beers, having all kinds of sixers and twelvers and growlers delivered to their homes. I shallowly swim in cheap macro lagers — Pabst, LaBatt, Grain Belt. Saves money and I can drink more of ‘em because they’re not hoppy. It’s fun tossing the cans into the recycling container, the kind of shallow activity that might take up my evening. Shallow swims, I’m in.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Wilson Picket - “Fire and Water”

In my efforts to listen to more Wilson Pickett, I assembled a playlist of him covering others’ hits. What a fun, exhilarating experience. Pickett would take on anything. There was hard rock: “Born to Be Wild*,” “Fire and Water,” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (taking on the Vanilla Fudge version of the Supremes’ classic.) There was bubblegum: “Sugar Sugar” and “Run Joey Run.” There was the greatest British band with “Hey Jude,” the greatest American band with “Proud Mary,” and a criminally underrated American band with “Groovin’.” There was an ancient folk song in “Stagger Lee,” and a folk song of relatively recent invention in “Hey Joe.” Plus Roger Miller’s “Engine Engine Number 9” and another pretty good songwriter thrown in with Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come.”

Perhaps my favorite is his take on Free’s “Fire and Water.” Where Free’s version was all tension until Paul Kossoff’s brilliant guitar solo freed (ahem) things up, Pickett’s soars with horns and his irrepressible vocal. The weather is warming up and it’s time to maybe smile. Me, I’m going to listen to sunny music with the windows open. Wilson Picket demands a listen. What else are you going to do: Listen to The Kinks sleepwalk their way through “Long Tall Sally”?

*Better than Steve Martin’s version even.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Creedence Clearwater Revival - “Lodi”

Been at this same writing desk in my apartment for almost a year now, putting down words. But it’s not the same without being at the coffee shop, grabbing a table and setting up my office there with notebook, iPad, magazines, and folders. The words I type these days mostly go into unfinished pieces that feel inspired or at least solid upon first spark, but after typing up the notes and rewriting, revising, and editing, they lose their shine. There’s no variety while I sit here, no random sighting of folks across the shop, no snippets of conversation drifting across my table. No sense that as I’m away from home, I’m getting away with something. I like to use that feeling of mischief in creating, that sense of pulling a fast one, of getting away with the perfect score. But here I am sitting at home again, like the narrator in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi”, on a treadmill with seemingly no way of getting off. “If I only had a dollar ...”

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Tuesday Tuneage
Brenton Wood - “Psychotic Reaction”

How I made it until 2021 without hearing this one is baffling. Sampling Count Five’s garage rock masterpiece of the same name while adding ? and the Mysterians-like keyboard results in a soul nugget that anticipates Funkadelic, Prince (especially), and a long list of funk weirdos. Both Woods and the Five were on the same Double Shot label, must of made clearing the rights to the song easier. Interesting that the original “Psychotic Reaction” was a clumsy/genius rehash of the Yardbirds “I’m a Man”, which in turn was a cover of the Bo Diddley classic. Though when things get weirdly fun we tend to end up at Bo, don’t we?

(And again, the singer is Brenton Wood, not Bretton Woods.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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

Tuesday Tuneage
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.”