Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Tuneage
The Litter - "Action Woman"

Minneapolis band The Litter's debut album, Distortions, is mostly covers that you could have expected to hear from any number of bands in Anytown, USA circa 1966-67 at dances in clubs as the teen action switched from dancing to digging the band.

Cub Koda: "But you could really judge a band, and how their lead guitar player truly was, by whether or not they played any tunes by The Yardbirds - and if they did so, how well they played 'em."

"I'm A Man", their take of the Yardbirds' cover of the Bo Diddley tune, is decidely more punkish; the rhythm section simply doesn't compare to that of the Yardbirds, yet they try the song at the same fast rate. The lead guitarist doesn't come close to replicating Jeff Beck's use of his guitar as a percussion instrument. But he does try to coax weird noises out of his axe and that's how they end the tune.

Lester Bangs: "There was this one song called 'Hey Joe' that literally everbody and his fuckin' brother not only recorded but claimed to have written even though it was obviously the psychedelic mutation of some hoary old folk song which was about murderin' somebody for love just like nine-tenths of the rest of them hoary folk ballads."

Their "Hey Joe" isn't as good as those by The Leaves or The Standells, it's more along the line of passive attempts like the Byrds' version. Maybe about as good as Patti Smith's take, they all kinda sound the same once you've heard The Jimi Hendrix Experience's reimagining anyway.

The Litter's one original on Distortions - written by producer Warren Kendrick, who was hoping for a hit - is the sonic blast "Action Woman." It has all the requisites of a Yardbirds wannabe from the mid-sixties: the distortion, the aggresiveness, the insolent lead singer, the Beck-influenced solo, the misogyny aimed against a girl who won't put out. According to the album's liner notes (1999 reissue on the ARF! ARF! label), the tune got a little airplay on KDWB courtesy of deejay Tac Hammer, but didn't even become a local hit and the band quickly dropped it from its shows' playlists.

In a classic understatement, Kendrick later confessed: "In retrospect, it was a little too strong for my target market of 13-year-old girls." True, but he and The Litter gave a gift for the ages to garage rock aficionados.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Tuneage
The Suburbs - "Cows"

Late 1984 in Grand Forks, I was at a party across the hall when the dorm's resident punk rockers - all three of them ... and "punk" is a relative term, but they were the punkiest guys in the dorm by far - showed up. My only memory of this conversation was that one of them, in his gelled hair and eyeliner, insisting that The Suburbs were the greatest band ever. Better than The Who! I scoffed, we debated, I laughed at him, he laughed at me. They moved on to another party.

I actually ended up getting along with these guys. Maybe they sensed that I may have been a little more tolerant than others. Me, I was starting to explore music outside of classic rock. I'd ask them questions and their enthusiasm was undeniable. Some credit to my listening to Black Flag and then quickly moving on to Husker Du from there has to lie with them.

The next year, the first night the dorm's cafeteria was open, I was sitting by myself at one of the tables during dinner. One of the punkers took the seat opposite me, reintroduced himself, shook his head, and said: "Man, those freshmen over there think my bowling shirt is funny." We chuckled over that and moaned about the new kids on campus. He confessed he had sat with me because I had a Who shirt on. This started a beautiful conversation about music, new and old. It was a great way to start the new school year.

All this came back to me last week when I purchased the anthology Ladies And Gentleman, The Suburbs Have Left The Building. It's not The Who, but who cares? It's solid Minneapolis rock combined with bold dance beats. Thirty years late for me is better than never.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tuesday Tuneage
Grandpboy - "Knock It Right Out"

A song for the spring and summer. Terrific Stones/Faces riff that I believe Paul Westerberg (Grandpaboy is his alter ego) described as "like candy" in the Come Feel Me Tremble documentary.

Lyrics like: "Got an idea / Gotta make a lotta money" may not be up there with those in "Unsatisfied", "Here Comes A Regular", and "Nobody"; but which song will you sing to yourself when the rent is due soon and you've only worked three hours this week?

Considering the stink-ola status of the Minnesota Twins, it's nice to listen to Twins fan Westerberg sing with confidence about knocking the ball out of the park. The Twins? 17 home runs in 29 games, and that's just the tip of that rather lame iceberg. (Twins are the iceberg, fans' hopes are the Titanic.) Our hope now is that Westerberg emerges from his basement with a whole album of baseball-centric songs to cheer us up during another beatdown. We need a soundtrack to surfing Twitter for the best Twins cheap shot to yell at our TVs.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tuesday Tuneage
Brownsville Station - "Smokin' In The Boys Room"

Brownsville Station seemed like a bunch of harmless goofballs, but now looking back their "I got bored" slacker rebellion seems like the perfect antidote to a couple of bizarre only-in-the-seventies school memories that continue to stick with me:

1) At the start of third grade, our teacher said she would like to meet with us, two at a time, after school for thirty minutes to talk and get to know us better. I was only eight years old, but I knew darn sure that I didn't want to do this. So I did what I have always done - as child and adult - when faced with a situation where I didn't want to do something: I avoided it. I simply didn't sign up for the chat time with the teacher, hoping that a no-sign meant no obligation.

No such luck. Sure enough, a few weeks into the school year, Teach called me and a fellow student out on not signing up to talk with her. (Some annoying little teacher's pet wannabe raised his hand and said *he'd* gladly meet with her for a second time. Dork.) Trapped in a corner and no way out, I signed up to meet with the teacher along with the other holdout.

The meeting wasn't that bad, just strange. I don't remember much, just that: A) How weird it was was to have a teacher wanting me to talk to her as a person and not a student, B) By staying after school (and on a Friday!), I had been deprived of a walk home with my neighborhood buddies and football in the back yard. So the teacher might have been glad that she got to know me a little better, all I got was my first taste of unpaid overtime.

2) One year, apparently the administration at my junior high felt that we all needed to relate to each other better. So instead of going to a class and learning something, once a week for an hour we broke up into classroom-size groups and would go to a classroom and have a discussion led by the teacher. Our school nickname was the Raiders, so these discussions were called "Raider Rap Sessions." We got a handbook and this title was on the cover and DAMMIT I wish now I had kept a copy. I don't remember much about these rap sessions, they involved talks about ethics (is cheating on a test ever okay, etc.) and one of them actually turned into a discussion on the code of defending your goalie. (Grand Forks is a hockey town.) I can't complain, I was never required to actively participate in these rap sessions, never opened my mouth once. If they would have had the sessions replace something as useless as gym class, I probably would have considered them a noble idea. And I'm halfways convinced that someday somebody will say I imagined the Raider Rap Sessions, that I stole the idea from an episode of Freaks and Geeks.

Mr. Rosso: Let’s just rap. As people, okay? No pressure. From now I’m not "Mr. Rosso, guidance counselor."
Lindsey: You’re not?
Mr. Rosso: I’m just Jeff. Your friend who cares.