Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: 'God Save The Kinks: A Biography'


Despite their position at the forefront of British pop, The Kinks have never gotten as much ink as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or The Who. There have been a few slim biographies by Jon Savage, John Mendelssohn (both published way back in the eighties), and Neville Martin & Jeffrey Hudson, one exhaustive day-by-day guide by Doug Hinman, and perhaps most significant of all, landmark autobiographies by Ray and Dave Davies. That’s about it. Recognizing the void, Mojo writer and kultist Rob Jovanovic got to work on his own biography five years ago in an effort to bring The Kink kronikles up to date. It’s likely Jovanovic did not realize that at the same time, his fellow writer Nick Hasted was working on his own Kinks biography with input from Ray, Dave, and drummer Mick Avory and that You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks would beat his book to the shelves by two years. That must have been frustrating, especially since both books cover a lot of the same ground (they even come in at almost the same page count) with the major added bonus of those new interviews with the brothers Davies.

Here’s why God Save The Kinks: A Biography remains a relevant read for Kinks fans: more so than Hasted, Jovanovic looks beyond the core members of the band to explore the experiences of those not named Davies. Naturally, Ray and Dave remain the key players, as they should, and like Hasted, Jovanovic also gets quotes from Avory and bassist Pete Quaife’s brother David. However, we also get primary perspectives from bassist John Dalton, keyboardist John Gosling, and back-up singers Debi Doss and Shirlie Roden, whose contemporary remembrances and period journal entries commandeer the storytelling during The Kinks’ mid-seventies theatrical phase. The rest of the book is good too—a well-written, reasonably thorough blow-by-blow of the Davies’s activities and accomplishments alone and together up to the present day—but it is the expansion of the orbit from the brothers to their extended musical family that makes God Save The Kinks an essential companion volume to You Really Got Me.

Get God Save The Kinks: A Biography at Amazon.com here:

1


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: 'Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries'


A couple of months ago I reviewed a sweeping debunking of the most famous cryptids called Abominable Science.  While applauding the sound arguments of authors Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, I also lamented—ever so slightly—how their book put such a resounding end to dreams of the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Big Foot, and others of their phony family. Humbug these creatures may be, but they’re fun too. Prothero, the stauncher skeptic of the duo, argued that cryptozoology does more damage than good because the “I’ll buy anything” attitude it allows undermines our faith in science, and before you know it, the wackos are teaching “intelligent design” hooey in public schools.

Fair enough, but I for one protest the unintelligent designers ruining the fun for the rest of us who understand the difference between scientific fact and harmless fairy tale telling. For us, JF Derry’s new book Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries will come as a sweet chaser to Prothero and Loxton’s tart medicine. Derry is a science writer, yet he’s more editor than author of this book, which compiles a century of articles on Nessie, Bigfoort, the Yeti, aliens, and ghosts that were originally published in the UK tabloid The Daily Mirror. Because there is no commentary here (aside from Derry’s brief introduction and his cheeky photo captions) we can just take the articles at face value, and many of them ripple with dry, wry British wit. Case in point: on a Lady Yeti, the Mirror informs us, “the Snow-woman woos her mate and kills him if he refuses. And sometimes she kills him if he doesn’t refuse.” Some of the encounters with these fantastic beasts read like pulp magazine stories. Complimenting the amusing archive of articles are numerous cartoons, illustrations, and photos, all making for a very presentable package. There’s little here in the way of hard science, but there is plenty of fun, which is what Nessie and his mates should forever be.

Get Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries at Amazon.com here:

3


Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: 'The Complete Beatles Recordings: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970'


In the early eighties, John Barrett was an Abbey Road engineer suffering from cancer. The studio’s general manager, Ken Townsend, tried to take John’s mind off his illness by having him catalog and notate every Beatles tape in the library. Not an unpleasant chore. John’s work is the core research within The Complete Beatles Recordings: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970. Writer Mark Lewisohn fleshed out John Barrett’s findings with his own interviews and studies of the tapes to create one of the key documents of Beatles history. Not only is this book a sort of studio-centric forerunner of the Day-to-Day books so popular today, it is also the bouillon from which many, many future Beatles books would be brewed. No Beatles historian worth his or her salt will be without The Complete Beatles Recordings on his or her shelf, at the ready whenever a question about a recording date arises. Before the Anthology CDs appeared nearly a decade later, Lewisohn’s book was the only place law-abiding (i.e.: non-bootleg buying) Beatlemaniacs could get a sense of how those now-familiar outtakes (“How Do You Do It,” “That Means a Lot,” “If You’ve Got Trouble,” “Leave My Kitten Alone,” “Not Guilty,” etc.) sounded. Of course, now that we can all listen to these tracks without the fear of spending the rest of our lives in bootleg prison, Lewisohn’s comments about how such tracks have been heard by few people are dated. The Complete Beatles Recordings is also missing details that had not yet come to light in ’88, such as the probability that George Harrison, not Paul McCartney, played bass on “She Said She Said.”

So a 25 year-old book is dated in a few respects. We still must pay respect to it for compiling so much essential research and information. And there is information in this book that was new to me (or at least, information I don’t remember reading elsewhere): engineer Norman Smith’s revelation that the guys nearly recorded one of his songs while making Help!, Geoff Emerick’s that the seagull sounds on “Tomorrow Never Knows” are guitar (I’d heard it was a sped-up loop of Paul giggling), the fact that “Christmastime (Is Here Again)” was edited down from a 6:37 take, and so on. As “Carnival of Light” remains unreleased, The Complete Beatles Recordings is still the best place to read a detailed description of that intriguing 14-minute avant-garde experiment. Plus George Martin’s hilarious response to John’s request to record his voice by direct injection is worth the price of the book alone.

Out of print for some time, Sterling Publishing is now reprinting The Complete Beatles Recordings unaltered and complete with its lovely selection of color and B&W photos. Get it at Amazon.com here:

4


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: 'The Beatles in 100 Objects'


The Beatles’ story has been told many times and in many ways, so congratulations to Brian Southall for finding a fresh way to do it again. In the sixties, Southall was a teenage Beatlemaniac. In the seventies, he met Paul, George, and Ringo (but not John) as an EMI employee. Now he has compiled a slew of instruments, documents, rare and international records, articles of clothing, and weird merchandise and memorabilia into a handsome book called The Beatles in 100 Objects. Southall uses each item as an in on a key aspect of The Beatles’ career, starting with the Antoria guitar Paul borrowed to play his milestone first performance with John Lennon in 1957. The neat thing is that Southall doesn’t just use the guitar to repeat an oft-told story; he also tells us a little history of Antoria guitars. These 100 objects are not just storytelling devices; the writer takes a genuine interest in them, so his book is not just a cleverly formatted story interchangeable with any of the million other Beatles books. The choice of objects also allows discussions of less traveled paths of Beatles lore, such as their roles as Grammy and Ivor Novello award-winning artists, George’s penchant for photography, and Paul’s enthusiasm for motorcars.

Sometimes Southall loses focus. The entry on John’s iconic granny glasses is actually about Mendips, his Aunt Mimi’s home, and the glasses only receive a cursory mention in the final paragraph. But a house may not make for the most fascinating viewing (especially when the next entry is on Paul’s boyhood home), and the photos are a big part of The Beatles in 100 Objects. This isn’t all eye candy. The various contracts and business letters may be significant from a historical perspective, but they aren’t as much fun to gawk at as the shots of Ringo’s Premier drum kit (less celebrated than his iconic Ludwig), an undistributed Beatles harmonica by Hohner, John’s psychedelic Rolls Royce, George’s tripped-out Stratocaster, a Beatles record player, Julian Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky” drawing, and a goofy mop top “Magnetic Hair Game.” Fab! 

Get The Beatles in 100 Objects at Amazon.com here:

 

5


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Ray Davies's 'Americana'


Ray Davies is the most British of British pop stars—even more so than his brother Dave, whose whiskey yowl owed too much to David Ruffin to wave the Union Jack as high. Ray’s slight Cockney inflection, his quiet-desperation perspective, and his obsession with village greens, cricket, and afternoon tea are as far removed from Jagger’s R&B poses as is imaginable. Yet Ray did make room on his records to give his jaundiced view of America as early as 1966’s “Holiday in Waikiki,” and he’d do it with greater focus on latter records such as Everybody’s in Show-Biz and Low Budget. Ray has even more right than other Englishmen to be skeptical of the states. America is where The Kinks were unofficially banned during four crucial years in the sixties. It is where he was asked that ever-original question “Are you a Beatle or a girl?” and where he saw a man shot and convulsing outside his New Orleans home. It is also where he himself was shot by a purse-snatcher in 2004. So the idea of Ray Davies writing a book called Americana must seem like some sort of great, big wind-up against we Yanks.

Not quite. There is too much the outsider loves about America: its jazz and blues, its robust women, cowboy movies, and wacky characters. As a boy, he watched his father dance a jerky jig to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” and praise the acting of Hollywood stars Dad mispronounced as “Humpty Gocart” and “Marion Brand,” forever giving the son an affection for that far away land of Hollywood, hot dogs, and hoodlums. And if America is a place of danger…well, so is the rest of the world, as proven by a comic yet terrifying tale in which Ray almost drives his car off a cliff in Ireland.

So why is there a story about Ireland in a book called Americana? The theme is really just a device to finish a story Ray began almost twenty years ago in his first book X-Ray, which ended along with The Kinks’ most creative period around the time Muswell Hillbillies was released. Just as that book’s Orwellian sci-fi conceit was a clever way to tell the early Kinks’ story, the Americana theme of this new book is a way to explain what happened next. The theme is not arbitrary because so much of The Kinks’ post-sixties career pivoted on American tours and record labels. And eventually, Ray decided to settle here with his typical self-contradictory irony. When the lifelong Labour supporter saw the long, long conservative regimes of Margaret Thatcher and John Major come to an end with the election of Tony Blair, Ray became wary of England because he was wary of the underlying conservatism of Blair’s “New Labour” movement. When 9/11 happened, Ray resolved to stay in America. Such moves may seem illogical, but Ray Davies does seem a guy who thrives on adversity.

That impulse made The Kinks’ career rocky, which naturally makes Americana interesting reading, as does Ray’s natural gift for prose. His tendency to be self-congratulatory can be off-putting at times, especially from one who has written a body of such beautifully humble songs. Yet he does dole out intimacy judiciously throughout Americana when discussing the harrowing circumstances of that 2004 shooting, his relationships, and perhaps most interestingly of all, his songwriting process and the pains of writer’s block doldrums. Because of the period on which this new book focuses, and because its conceit is not as outrageously imaginative as the one that drove X-Ray, Americana is the lesser book. But considering that the author is one of pop’s finest writers of song and story, that’s all relative.

Get Americana at Amazon.com here:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: 'Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses—Roger Corman: King of the B Movie'

Cult, horror, and schlock freaks will always think of Roger Corman primarily as the producer of some of their favorite cheap-o’s, whether they be Little Shop of Horrors, Attack of the Crab Monsters, or Grand Theft Auto. Serious cinephiles feel no guilt in praising the artistry of the best Poe pictures he directed, particularly House of Usher and The Masque of the Red Death, or his even less celebrated venture into message films, the remarkable anti-segregation The Intruder. They also appreciate how he distributed works by European artists such as Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and Ingmar Bergman (who loved the dubbed version of Cries and Whispers Corman put in drive-ins!) in the U.S. Many of our most respected filmmakers—Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Demme, Nicholson— revere Corman as the guy who gave them their real starts in Hollywood. Feminists who know more about him than his insistence on stuffing gratuitous nudity into his movies appreciate the opportunities he afforded women directors, producers, writers, and crew people in an industry infamous for its sexism. Indie filmmakers of every stripe should bow down to Roger Corman for his pioneering the frugal business practices that made thousands of low-budget pictures possible.

With such a multifaceted career, it is appropriate that Roger Corman receives a tribute as multifaceted as Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses—Roger Corman: King of the B Movie. Chris Nashawaty’s tome is part oral history, part collection of film essays, part sumptuous coffee table picture book, and all fabulous. It is also appropriate that a book with such a schlock-o-la title contains so much insight, history, and humor, since many of Corman’s on-the-surface ridiculous films contained a surprisingly amount of political astuteness and smart self-awareness.

As you may have already sussed, this is not just a story for fans of cleavers and cleavage. This is a tale of a guy who infiltrated the Hollywood monster and rearranged its face according to his own rules. It is telling that pretty much everyone Nashawaty interviewed acknowledges that Corman ripped them off but not one of them seems to resent him because they appreciate the tremendous jump-start he gave their careers. Deborah Brock—the writer, director, and producer of Slumber Party Massacre II, who’d go on to co-produce the acclaimed indie Buffalo ’66—explains that when she interviewed for a job with Corman, the first words she heard were, “I want to tell you about a job you probably don’t want.” You can’t say the guy wasn’t honest. 

Brock is just one of a gaggle of interviewees who shared their stories with Nashawaty. Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Peter Bogdanovich (who tells the insane story of how he got the job directing Targets), Penelope Spheeris, Robert DeNiro, Dennis Hopper, Pam Grier, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, John Landis (who also wrote the foreword), Bruce Dern, Diane, Ladd, William Shatner, John Sayles, and Marky Ramone are just a taste of those who chipped in, and they all give the man his due. Corman is one of those voices too, but Nashawaty smartly doesn’t allow his main subject to dominate the story, lest it appear slanted. And though this is a celebration, the interviewees don’t pull any punches when talking about what a mess The Terror is or the hardships of filming in Corman’s lumber yard “back lot” or watching him towel-whip silverfish in a shower to clear it for his directors to bathe at the end of the day or how they never got paid for their work. Peter Fonda sums up working for Corman when he asks the boss where his dressing room is, and Corman replies, “You see that tree over there?”

Such tales make Crab Monsters consistently entertaining reading. The way Corman was almost always able to turn his movies into money will be inspirational to all budding filmmakers, even if his specific practices may no longer work in the current market. In that way, Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses may also be an elegy to a Hollywood that no longer exists. But don’t let that get you down, because there are plenty of huge, full-color images of lurid horror, sci-fi, exploitation, sexploitation, and crabsploitation movie posters to keep you tickled.

Get Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses—Roger Corman: King of the B Movie at Amazon.com here:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Zacherely in 'Horrible Horror: The Special Edition'




As a Netflix subscriber and Amazon.com shopper, I probably shouldn’t poop on the conveniences of the Internet age. As a retro geek, nostalgia nut, and middle-aged guy, I still can’t help but pine for those days when I’d walk out the door with friends and walk to our local seedy video shop to rent some crappy movie in the pre-Blockbuster © eighties. On the back wall of those holes cramped with shelves stacked with bulky VHS boxes (the tapes were always safe from shop lifters behind the counter) was the real junk: the B-horror and science fiction flicks with the most garish covers in sight (the most garish of all belonged to the porno tapes kept behind a curtain in their own closet-sized section).

One of the tapes that could be found on the back wall circa 1986 was Horrible Horror, a compilation of B-horror and sci-fi clips and trailers hosted by the original B-horror king and all-around cool ghoul Zacherley. It was the kind of tape you might run during one of those parties when your parents are out of town and forgot to lock the liquor cabinet. The video and sound quality were poor and Zach’s jokes were cornier than the bags of stale popcorn you’d munch in between swigs of horse-piss flavored MGD. Pure heaven.

In an age of home-delivered Blu-rays of incomparable quality and hand-held video devices seemingly invented to make us as alienated as possible, Legend Films’ reissue of Horrible Horror is a bit anachronistic. It looks and sounds as crappy as an old VHS and it certainly isn’t much fun to watch by yourself on an iPhone (is anything?). That’s what makes it such a welcome reissue. There’s something inspirational about this DVD. If I didn’t already throw a Halloween party every year, Horrible Horror might make me want to start throwing them. Its swollen 164–minute length (about an hour longer than the 1986 edition!) makes it the perfect disc to toss on in the TV room for guests who’d like to slip off for a toke while everyone else is drinking and grooving to my patented Halloween playlist in the main room.

As for solo viewing, there are some pluses to the Horrible Horror Special Edition as long as the fast-forward button on your remote control is in tip-top shape. For the most part, the trailers and clips aren’t too revelatory. There just aren’t enough interruptions from Zacherley, though a great bit in which he dangles a hubcap from a fishing rod during Plan 9 from Outer Space almost makes up for his absence elsewhere. However, there are a lot of neat-o extras sprinkled in among the expected public domain film clips. Outtakes from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein run throughout the disc. A tribute to Bela Lugosi section has an uproarious staged interview and a supoib sketch in which he appears as Dracula with a sexy live action Betty Boop (Quoth Lugosi: “You have booped your last boop!).

There’s also a full extra disc of bonus stuff, but the only valuable items are a fabulous Gumby spoof of The Blob and a really short clip of Zachereley’s appearance on a 1965 episode of “What’s My Line?” Otherwise there are three minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of Zacherley from 1986 marred by a bizarre AIDS joke that gets a huge laugh from Zacherley and the crew for some reason and some Zach-less public domain material: an episode of the mystery series “Lights Out” and the awful feature film Frankenstein’s Daughter, which only goes to show how often a thirty-second trailer is all you really need.

Get Horrible Horror: The Special Edition at Amazon.com here:

Review: 'Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks'


The longevity of “Twin Peaks” is a truly staggering thing. To think that a show that lasted a mere 30 episodes, that shined for a brief season before being treated like a televised pariah by critics, network execs, and former fans, could have such renewed life two decades after the fact was surely unthinkable in 1990. Blame the fans. We’ve kept the dreamiest place on Earth alive with our blogs and conventions and DVD viewing parties and University screenings and campaigns to bring the damn fine show back. You can now hop onto etsy, ebay, and café press and find a wide variety of fan-made merch (as I write this, I’m controlling my mouse on an unauthorized “Twin Peaks” mouse pad I bought on café press several years ago).

A new series by Intellect Books called “Fan Phenomena” takes a look at the relationships between pop culture and we obsessives. Amazingly, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series is among the flagship subjects, which include such much longer lasting and better-known items as Star Wars, Batman, and “Star Trek.” That the fan-written essays in Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks are so consistently well written may speak to the intellect of the average “Twin Peaks” fan, or it may just speak to the good job editors Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulègue did. Or it may just be that these particular fans tend to be scholars and professional writers.

The main purpose of this series is to present writings less academic than those found in the usual analyses and ones primarily focused on the fans’ roles in keeping the subjects alive. For the first few essays, this holds true with neat pieces about that new wave of fan-made merchandise, Audrey Horne’s style, and the influence of “Twin Peaks” on the “golden age” TV series that followed it (this one really could have been expanded a lot, especially since the writer fails to even mention the first “Peaks” spawn, “Northern Exposure”). Inevitably, the pieces get more academic as the book continues on, though these essays are primers on the essential “TP” topics (duality, dark secrets, dreams, etc.) that are more accessible than those in David Lavery’s Full of Secrets and certainly Martha Nochimson’s migraine-inducing The Passion of David Lynch. So even if it doesn’t completely hold true to its non-academic, fan-focused goal, Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks is still a fun read and very heartening evidence of how the series’ influence continues to resound and its fan base continues to swell.

Get Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks on Amazon.com here:


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Psychobabble’s Perfect Beach Boys Box Set Recipe!


The review of the new Beach Boys box set I posted last week led to some interesting comments. The consensus seems to be that while Made in California has a number of legit selling points, it’s not quite the perfect six discs of Beach Boys classics and rarities. This inspired me to compile my own sextet of sun, fun, and warped psychedelia.


I believe a perfect Beach Boys compilation is more necessary than, say, a Beatles or Who comp because those groups generally made albums that demand to be heard from beginning to end. The Beach Boys didn’t quite reach this place until 1965’s Today. Before then, they mostly made hit-and-miss albums like Shut Down Volume 2. While that particular album houses the absolute classics “Don’t Worry Baby,” “The Warmth of the Sun,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” the rest of it is pretty poor. Most of the other early discs generally have a higher ratio of good stuff than Shut Down Volume 2, but even the best of them (All Summer Long) has some junk (“Our Favorite Recording Sessions”) that disrupt the flow of classics.



So in an unprecedented stroke of generosity and self-congratulatory megalomania, I’ve decided to share with you, Dear Reader, my formula for the perfect six-disc Beach Boys box set. This set will not negate The Beach Boys albums that are truly deserving of beginning-to-end play (Today!, Pet Sounds, SMiLE, Wild Honey, Friends, etc.), but you’ll no longer have to suffer through “‘Cassius’ Love vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson” to bathe in the beauteous glow of “The Warmth of the Sun.” No, no, no. No thanks necessary. You’re musical enjoyment is thanks enough.



As you may notice, I’ve included a couple of solo tracks for a more complete Wilsonology. I’ve also reproduced the “lost” album Landlocked at the end of Disc Four (that accounts for why I decided to include the so-so tracks “Take a Load Off Your Feet” and “Good Time”). When it was chronologically sound, I occasionally coupled single A-sides with their respective B-sides. Pretty clever!



You may notice some of your favorite tracks are not included. For example, many fans love the strange and childlike Beach Boys Love You album. This is one cult of which I am not a member, so I shut out that album. You may decide to cut some other tracks to make room for Love You representatives. But let me be clear: you cannot do this. It violates everything for which you stand and hurts my feelings deeply. Twelve demerits.



Since I don’t consider listening to music through my tinny, tiny computer speakers to be listening to music, I actually went the old-fashioned route and burned the music to actual CDRs and played them on my actual stereo. To get my no-longer-secret formula right, you have to do this too. An iTunes playlist will not do.



Now the work begins. You will need a lot of discs to make this patented (patent pending) compilation. I pulled most of the tracks from the remastered twofers Capitol released in 2000 and 2001. In the track list I’ve noted where I slipped in tracks from other discs.



INGREDIENTS



So here’s what you’ll need to get started:







Pet Sounds 1990 CD with Bonus Tracks (Sorry: No Amazon link for this one...)

Pet Sounds (Mono and Stereo twofer)







Smile (Brian Wilson solo album)

Pacific Ocean Blue (Legacy Edition) (Dennis Wilson solo album)









DIRECTIONS



And now, the music…



Disc One

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pre-Order Info and Tracklist for The Beatles' 'On the Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2 '

Coming this November 11, Capitol will be following up its 1994 compilation The Beatles' Live at the BBC with a second double-disc volume of radio-ready goodies. On the Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2 will be accompanied by a remastered version of the first BBC collection. Both can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com now here:



And now Volume 2's tracklist:

Disc One
  • 1. And Here We Are Again (Speech)
  • 2. WORDS OF LOVE
  • 3. How About It, Gorgeous? (Speech)
  • 4. DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET
  • 5. LUCILLE
  • 6. Hey, Paul… (Speech)
  • 7. ANNA (GO TO HIM)
  • 8. Hello! (Speech)
  • 9. PLEASE PLEASE ME
  • 10. MISERY
  • 11. I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU
  • 12. A Real Treat (Speech)
  • 13. BOYS
  • 14. Absolutely Fab (Speech)
  • 15. CHAINS
  • 16. ASK ME WHY
  • 17. TILL THERE WAS YOU

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Psychobabble's Fifteen Greatest Albums of 1978


1977 was the year the punks inherited the earth. 1978 was the year their influence was felt throughout pop music as a whole. Classic rockers such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin attempted to give their careers a booster shot by speeding up their tempos and spewing their words (Zeppelin even considered releasing their punkish “Wearing and Tearing” as a 7” under a punky assumed name). A new wave of guitar groups tidied up punk’s rawness to spearhead what would be the most important pop movement of the early eighties. Because all the best records of 1978 reacted to it in one way or another, punk remained the only music that mattered for the time being, though the variety of its influence made ’78 an even more interesting year than ’77.

15. Who Are You by The Who

In sharp contrast to The Rolling Stones, The Who always rejected trends, and this was true even when they were responsible for setting them. In the turmoil of the late-seventies punk revolution, The Who were widely and justifiably accepted as progenitors of the movement, yet instead of catching that wave and cutting the kind of raw, noisy, terse invective “My Generation” inspired, they went in quite the opposite direction. Really, Who Are You—with its overwhelming synthesizers and strings, ultra-slick production values, and overall air of weariness—is the very kind of record against which the punks were revolting. Yet in its refusal to hop on an obvious bandwagon in the way artists from the Stones to Billy Joel (seriously…listen to Glass Houses to hear the popster’s interpretation of punk), Who Are You reveals more unfiltered honesty than a lot of supposedly telling-it-like-it-is punk records do. Pete Townshend takes a hard look at his place in 1978, and apparently doesn’t like what he sees: frustrated by his inability to reignite his former inspiration and irritated by his audience’s complacent acceptance of “the same old song.” As those familiar with his infamous encounter with Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook that inspired the title track of Who Are You know, Pete believed The Who’s responsibility was to step aside and make way for bands like the Pistols and The Clash. Townshend’s emotional whirlwind makes Who Are You a powerful statement even if the music is the least visceral The Who have made thus far (the roiling title track notwithstanding). This is largely because Keith Moon’s energy was so near the bottom of the incline, and he would die just three weeks after the album’s release. That doesn’t mean the music isn’t good, and tracks such as the percolating “Sister Disco,” the jazzy “Music Must Change,” the comic “Guitar and Pen,” and the sumptuous and wrenchingly sad “Love Is Coming Down” are all quite beautiful. John Entwistle once again plays his role as a funny foil to Pete Townshend’s soul searching with songs that almost parody Pete’s societal (“Had Enough”) and sexual (“Trick of the Light”) frustration. The sci-fi character piece “905” (an excerpt from a larger rock opera John had in mind) mirrors the beauty of Pete’s best Who Are You tracks.                    

14. Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

While punk godfather Pete Townshend was fretting over his place in a changing scene, decadent jet-setter Mick Jagger was wearing garbage-bag trousers and pretending he slept in the gutter of the Bowery. Only a dolt would buy his New Yawk punk pose of 1978, but the masses still agree that Some Girls was the most legitimately exciting record The Rolling Stones made since Exile on Main Street. After the mostly lame jams and ballads of Black and Blue, it’s good to hear the Stones revitalized with new guitarist Ronnie Wood, zipping through a good selection of proper songs. While Jagger may not be a street rat, his role-playing isn’t necessarily any more ridiculous than his previous embodiments of the Boston Strangler or the Devil, so the ferocious “When the Whip Comes Down” and the New Wavy “Shattered” can still be appreciated as character sketches told from the first person pov. And there is some of the Stones’ elusive authenticity to be heard amidst the poses as Jagger croons a soulful plea to new love Jerry Hall (“Miss You”) and Keith Richards apologizes to Mick for making the singer pull his drug-addled weight (“Beast of Burden”), after shrugging it all off with one of his signature rebel anthems (“Before They Make Me Run”). Still, Some Girls isn’t quite top tier Stones, muddled by the silly reverse-minstrel show “Far Away Eyes,” the tossed-off punk of “Lies,” and the by-numbers controversy stoking of the lazily misogynistic title track. Despite its reputation as a classic, Some Girls is just a really solid Stones album. It’s the last one they’d make.

13. Road to Ruin by The Ramones

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: The Beach Boys’ 'Made in California' Box Set


A lot has happened since the 5-disc, career-spanning box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys was released in 1993, and much of it was unthinkable at the time. Carl Wilson was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, and we lost him the following year. Brian Wilson worked past his aversion to touring and performing, and even more incredibly, gave us both a solo version and approved a Beach Boys box set of his unfinished masterpiece SMiLE. He has reunited with the often-feuding surviving members of his group for a fiftieth anniversary album and tour. This year marking the five-decade anniversary of The Beach Boys’ unchallenged dominance of pop music (at least in America where the British Invasion was still a year away), it’s a good time to update Good Vibrations, and Capitol/UMe has released a 6-disc set called Made in California that brings the story to the present.

With 175 tracks and almost eight hours of Beach Boys music, what’s to criticize? The absolute essentials are all here with the important assumption you already own Pet Sounds and The SMiLE Sessions (and if you don’t, you need to get your shit together). There are a dozen or so studio recordings and a dozen more live ones that are totally unique to this set. Plus there are about 40 alternate mixes. Made in California is grand, no doubt, but it isn’t perfect either. So let’s get the geeky nitpicking out of the way before getting into why it’s essential.

There are some issues with the song selection, particularly when comparing and contrasting Made in California with Good Vibrations. This new box set seems clearly designed as a replacement for the earlier one, so it’s disappointing that all the tracks that were unique to Good Vibrations have not been remastered and included. The dead soldiers include “I Just Got My Pay,” “4th of July” (which has since only been released on a various artists compilation), “Games Two Can Play,” “H.E.L.P. is on the Way,” the Party! outtake “Ruby Baby,”  Brian’s magical solo performance of “Surf’s Up” from 1966, and alternate mixes of several SMiLE tracks. Though Made in California has been expanded to an extra disc, certain spots of The Beach Boys’ career have been contracted. Perhaps the assumption you own Pet Sounds accounts for why fewer tracks represent that album (including an alternate version of “Hang on to Your Ego”), but there’s no excuse for why Carl and the Passions and Holland get shorter shrift this time. Indeed, aside from “Sail on Sailor” and an unhinged live version of “Wild Honey,” there’s no evidence of great singer Blondie Chaplin’s stint in the group, and that includes his failure to get a mention in the oral history included in the set. There are also a couple of other great songs that didn’t make the transition between box sets (“She Knows Me Too Well,” “Long Promised Road”) and a few that inexplicably didn’t make either (“Girl Don’t Tell Me,” “You’re So Good to Me,” “Cuddle Up”). What gets expanded is the down slope that followed Holland, which was represented by just 15 tracks on Good Vibrations but is swelled to 36 on Made in California. Not all of these tracks are bad. The Beach Boys managed decent covers of “Rock and Roll Music” and “Come and Go with Me,” there are some good live tracks (particularly the SMiLE tracks performed on the 1993 tour and a Carl-sung version of “Sail on Sailor”), Dennis Wilson contributed a couple of gems to the generally unloved L.A. (Light Album), and Brian recaptured a little of the old magic on the 2012 reunion album, That’s Why God Made the Radio, but you have to weed through “Kokomo” and its ilk to get to those tracks. Civilization definitely would have been A-OK if crap like an alternate mix of “Brian’s Back” and the horrid outtake “Goin’ to the Beach” had never seen the light of day. Some fans may also take issue with the reliance on stereo mixes when Brian was always a “back to mono” kind of guy.

OK, so let’s now forget all of that and get to why you should own Made in California. The most obvious reason is the inclusion of several otherwise unavailable and genuinely wonderful outtakes and rarities. The most fabled is Dennis’s “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again,” a leftover from Surf’s Up that has the grandeur of “Cuddle Up” and an extra layer of eeriness in light of his early death. Dennis’s “Barnyard Blues” is another wonder, recapturing much of the SMiLE vibe in 1974. There’s an amazing 1:45 version of the previously 40-second “Meant for You,” an excellent version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” that puts to shame the other covers on 15 Big Ones, and Brian’s cool outtake “You’re Still a Mystery” from 1995. The 1963 sax-heavy “Back Home” sounds like Pet Sounds three years ahead of schedule. There’s almost a full disc of excellent unreleased live recordings. Along with the previously mentioned goodies there’s a rocking cover of “Runaway” from 1965, a version of “The Letter” from 1967 that would have fit nicely on Smiley Smile, and a crazed rendition of “All I Want to Do” that slays the studio version. The final disc of outtakes and a cappella and instrumental mixes offers a lot more worthy stuff than its counterpart in the Good Vibrations box.

I also liked the amount of thought put into the presentation. The set begins and ends with atmospheric aural montages, so the first and last sound you hear is the surf rolling in. It lends a cinematic touch to the whole thing, bringing this massive history full circle. In between there’s “Surfin’” and “I Get Around” and “God Only Knows” and “Cabin Essence” and “Darlin’” and “Forever” and “Feel Flows” and “The Trader” and “That’s Why God Made the Radio” and “Help Me Rhonda” and “Good Vibrations.” Really, when about an hour of an eight-hour box set is sub-par, it’s just greedy to gripe. So forgive the greed I expressed above and feel assured that Made in California is a very fine career summation of America’s greatest Rock & Roll band.

Get The Beach Boys’ Made in California at Amazon.com here:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: 'Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany'


So, you’re on a first date, and things are going pretty well. You’re having the old getting-to-know-you chat, and the discussion lands on “what’s your favorite book?” You say, “The Haunting of Hill House, of course!” Your date just gives you a blank stare. OK, so let’s move on to your favorite film. “Obviously, it’s Peeping Tom, the movie that practically destroyed Michael Powell’s career!” Peeping Tom? Michael Powell? Never heard of them. “Fine, fine. Fair enough.” Well then, what about your favorite periodical? “Four words: Famous Monsters of Filmland.” At that point, your date stands up and heads for the door, probably not understanding that Filmland is one word.

Just last week, there’d be no way to salvage what had been, up to this point, a lovely evening. But now, there’s hope. Don’t let your date leave. Throw yourself in front of the door, and plead, “If you’ll go out with me again, I’ll give you a present!” Then immediately sprint to your local bookstore and grab a copy of Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany.

In fewer than 100 easily digestible pages, horror filmmaker, historian, and all-around superfan Jovanka Vuckovic will fill in that massive blank spot in your potential wife/husband/sex monkey’s horror education. Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany offers a far-reaching historical, biographical, and trivial smorgasbord of all things monstrous from movies to literature to art to television to poetry to mythology to comics to fanzines to radio dramas to pulp magazines to video games to stage plays to music to real-life killers to breakfast cereal.

Because this is Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany and not Vuckovic’s Horror In Complete, there are some blind spots here too. There is barely any mention of werewolves, and such essential horrorphernalia as Val Lewton, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The X-Files,” horror-comedies, and Halloween (the holiday, not the movie) are ignored. However, Vuckovic makes up for such rare oversights by expanding her horror overview to drop such oddities as Kafka’s The Trial, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Mondo Cane, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and The Bible (which she correctly categorizes as a “novel,” much to my delight) into the cannon. She also places the most essential items—Frankenstein, Halloween (the movie), King Kong, Black Sabbath, and E.C. Comics—on a level playing field with such relative obscurities as Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo, Brazilian boogeyman Coffin Joe, and Witch Hunt treatise Malleus Maleficarium. So while your future date may not learn anything about, say, An American Werewolf in London, she/he will know that Carol Clover is the film theorist who coined the term “The Final Girl.” That should be enough to get you through that crucial second date.

Get Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany at Amazon.com here:


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