Saturday, November 30, 2013

'Wild at Heart' Coming to Blu-ray in 2014

Why oh why has David Lynch been so underserved on Blu-ray in the U.S.? Aside from the appropriately blue Blue Velvet and the un-Lynch-approved Dune, it's been nothing but rumors. Supposedly a "Twin Peaks" box set that could include Fire Walk with Me is on the horizon. Mind you, that has not been confirmed by anyone, which has done nothing to calm some fairly delusional Internet reports about what that elusive set will likely include. There has been much gossip of Criterion editions of Eraserhead and Mulholland Dr. but this talk is as baseless as all that "Peaks" gossip. And so on and so on.

So it's heartening that Twilight Time has made an official announcement about one of Lynch's most purely entertaining films. On April 8, 2014, they'll be releasing Wild at Heart, David Lynch's Palme d' Or-winning, Wizard of Oz-worshipping, Rock & Roll road romantic crime comedy starring Laura Dern, Nicholas Cage, Diane Ladd, and Willem Dafoe and featuring cameos from a slew of "Peaks" regulars. No word on the specs yet, but I'll be sure to deliver them as soon they're available.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Review: 'Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me'


In 1973, Big Star had their most significant coming out at a rowdy convention for rock writers (Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe were among the attendees). A very apt event since the Memphis power poppers were always best loved by the critics. In a time when rock was all about big stadium bands like Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Big Star’s concise, fresh-faced, jangly pop was at odds with popular tastes but a total balm to the professional music listeners chaffing beneath all the proggy bombast. Today it seems amazing that music so instantly accessible and timeless could have ever been unfashionable, but it’s at least one explanation for why Big Star never got to be the big stars they deserved to be.

Getting to the bottom of this absurdity is just one item on directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori’s agenda. Their 2012 documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me addresses the historic, business, and personal reasons Big Star were relegated to the cult heap, but also makes much time to pore over the makings of their three albums, the personal problems and immense talents of founding member Chris Bell, Alex Chilton’s aversions to popularity, Bell and Chilton’s post-Big Star careers, their deaths, and their band’s powerful legacy, as well as the Memphis music scene and the history of Ardent Records. We get to see Alex mucking around as a background guitarist with an “anti-music” group called Tav Falco’s Panther Burns on local TV for a host who has no time for their shenanigans. We get to hear from the surviving band members and a parade of major musicians (Cheap Trick, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock, Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo, etc.) paying homage to Big Star in words and music.  However, the film’s most important achievement is the way it emphasizes Bell’s importance. Since Bell was only around for the first album, and since Chilton already had a prominent music career with The Box Tops before joining Big Star, Chilton gets most of the credit for his band’s greatness. But Chris Bell’s role in putting together the band and their greatest album, #1 Record, cannot be overestimated, and now we have no excuse for not knowing that. Realizing this makes those headlines reading “Son of Restaurateur Killed in Car Wreck” that followed his death all the more poignant and infuriating.

Magnolia’s new Blu-ray expands nearly two hours of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me to a solid three with bonus short features focusing specifically on Bell and Chilton, as well as a trip to the studio to listen to master tapes of #1 Record and Radio City, and shorter discussions of Big Star’s zeal for Hi-Watt amps, how The Doobie Brothers helped stumble their success, their gig at Max’s Kansas City, and Alex’s insistence on gobbling fried mushrooms on stage when he should have been singing, which sums up how he felt about achieving rock stardom as well as anything else. Any of these deleted scenes could have found a place in the larger movie and add much additional insight to an already insightful film

Get Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me at Amazon.com here:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: 'The Walrus & The Elephants: John Lennon’s Years of Revolution'


While the most popular image of John Lennon remains the peace-sign waving peacenik who sang “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” it has recently become more fashionable to call him out as a bully, misogynist, and rich hypocrite who sang “Imagine no possessions” and refused to take a firm stance on positive revolution.  What a lot of us commentators sometimes forget (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone else) is that John Lennon wasn’t an image, he was a man, and a very complex one at that. Yes, at times he was a bully, a misogynist who sang “I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man,” and a soft-on-revolution splash of cold water who tried to assure us “it’s gonna be alright” (it wasn’t), but as writer James A. Mitchell reminds us, John Lennon wasn’t always all those things. In the early seventies he worked hard on making amends for the rough man he’d been. After walking the middle of the road through much of The Beatles’ career, he decided to use his booming voice for more ideologically positive purposes, championing feminist principals as early as 1970’s “Well, Well, Well”; taking up with such high-profile activists as Jerry Rubin, Tariq Ali, and Bobby Seale; and moving from his plush Tittenhurst Park estate to a grubby apartment in Greenwich Village.

These are the years Lennon worked with revolutionary rockers Elephant’s Memory and appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show” with special guests Rubin (whose no-punches-pulled rhetoric irked Douglas) and Black Panther Seale (whose non-violent community spirit surprised and delighted him) and “The Dick Cavett Show” where he discussed how the White House was trying to run him out of the country and why it was so important that he be allowed to stay. These are the years Lennon railed against the unfair imprisonment of John Sinclair (“they gave him ten [years] for two [joints])” and recorded the highly controversial Sometime in New York City on which he laid out his various causes and gave Yoko Ono equal time in the musical spotlight. 

Were Lennon’s politics and music sometimes muddled during this period? That’s up to the reader, because James A. Mitchell is not really interested in analyzing the former Beatle or swaying us one way or the other in The Walrus & The Elephants: John Lennon’s Years of Revolution. He merely lays out this period biographically with ample support from a variety of interviewees who knew and worked with Lennon during it. Going this route allows us to draw our own conclusions. As far as I’m concerned, I came away from this inspiring book truly happy to be a John Lennon fan. While it’s easy to run the guy down for his bad attitude in the sixties and the materialism that seemed at odds with his no-possessions message of the seventies, you have to give the man credit for trying really hard to overcome such things, making impressive progress, and using his fame and influence to speak out about important issues in a way some called naïve and simplistic but actually made them accessible to everyone. And while some have criticized the guy for his refusal to give in to the more militant aspects of revolution, I say, “fuck that.” There should be more champions of non-violent change. For those who feel that Lennon turned his back on causes as quickly as he picked them up, Mitchell explains his familial reasons for doing so. Hell, he even made me appreciate how daring and powerful the oft-reviled “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” single is. For anyone whose faith in that image of peace and love is getting shaky, Mitchell’s book will restore it, reintroducing you to the man behind the slogans and peace signs. I loved The Walrus & The Elephants for that reason.

Get The Walrus & The Elephants: John Lennon’s Years of Revolution at Amazon.com here:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: 'Haunted Horror'


Chamber of Chills. Web of Evil. This Magazine is Haunted. Baffling Mysteries. None of these golden age horror comics enjoy the familiarity of E.C.’s Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, or Haunt of Fear, but they all share those books’ taste for ironic comeuppances and oozing creatures. They also suffered less high-profile but similar fates when the Senate Subcommitte on Juvenile Delinquency brought the whip down on horror comics in 1954. E.C.’s horror comics endured for a number of reasons. William Gaines bravely faced down the committee, which brought a temporary end to his comics but made him something of a celebrity, and rebuilt his empire with MAD Magazine. Then came the successful incarnations on screens big and small, guaranteeing Tales from the Crypt’s infamy among a lot of people who never even touched a comic book. And let’s not forget that the artists behind E.C.’s books were really, really amazing.

One will definitely recognize that Chamber of Chills, Baffling Mysteries, and the rest did not have illustrators of the caliber of Jack Davis or Graham Ingles (the oozing monsters are particularly poor looking), but they are still charmingly vile in their own ways. Take “The Constant Eye” (This Magazine Is Haunted… love that title!), in which the peepers of a dead man pursue the dude who offed him. Or “Black Magic in a Slinky Gown” (Baffling Mysteries), in which a spider woman takes revenge for all the squashed arachnids of the world. How about “Kill, My Minions of Death” (another fabulous title!) (Baffling Mysteries), which blends The Hands of Orlok and Frankenstein to shockingly gruesome effect? Let’s not even think about the necrophiliac sea creature of “Haunt from the Sea” (Journey into Fear)… it’s too horrible!

These horrible horrors are just a few of the stories Yoe Comics started compiling into a line called Haunted Horror in 2012. This is a really smart way to bring back lesser-known books that may not be able to sell as reissues on title alone. By skimming the cream of this creepy crop, horror comic freaks are not left wishing they were gazing at the Crypt Keeper instead.

Yoe has now compiled its first three issues of the Haunted Horror compilation into a sweet hardcover book of that same name. The full-color, partially glossy cover, with its groovy end papers depicting HH’s own ghoulunatics, contrasts the rough and ready presentation of these old comics. Unlike the E.C. Archives line that continues to drip out from a variety of publishers (the ball is currently in Dark Horse’s court with new volumes of Crypt and Vault now on sale and in the pipeline) there has been no attempt to recolor the original comics. They are printed on nice, course paper that makes it feel like you’re reading actual comic books. The Haunted Horror compilation also includes a couple of bonus stories that did not appear in its comic book form (one of which is presented in gorgeous pre-inked black and white) and an intro by horror comic geek supreme and Misfit Jerry Only.

Get Haunted Horror at Amazon.com here:

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Mountain and the Meadow: The Day 'The Beatles' and 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society' were Released


November 22, 1968. The date arrived toward the exhausted end of a year that started with the United States taking a crippling blow in the Vietnam War with the Tet Offensive on January 30 and acting out in the most horrendous of ways with the My Lai massacre of March 16. Two weeks later, Martin Luther King, Jr., would lead a march through Memphis that would end with the death of a teenage boy and the injuries of sixty other people, and King, himself, would be murdered on April 4. On the 23rd, the cops would bring a violent end to a demonstration at Columbia University, and on May 6, student demonstrators in Paris would engage in their own revolutionary conflict against gas-grenade hurling officers. Andy Warhol shot on June 3. Robert Kennedy shot two days later to die on the 6. Protesters beaten by police in Chicago on August 28 and murdered by police and soldiers in Mexico City on October 2. And then on November 5, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, ensuring many more dark days to come.

Into this relentless tumult came a plea for support and unity from one of the brightest bright spots to shine on the shadowy sixties. On August 26, 1968, The Beatles released “Hey Jude”, and the single would set records as both the longest (at seven minutes and eleven seconds) and longest-running number one single (spending nine weeks at the top of the charts in the US), doing its part to soothe tattered spirits when they needed it most.

“Hey Jude” was still at the top on November 22, when The Beatles released their long-awaited follow up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album that united the masses in 1967. Nearly a year and a half had passed since then, and just as the hippie love-vibes of the summer of ’67 must have seemed like a distant memory, The Beatles’ own unity was starting to seem like a similar thing of the past. John, George, and Ringo were tiring of Paul’s attempts to play leader of the band, which really began during with Sgt. Pepper’s —a veritable solo album for the bass player by some accounts but went into overdrive following the death of manager Brian Epstein in August 1967. Paul masterminded The Beatles’ first true folly, Magical Mystery Tour (though one that has not dated without its charms), and drove his mates mad through take after take of the trifling “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, a song that particularly offended John’s Rock & Roll sensibilities. There had even been a minor feather-ruffling while recording that great message of hope and friendship, “Hey Jude”, when Paul wouldn't allow George Harrison to lay down some guitar licks over the opening bars (with all respect to George, Paul was right to leave that intro stark).
The paradox of the album on which “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” found its home is that The Beatles was anything but a team effort but it allowed each member of the team to come to the fore in a way Sgt. Pepper’s had not. So the record that would be affectionately known as “The White Album” seems like more of a Beatles album than Pepper’s. That album’s excess of studio trickery and orchestrations had not been banished, but such things did take a back seat to rawer guitar/bass/drums arrangements that made the new album sound like The Beatles were back to playing as a four-piece of equal quarters even if each member of the group was essentially running his own sessions. In essence, the unit was fracturing just as John, Paul, George, and Ringo had found the distinctive voices that would carry them through their soon-to-come solo careers.

Meanwhile, some of The Beatles’ most prominent peers were living through their own paradox. The Kinks were similarly pulling apart. After years of frustration, bassist Peter Quaife was getting ready to split. Meanwhile, leader Ray Davies was steering the ship as assuredly as Paul McCartney had through the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions. Ray had an even more ambitious project in mind: a double album conceptual disc that might also be adapted into a stage show. However, The Kinks’ current paradox was the opposite of The Beatles’: although The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society seems like more of a Ray Davies solo album than a band project, Quaife would later say that he felt Ray allowed him, Dave Davies, and Mick Avory more room to contribute to the final product than they had on other recent records, working as more of a unit than The Beatles were on their “White Album”. Despite that refreshing spirit of collaboration, Quaife would still leave the band soon after Village Green Preservation Society appeared on November 22, 1968. 

The album released on that date would be quite different from Ray’s original concept. Pye Records had already put the kibosh on his plan for a double-album, though the artistic and corporate entities would reach a sort of compromise when the original twelve-track Village Green Preservation Society, which included the recent single “Days”, was withdrawn after its October release in several European markets so Ray could re-sequence it, lop off the single and a pretty though slight track called “Mr. Songbird”, and add five more recently recorded songs, which resulted in a fifteen-track record at least a little closer to the twenty-track double-album he really wanted.

One might imagine Ray was seething when his album came out the same day as The Beatles’. The biggest band in the world was not going to be denied two vinyl discs. Producer George Martin told them that The Beatles’ thirty tracks should be pruned down to a single disc of the crop’s cream, but his charges would not have it (at least Paul wouldn’t). Despite the extra expense that came with a double album, “The White Album” was a massive hit, becoming only the third Beatles album to debut at number one in the UK and spending eight non-consecutive weeks in that position. In the US, it would top that achievement by an extra week.

The performance of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society was another story. It did not chart in either the UK or the US (where it was released in early 1969)—the first Kinks album to suffer this unfortunate milestone (it would also be their final album to miss the charts in the US, though they’d never again regain their commercial footing at home). Retrospective commentators have noted how out-of-touch Village Green was with that year of war, assassinations, riots, and revolutionary actions. The Kinks had made a cozy, nostalgic record that dared to declare “God save little shops, china cups, and virginity.” Many have blamed such conservatism for the album’s commercial failure. But was “The White Album” any more revolutionary? It housed few topical songs. The ones most tuned in to the progressive zeitgeist were George’s anti-capitalism parody “Piggies”, John’s anti-hunting parody “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, and Paul’s free love freak out “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” (his “Black Bird” is supposed to be about the civil rights movement, but this message is so sketchily expressed that one could reasonably assume the song is just about a bird). A weary early take of the “Hey Jude” B-side “Revolution”, however, argued more explicitly against fighting in the streets than anything on Village Green, leaving it even more out of time than “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”. Elsewhere, The Beatles reveled in abstractions (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, “Glass Onion”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey”, “Revolution 9”), silliness (“Wild Honey Pie”, “Birthday”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, Savoy Truffle”, “Rocky Raccoon”), and a lot of very Kinky quaintness (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, “Good Night”, “Dear Prudence”, “I Will”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Honey Pie”, “Martha My Dear”, “Helter Skelter”, a hell-fire rocker about a playground slide). Sure, “The White Album” is great, but only a lunatic like Charles Manson would read it as a call to take up revolutionary arms. 

In reality, Village Green did not fail to sell because of its backward-looking philosophy. It certainly did not fail because of its quality. American critics championed the exquisite record, but The Kinks’ unofficial touring ban in this country did them no favors when the time came to promote the record. In the UK, it failed to get any accolades because Pye apparently didn’t bother to send review copies out to any papers except for Disc magazine. That review declared Ray “one of our finest composers,” but one blurb does not make a hit record.  

Nevertheless, Village Green Preservation Society supports Disc’s assertion like no other Kinks work. While many will be debating what could/should have been hacked off “The White Album” for years to come, Village Green is indescribably perfect, nearly as eclectic as The Beatles but uniform in performance and spirit. Each song is a marvelous creation regardless of whether The Kinks are dallying with lager-raising anthems (“The Village Green Preservation Society”), renaissance pop (“Village Green”), children’s music (“Phenomenal Cat”), music hall (“All of My Friends Were There”), French psychedelia (“Sitting by the Riverside”), blues (“The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”), riff rock with a touch of raga (“Big Sky”), acid rock (“Wicked Annabella”), show tunes (“Starstruck”), gypsy folk (“People Take Pictures of Each Other”), calypso (“Monica”), or Beatleseque pop (“Do You Remember Walter?”). 

Perfection and uniformity are not the names of the game on The Beatles; sprawl and bizarre juxtapositions are. That the musique concrete of “Revolution 9” can sit between the whimsical folk rock of “Cry Baby Cry” and the pure Hollywood schmaltz of “Good Night”—all products of Lennon’s pen, incidentally—is what makes “The White Album” so thrilling. The fact that it allowed room for such nonsense as “Wild Honey Pie” and “Rocky Raccoon” is another of its great appeals. It is an avalanche of styles tumbling from a mountain of music. Village Green is a meadow speckled with flowers of every imaginable shape and color.


With each passing year, more and more people have discovered that meadow and reveled in putting on a nice warm sweater to lie in its autumnal grass. While “The White Album” is an institution to be consumed by everyone, Village Green Preservation Society is a cult secret to be passed back and forth among the most discriminating listeners, its hipness antithetical to its dated celebrations of Fu Manchu, Old Mother Riley, and virginity. And as tension-fraught “The White Album” would turn out to be the beginning of the end for The Beatles, the collaborative Village Green would be the beginning of a rebirth for The Kinks. With new bassist John Dalton they’d recapture their former glory in America. With the lifting of the touring ban, 1969’s Arthur: or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire would be The Kinks’ highest charter in the states since 1965’s Kink Kontroversy. 1970’s massive hit “Lola” would clinch this most British of British bands in the states for good. They’d now have the longevity and commercial as well as artistic clout to rank alongside those other heavy weights of sixties British pop: The Rolling Stones, The Who, and yes, The Beatles. And so with The Beatles and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, two pop cornerstones passed each other on their ways to radically different futures no one during that radical time could have predicted. Their enduring legacies are less dissimilar.

The Beatles and The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society were both released 45 years ago today.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The Nice is Finally on Its Way: Release Date and Pre-Order Info for Small Faces Box

Well, after two years of teasing, we finally have a release date, pre-order info, and all necessary specs on that great, big box of Small Faces. On January 14, 2014, Charly Records will drop four CDs and 3 vinyl EPs worth of the moddest Mod band augmented with an acetate, posters, press kits, postcards, art prints, and a hardbound coffee table book. The set solely covers the Immediate Years, so nothing from the band's eponymous debut album is included. However, all of the single sides and all of the Autumn Stone tracks left off 2012's deluxe editions are (apparently "The Autumn Stone" goes by the name "Jenny's Song"on this release), as well as a number of intriguing titles such as "Shades of Green", "Doolally", "Mind the Doors", "Jack", "Fred", and more.

Here Come the Nice: The Immediate Years Box Set 1967-1969 is exclusively available from Amazon.com in the U.S. and can be pre-ordered now here:
And now the specs and track list straight from Amazon:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: 'Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece'


Violent, vibrant, and endlessly quotable, Reservoir Dogs knocked me out and psyched me up to see how Quentin Tarantino was going to top it, because if there was one thing I could tell from that audacious debut, it was that the director was just getting started. When word got out that Pulp Fiction was coming, I went into a state of hyper anticipation. When I finally got to see it in autumn 1994, it infected me completely. My best friend at the time and I didn’t just see the movie in the theater five times (which is more times than I’ve ever seen any other film in the theater during its first run); we wanted to be Jules and Vincent. Actually, I think we both wanted to be Jules. He was just too fucking cool. Like a little Fonzie. 


I was kind of tickled when Jason Bailey told almost the exact same tale in the introduction of his new book Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece (only he saw the movie six times and wanted to be the filmmaker instead of one of his characters). So from the very start, Bailey had won me over with his simpatico obsession. By hopping into that obsession with both feet for the next 200 pages, he never let me down. The Complete Story is indeed that and it’s told in a scatter shot way full of unexpected side roads that is very much in the spirit of the film it chews over. The tale of Tarantino’s early life, early work, the movie that made him a behind-the-camera celebrity, and it’s A-bomb-strength aftermath keeps wandering down corridors to ponder how QT recycled material from his own scripts and the scripts of others to piece together Pulp Fiction, differences between its script and screen incarnations, errors that slipped into it, and onscreen examples of Tarantino’s foot fetish! The biographical portion of the book is both thorough and playful as the author runs down fan theories about what’s in Marcellus Wallace’s brief case (Diamonds? Marcellus’s soul? Is the briefcase actually Pandora’s Box?), his own theory about who actually keyed Vincent’s Malibu, and a timeline that lays out the fractured storyline chronologically. Bailey also makes room for his fellow fans to get in on the fun, both in the guest essays strewn throughout the book and the colorful splatter of art pieces inspired by the film. It’s a varied and eye-popping presentation for a varied and eye-popping movie. With 2013 getting close to the end, I’m pretty sure Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece is going to be my favorite movie book of the year.


Get Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece at Amazon.com here:


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Psychobabble's Ten Greatest Albums of 1993


After an excruciating late-eighties dominated by preening hair bands (Poison, Great White, etc.), paltry pop princesses (Debbie, Tiffany, etc.), and easy listening snoozers (Phil Collins, Bette Midler, etc.), everything changed, as many a schlocky VH-1 documentary has taught us, when Kurt and the gang discharged that iconic four-chord riff in 1991. Thus followed the grunge revolution that would dominate rock music through the following year. Critics and flannel-clad kids alike celebrated the gloomy new breed for deposing the poseurs—even though one would never know it by looking at the charts. Despite the apparent ubiquity of hairspray-free rock bands in ’91/’92, the top hits of those years were Bryan Adams’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” and Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” respectively. Even though garbage still reigned on top forty radio, the relative success of Nirvana (whose revolutionary “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was only the 32nd best-selling single of 1992), Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and their ilk jolted record execs into signing other guitar-based bands that weren’t necessarily fashion plates fit for MTV. And this was not limited to Seattle-style sludge.

While the grunge years were rendered in shades of plaid and grey, the expanded palette of 1993 was vibrantly varied. The influence of sixties psychedelia and British Invaders, seventies punk and hard rock, even country, experimental, and jazz (check out Morphine) started infusing seemingly noncommercial groups that suddenly found themselves signed to indies and majors alike. The pundits scrambled for an umbrella term for these eclectic new artists and settled on “alternative,” implying that specimens as disparate as Björk and Urge Overkill were on the same team simply because neither of them sounded anything like Mariah Carey or Wreckx-N-Effect. Women also moved to the Rock & Roll frontline in greater strength than ever before. The results were the most exciting year for pop music since the punk-punctured late seventies. Here are ten of the greatest albums to burst out of that great year, 1993.

10. Saturation by Urge Overkill

When Nirvana banished the hair metalists to the Island of Lost Aqua-Net Abusers, the leftover poses of seventies hard rock went with them. In their place was a new air of enlightenment. While one might not lament the lessening of Stones and Zeppelin-style sexism in Rock & Roll, the embarrassment that now came with tossing off a big, chunky riff or tossing ones long, luxurious hair around was kind of an unfortunate trade off. From now on, the poses of rock’s past would largely be the territory of women finally having their day on the formerly testosterone-charged playing field. Men could really only traffic in this stuff if they did so ironically. This resulted in a lot of bad music and a lot of twee popsters flashing the über-metal devil sign to get a giggle out of their shoe-gazing followers.

So maybe irony threatened to turn the formerly vital Rock & Roll into a joke once and for all (and may help account for the near death of the genre by the end of the nineties), but as far as ironic rockers go, there are none better than Urge Overkill. The key to Urge’s greatness is their genuine love of the music they seem to be parodying (seventies corporate rock), their punk roots as evident in their early releases for Touch and Go Records, and their super-sharp wit. The baker’s dozen killer tracks on Saturation aren’t funny because they sound like Boston send-ups; they’re funny because chief writers Nash Kato and “Eddie” King Roeser are funny guys who mine Fidel Castro, daytime and evening soap operas, and pick ups halted by misread sexual proclivities for song lyrics. And Saturation is not some comedy album in the vein of Weird Al, or worse yet, Dread Zeppelin. “Bottle of Fur” is a sincerely effecting power ballad about lost love. “Crackbabies” and “Stalker” are scary ravers about unusual topics. Drummer Blackie O.’s “Drop Out” is a peek at the loser teens still lurking somewhere under Urge’s designer sunglasses and velvet smoking jackets. Really, once you get past the surface comedy of Saturation after a few spins, the sincerity of a great Rock & Roll band playing great Rock & Roll is what makes it worthy of further lsitens and sets it apart from the works of ironists who have nothing going on below the surface. 

9. Modern Life is Rubbish by Blur

Just as the influence of Boston and KISS is unmissable in the work of Urge Overkill, Blur’s favorite bands are equally on display on their second album. After the trendier, less poppy (yet still good) debut Leisure, Blur fully resigned themselves to the artists they love most on Modern Life is Rubbish: The Beatles, Syd Barrett, Small Faces, The Jam, and especially, The Kinks. Damon Albarn shared Ray Davies’s very British mode of satire and social commentary. His distinctively unrefined Cockney yap made it all distinctively Blur-ish and unified an eclectic platter of hippity-hoppity anthems (“For Tomorrow), noisy rockers (the exhilarating “Advert”), herky-jerky nouveau-new wave (“Pressure on Julian”), breezy pop (“Star Shaped”), wistful ballads (“Blue Jeans”), music hall (“When the Cows Come Home”), power pop (“Turn It Up”), and psych searing (the amazing single “Chemical World”) and creeping (“Oily Water”, “Miss America”). The one downside of Modern Life is Rubbish is that it’s a bit unwieldy; a problem not unique in the CD age when groups were too eager to take advantage of all seventy-five minutes the medium afforded (Blur really takes advantage by filling the album with fifty tracks of four-seconds of silence). They’d get this tendency under control on their next and best-yet album, Parklife.

8. Altered Beast by Matthew Sweet

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: The Beatles' 'On Air—Live at the BBC Volume 2'


The Beatles recorded 88 different songs for the BBC, the cream of which was released in 1994. The most thrilling thing about The Beatles Live at the BBC was getting to hear a plethora of songs they never put out on their proper albums, and it didn’t hurt that they rendered oldies such as “Some Other Guy”, “I Got a Woman”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, “Clarabella”, and “The Hippy Hippy Shake” with such excitement. Perhaps most significant of all was the release of “I’ll Be on My Way,” a pretty and wistful Lennon/McCartney original otherwise unavailable.

On Air—Live at the BBC Volume 2 gets closer to the bottom of the barrel, relying on a lot of material from Please Please Me and a lot already available on the first volume, only offering two otherwise unreleased numbers (the soppy standard “Beautiful Dreamer” and Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” featuring the riff Paul copped for his bassline on “I Saw Her Standing There”), and no revelatory Lennon/McCartney rarities. Still, this is The Beatles’ barrel we’re talking about, which is a pretty good barrel. There are certainly some cool things to hear on On Air. There’s a version of “Words of Love” recorded fifteen months before it made its vinyl debut on Beatles for Sale. There’s a positively vicious version of “Money” (and am I hearing Lennon scream, “I wanna be free, bitch!” at the climax of the track?). There are also several of versions of big hits— “Please Please Me”, “From Me to You”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, an electrified “And I Love Her”—that were surprisingly passed over for volume one (which is receiving a remastering and rerelease in conjunction with its sequel). But what strikes me most about these recordings is the clear differentiation of instruments when compared to the (albeit less weedy) album versions. These recordings were the best ways to hear Paul’s bass work until Revolver. On a less musical note, there are also interesting Rubber Soul and Revolver-era solo interviews with each Beatle, their soberness providing a jarring counterpoint to the goofy clowning of the between-track banter elsewhere on On Air. I actually think this is the only time I’ve ever heard George address his role as the quiet one and Paul discuss his personal cultural renaissance that would so influence Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the following year.

Get On Air—Live at the BBC Volume 2 at Amazon.com here :

…and if you don’t have the more essential first volume, get that too here :

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: 'Pink Floyd: Behind the Wall'


Having spent most of their career looking dour in T-shirts and jeans, Pink Floyd wasn’t the most photogenic of bands. Perhaps that’s why it has taken so long for someone to publish an image-heavy illustrated history of the band when there are already quite a number devoted to their brethren in The Beatles, Stones, Who, and Zeppelin. On the up side, they were always interesting to look at in their paisley garb during their most vital era with Syd Barrett and their stage sets were awe-inspiring enough in the later years to consume the eye.

Writer Hugh Fielder seems pretty consumed by those sets, spending quite a bit of time discussing the logistics of setting them up in Pink Floyd: Behind the Wall. Otherwise, his text is a broad-stroke history of the band. Fielder is definitely not writing for my fellow Syd cultists, summing up Syd’s albeit brief tenure in the band in about thirty pages and giving the bulk of his attention and accolades to Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. For the majority of the book, Fielder is not very critical of the music one way or the other, saving his album-by-album assessment for an appendix as safe as the rest of it. My favorite part was a two-page spread on the wacky Wizard of Oz/Dark Side connection. More fun side roads such as these would have been welcome.

Get Pink Floyd: Behind the Wall at Amazon.com here :

Friday, November 8, 2013

Review: 'The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion'


The 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz won’t happen until late next summer, but Turner Entertainment Co. is so excited to see its property hit that milestone that it’s rushing several commemorative releases into the shops. The beginning of October saw the debut of a 3D Blu-ray of the film, and the end of the month saw publication of Jay Scarfone and William Stillman’s The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion. You can’t really blame Turner for jumping the gun since this movie has been stirring anticipatory excitement since before its 1939 premiere. Scarfone and Stillman’s book relates a pre-release frenzy the likes of which seems surprising in the pre-Star Wars age, let alone the pre-Internet one. The papers were abuzz with debates over whether the movie should be live action or a cartoon. The casting of Judy Garland was big news, as was the blond wig she was supposed to wear to make her look more like the Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s book. Baum’s fans were writing threatening letters to producer Mervyn LeRoy to ensure he didn’t stray too far from their favorite book.

All of this electricity indicates how ahead of its time The Wizard of Oz was, and few films still resonate with viewers of all ages as it does. Those dedicated millions will find much to tickle them in The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, which compliments Scarfone and Stillman’s storytelling with choice artifacts from Turner Entertainment’s Oz archives. There’s a rare shot of Garland and Toto with Richard Thorpe, the director originally lined up to make the movie. There’s a copy of the agreement with uncredited director King Vidor stipulating that he would, indeed, receive no credit for his work on The Wizard of Oz. There are black & white and color shots of Garland in her inappropriately glamorous blond wig. There’s also a creepy shot of Ray Bolger in an early makeup that would have made him look more like the Wicked Witch of the West than the Scarecrow; several test shots of original witch Gale Sondergaard, who left the movie because she was too pretty; and production sketches, vintage advertisements, and images of funky old merchandise, such as Wizard of Oz Valentine cards and Wizard of Oz peanut butter. It’s all delightfully designed, finished off with a grab bag pouch containing a bookmark (very functional!), copies of the Witch’s death certificate and the hero’s rewards (Heart! Brain! Courage! Home!), a booklet of lobby card reproductions, a cardboard picture frame for displaying the character headshots included, and more.

Get The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion at Amazon.com now here (why wait until the movie’s actual 75th anniversary?):



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cult Club: 'Head' (1968)


“Our film is going to astound the world… The Monkees are dead. We’ve been gently moving away from the prefabricated image of the four of us in the last few TV episodes…We want to be thought of as real people. We are still largely victims of the monsters we helped create, and people still expect us to act our TV parts in real life.”

When Mike Nesmith said this to the NME in April, 1968, The Monkees were swinging through a fuzzy patch. They’d gone through the incredible, literally overnight sensation of their first few hit records and their first season on TV. They’d been rejected by the burgeoning counter culture for not playing on their records, and had failed to get all due credit when they successfully fought for the right to play on them just months into their career. The popularity of their series was now on the decline even as it moved along with the times, cursing the stale conventions of the American sitcom more than ever with wilder improvisations, bolder admissions to the artificiality of TV show-making, more socially aware satire, groovier music, and the loss of the dreaded laugh track. The Monkees were also getting sick of being Monkees, of playing their limiting roles on the series and playing together. As The Beatles would soon do during their “White Album” sessions, The Monkees essentially became a group of four solo artists producing their own sessions, recording their own particular styles of music. So Nesmith was right that The Monkees were dead even if he meant their previous image was no more rather than meaning that they were finished working together as a unit.

The fact is the work The Monkees were doing to kill their image would reach such a miniscule audience that they never would lose their image as pre-fab bubblegum peddlers, which haunts them to this day. The audience that had made them superstars in ’67 was growing up and out of The Monkees in ’68. Most of these kids would never even get the chance to see the guys graphically French kiss a willing and rather empowered woman on the big screen or see them wail through Nesmith’s blazing rocker “Circle Sky” as a real band playing real instruments or see their antics side-by-side with the real murder of a Vietcong operative or see Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter end their very first movie by committing suicide together. That’s because few apparently cared enough to even buy a ticket to Head.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Expect 'The Who FAQ' a Few Weeks Early...

Just a quick note to let my fellow Wholigans know that the publication date of my book, The Who FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Fifty Years of Maximum R&B, has been bumped up from June 3, 2014, to May 13, 2014. That date is still subject to change, but as of now, it seems pretty solid.
If you want to reserve your copy, you can pre-order it from Amazon.com here :
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