Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: 'Ladies and Gentlemen... The Bangles'

The Bangles were the only band to climb out of LA's sixties-fetishizing Paisley Underground to become zillion-selling pop superstars. However, when they hit big in 1986 with Different Light, there was a mere dusting of paisley atop the drum machines, synthesizers, and other heavy-handed eighties production strokes. Sure, "Manic Monday" was a really good record, but the original fans The Bangles had won by doing time on the Sunset Strip were probably left wondering what happened to the organic, no-frills band they loved. 

Thirty years later, we have our answer: they're all over Ladies and Gentlemen... The Bangles. Originally released as a download in late 2014, this compilation of pre-fame Bangles (and Bangs, their original name) reveals the great band Susannah Hoffs and Vicki and Debbie Peterson were before they were raking in the dough with mush like "Walk Like an Egyptian" and "Eternal Flame". Even their later-day hits make their vocal-harmony prowess clear, but none of that well-known stuff shows off what a powerful band The Bangles could be when not having their spirits crushed by studio musicians and synths. "Bitchen Summer/Speedway" is surf rock TNT with a quick fuse. Better known because of their inclusion on Rhino's excellent Children of Nuggets comps, "Getting Out of Hand" and "The Real World" are vibrant pieces of jangly pop that could fool Richie Unterberger into thinking they were recorded in early 1967. And if those songs do not make it clear where the original Bangles were coming from, their covers of songs by Love (their live version of "7 and 7 Is" is another gob-smacking display of the viciousness unheard in their pop-star years), Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Turtles, and The La De Das surely will. 

Ladies and Gentlemen apparently scrapes together whatever is available from before The Bangles signed to Columbia and discovered Aqua Net. There are singles, radio recordings, live recordings, demos, a brief advert, and their entire self-titled 1982 EP for Faulty Products. It's a drag to think that more of these recordings won't get released--and that The Bangles didn't continue in this vein for their entire career-- because Ladies and Gentlemen is outrageously fab and over too quickly.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 244


The Date: May 31

The Movie: Cat’s Eye (1985)

What Is It?: Consistently strong portmanteau of Stephen King horror tales. A jolly cat whisks us from James Woods going to extreme means to quit smoking (the best in the bunch), Robert Hays going to extreme means to get the gangster he’s cuckolding to agree to a divorce (nerve wracking), and Drew Barrymore employing our feline tour guide to do away with the nasty troll living in her bedroom (great fun).

Why Today?: Today is No Tobacco Day.

Monday, May 30, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 243


The Date: May 30

The Movie: Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943)

What Is It?: One of the great cinematic tragedies was how the wild, care-free, anarchic spirit of one of our great actors was ultimately crushed, reducing him to a cynical and luckless shell of what he once was. However, in 1943, Daffy Duck was at his insane best, and he was rarely better than when he was trying to peddle the multiple talents of Sleepy Lagoon to agent Porky Pig in the gloriously hilarious "Yankee Doodle Daffy". I'll take "Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!" over "You're dethpicable" any day.

Why Today?: On this day in 1908, Mel Blanc is born.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 242


The Date: May 29

The Movie: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

What Is It?: Elvis and JFK didn’t die way back when, but they are wasting away their final days in a rest home full of patronizing staff members. Things look up for the dynamic duo when a soul-sucking mummy invades the home and gives them something to fight. Shockingly sincere.

Why Today?: On this day in 1917, JFK is born.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 241


The Date: May 28

The Movie: Sylvia (1965)

What Is It?: Gloriously sleazy soap opera with Carroll Baker as the title character, who has a sordid back story George Maharis is simply dying to uncover.

Why Today?: On this day in 1931, Carroll Baker is born.

Friday, May 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 240


The Date: May 27

The Movie: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

What Is It?: Vincent Price finds himself in a horror movie so bizarre, so insane, so giddy that he can get away with a pretty restrained performance. As the title character, he bumps off the medical professionals he blames for his wife’s death, basing each murder on a Biblical plague. Great gimmick; great flick.

Why Today?: On this day in 1911, Vincent Price is born.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 239


The Date: May 26

The Movie: Brides of Dracula (1960)

What Is It?: So what if there are no brides and no Dracula? Hammer’s second picture to trade on the count’s name is one of the studio’s best. Peter Cushing turns Van Helsing into an action hero, owning the role for good. Somewhere Hugh Jackman weeps.

Why Today?: On this day in 1913, Peter Cushing is born.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 238


The Date: May 25

The Movie: Henry V (1971)

What Is It?: Lauren Olivier's adaptation presents Shakespeare's happy few as a troupe performing in the Globe Theatre and as full-blooded characters in an expansive and lush piece of cinema. The best of both the theater and cinema worlds.

Why Today?: On this day in 1978, China lifts its censorship ban on Shakespeare.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 237


The Date: May 24
The Movie: A Simple Plan (1998)
What Is It?: Sam Raimi does the Coen Brothers and he does them well with one of his most low-key movies. A pair of Minnesota brothers find $4.4 million dollars in a crashed plane and their greed prods the situation out of control. Bodies pile up and crows descend.
Why Today?: Today is Brother’s Day.

Monday, May 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 236


The Date: May 23
The Movie: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
What Is It?: Arthur Penn skips backward forty years to tell the tale of a pair of smooching bank robbers and jolts Hollywood movie violence into the future. Perhaps the most charmingly non-dated countercultural movie of the sixties. The supporting cast is divine.
Why Today?: On this day in 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are mowed down by the dirty coppers.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 235


The Date: May 22

The Movie: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

What Is It?: After several unsettling films, Werner Herzog makes a full-blown horror film, though his take on Murnau’s vampire classic finds the count weak, sniveling, and ill. As Lucy Harker (once again, filmmakers can’t keep Stoker’s characters straight), Isabelle Adjani is the portrait of Goth gorgeousness.
Why Today?: Today is Goth Day.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 234


The Date: May 21
The Movie: Mulholland Dr. (2001)
What Is It?: David Lynch salvages a rejected TV pilot and makes the greatest film of the 2000s as cute starlet Naomi Watts and car-crash victim Laura Harring prove to be otherwise in a creepy Hollywood dream world. Beware the dumpster behind Winkie’s!
Why Today?: Today is the first day of the Gemini star sign—the perfect day to revel in doublings and shifting personalities!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: 'The Damned: Don’t You Wish We Were Dead'


Mentioning that The Damned never had nearly as much commercial or critical success as those other two British punk cornerstones is always a convenient way to introduce any discussion of the band. For Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian, and Rat Scabies, it’s serious business. Money issues dug the rifts between these guys that still gape today. They are often marginalized in or completely left out of the conversation about the history of punk they did so much to write. There isn’t even a single decent biography about the band that—here we go again—released the first UK punk LP and 45 and personally delivered British punk to the States, almost singlehandedly jumpstarting the LA punk scene. As far as I’m concerned, they’re also responsible for the single best punk album and the single best song and album of the eighties.

If The Damned are touchy about their lack of “success,” they really have every right to be. And if we fans sometimes get defensive about them the way some crew-cut asshole gets defensive about some football team, it’s because we recognize their underdog status and believe the band deserves more than their lot. I love The Clash, but I wouldn’t feel like smashing a pint glass over the head of anyone who says The Sex Pistols were better. If someone made a similar comparison with The Damned in place of The Clash, however, he’d better protect his fucking skull.

So, Wes Orshoski’s The Damned: Don’t You Wish We Were Dead isn’t just another worshipful rock doc; it’s a bloody necessity. Fortunately, it serves both functions, telling the tale of The Damned in satisfying manner, and letting the band members air their grievances in their own manners. Mr. Vanian is caught in a candid moment griping about how many of his punk peers are raking in the filthy lucre by licensing their music when no similar offers are in the offing for his band (please forgive the anti-semitic tinge to his diatribe). Mr. Scabies rants about how much he doesn’t care about the band’s loser status, making how much he really cares perfectly clear.

Filling in the rest of the narrative, Nick Mason shows up to give a short account of the Music for Pleasure sessions and Paul Gray and the recently departed Bryn Merrick share cancer war stories. There are testimonials from Mick Jones, Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde, Clem Burke, Chris Stein, TV Smith, Gaye Advert, Jello Biafra, Lemmy Kilmister, and many others. There’s even an extended focus on that greatest song of the eighties, “Curtain Call” (though, I exercise my right as a fan to be disappointed that the greatest album of the eighties, Strawberries, is left out of the discussion entirely). The elusive Dave Vanian sits out much of this before receiving an unusually enlightening profile late in the film.

The fact that The Damned are often painted as punk-golden-age also rans is a complete drag, but it is also what makes we fans feel so strongly about them (well, that and the incredible music), and Orshoski makes plenty of time for us too, whether it’s an original Damned maniac who went up the creak for murdering a guy with a pick axe or comedian Fred Armisen. I’m sure those guys and everyone else like them has shoved a copy of Damned Damned Damned or Machine Gun Etiquette at some in-the-dark friend in an attempt to make a conversion. With its historically significant story, incredible music, outrageous humor (Cap’n’s tale about an exceptionally resilient turd will stimulate your laugh reflexes and your gag reflexes), and real emotion, Don’t You Wish We Were Dead will hopefully also get shoved at a few Damned virgins now that it’s out on DVD and blu-ray. MVD supplements the feature with 45 minutes of extras, including a sweet meeting between Captain and Armsien that finds the latter giving Strawberries the attention it didn’t get in the movie and both guys busking “Smash It Up” in LA, Captain giving a hilarious guided tour of Croydon (some of this material is also shuffled into the film), an extended segments about The Doomed (The Damned plus Lemmy) and The Anarchy Tour that brought together UK punk’s three cornerstones before tearing them apart, and a live performance of “Smash It Up” from Captain’s 60th birthday gig.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 233


The Date: May 20

The Movie: Wild Strawberries (1957)

What Is It?: Ingmar Bergman puts his bleakness in the cupboard to make a very touching portrait of an old grump’s journey to receive a Doctor Jubilaris degree. Along the way, he meditates on his past, present, and future; picks up hitchhikers; and picks the title fruit.

Why Today?: Today is National Pick Strawberries Day.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Reissues of The Move's 'Something Else" and 'Looking On'


On 45, The Move always bashed like The Who, harmonized like The Belmonts, and laid on the sugar like the Keebler Elves. On longer playing vinyl, they were much harder to pin down. Their eponymous first album was basically like a cluster of those wonderfully sweet and heavy singles stitched together with some wacky cover choices. Shazam was very different indeed with its humorous heavy metal and prog rock pastiches and almost total absence of bubblegum. In between those two albums, The Move issued a live EP that further flaunted their eclectic taste in covers. For any one who couldn’t suss where the band was coming from, Something Else from The Move helped make sense of all of The Move’s seemingly unpredictable movements. After all, they were a band that thought nothing odd about mixing covers of songs by trad. rockers Eddie Cochran and Jerry Lee Lewis, LA psychedelicists The Byrds and Love, and prog rockers Spooky Tooth on the same disc. Despite the disparate material, The Move never played favorites, smashing out each number with the same brutality and professionalism.

As the Something Else from The Move EP helped bridge two dissimilar albums, Looking On followed Shazam with similar logic. It shed even more of The Move’s early sweetness than Shazam had while honing that record’s  ideas with long songs that never sounded like a particularly merry Dr. Frankenstein had stitched them together, as “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” and “Fields of People” certainly had. Thus The Move ended up with some of their most cohesive epics, particularly the magnificently mind-warping “What?” and the intricately structured psych/jazz/raga fusion “Open Up Said the World at the Door”, both courtesy of new co-band leader Jeff Lynne. Roy Wood’s three concise songs— “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues”, “When Alice Comes Back to the Farm”, and “Brontosaurus”— are some of the most playful examples of early British metal. Critics sometimes shrug off Looking On, but its the first Move album that doesn't sound like it was created accidentally and it has the distinction of being their first record of entirely original material.

Last month, Esoteric Records expanded and reissued Move and Shazam. This month, Something Else and Looking On receive similar treatment. Actually, Something Else had basically already received this treatment back in 2008 when stereo remixes of the original EP supplemented with seven other live tracks constituted disc three of Salvo’s Anthology 1966-1972. Not only were there more killer covers (a hard-driving cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” stuns), but also a couple of classic Move originals: “Flowers in the Rain” and “Fire Brigade”. For those who did not spring for that four-disc set, Esoteric’s single-disc reissue of Something Else is ideal, including everything on the anthology’s third disc and the original EP’s five mono mixes. “Looking On” spills over onto a second disc. Like last month’s expanded reissues, BBC sessions dominate the bonus material, though there is less in the way of funky cover versions (the only one here is two takes of a Zeppelinized version of The Beatles’ “She’s a Woman”). There’s also the great B-side “Lightnin’ Never Strikes Twice in the Same Place” in both standard studio and more harmonious BBC incarnations, and a BBC recording of a very good Beatle-esque Lynne original called “Falling Forever”.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 232


The Date: May 19

The Movie: White City (1987)

What Is It?: Pete Townshend and Richard Lowenstein bring Townshend’s “novel” White City to life as a series of music videos set around a West London housing estate. The tale of a Rock Star returning to his meager hometown links the videos. Townshend gets to act!

Why Today?: On this day in 1945, Pete Townshend is born.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 231


The Date: May 18

The Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

What Is It?: John Hughes’s exhilarating poem to skipping school, visiting museums, lip-synching to The Beatles, and impersonating a sausage king… and it all hinges on the moment Matthew Broderick licks his own palms.

Why Today?: Today is Museum Day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 230


The Date: May 17
The Movie: Quadrophenia (1979)
What Is It?: Franc Roddam makes one of the few movies based on an album that’s worth a damn. This tale of teen angst and identity trauma amidst clashes between mods and rockers is both relevant to the era it intends to chronicle and the era in which it was made: a flick for mods and punks alike. The music is rather good too.
Why Today?: On this day in 1964, the so-called Battle of Margate between mods and rockers began.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: 'C87'


In mid-1986, the NME released a mail-order cassette mix of 22 samples from indie groups, several of whom (The Wedding Present, The Mighty Lemon Drops, Primal Scream, The Soup Dragons, etc.) would go on to bigger things. Last year, Cherry Red—that love-struck curator of eighties British indie—rereleased the influential C86 on CD and expanded it to include fifty additional like-minded artists.

Of course, 1986 was just one year in a lengthy and key pop era, so a fantasy follow up imagining what a C87 tape might have been is both logical and welcome. Like Cherry Red comps past, such as the expanded C86 and Scared to Get Happy, C87 shows how far beyond mere Smiths-worship late-eighties UK indie set its sites. Yes, there are a few Morrissey worshipers here, but there’s also The Sea Urchins’ sighing and swooning, The House of Love’s bluesy garage rock, The Bachelor Pad’s brain-busting Barrett psych, The Vaselines’ ear-bleeding bubblegum, The Inspiral Carpets’ lo-fi ambience, The Flatmates’ bouncing pop, I, Ludicrous’ straight-faced piss taking, etc.

All of those artists are featured on the gem of C87’s three discs. Its second disc moves in a somewhat more consistently mainstream pop direction (though it houses some truly standout tracks, such as Pop Will Eat Itself’s fierce “Sweet Sweet Pie”). Disc Three begins as an antidote to those slicker sounds with a full-wallow in dissonance and discordance. More adventurous listeners will welcome Dog Faced Hermans, Gaye Bikers on Acid, A Witness, and the rest as palette cleansers (in the same sense that lye is a palette cleanser). More melodically inclined listeners should not bale on C87, though, because beginning with 14 Iced Bears’ “Like a Dolphin”, Disc Three starts moving in more accessible territory again, and by Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes’ “I’m Up Here”, the set hits another lovely, jangly stride. Sometimes hard rocking, sometimes twee, sometimes pretty, sometimes skronky, sometimes Smithsy, C87 sums up the breadth of ’86/’87 British indie with Cherry Red’s inimitable knowledge of and sympathy for that era. You may not like it all, but you’re guaranteed to discover a lot you’ll love.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 229


The Date: May 16

The Movie: The Lost Weekend (1945)

What Is It?: Billy Wilder shoots his finger-wagging fest about alcoholism as if it was a noir crime picture or a nightmare of German Expressionism. Ray Milland was sometimes written off as “the poor man’s Cary Grant”. Nuts to that.

Why Today?: Today is World Whiskey Day. Drink up!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 228


The Date: May 15

The Movie: Revenge of the Creature (1955)

What Is It?: So what do you do if you find the last fish-man on Earth? Well, you capture him, drag him to a marine park, and put him on display so a bunch of morons can gawp at him while wolfing down hot dogs. Can you blame him when he breaks free and runs amok? This movie should be called Assholes Get What They Deserve.

Why Today?: Today is Endangered Species Day, and no species is as endangered as the last fish-man on Earth.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 227


The Date: May 14

The Movie: Strangers on a Train (1950)

What Is It?: Robert Walker meets Farley Granger on a train and wants to do a little criss-cross. Dim, dim Granger does not realize that means swapping murders. A-doy! One of Hitchcock’s nastiest and funniest movies, and daughter Pat Hitchcock is priceless as the little sister of Granger’s fiancĂ©.

Why Today?: Today is National Train Day.

Friday, May 13, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 226


The Date: May 13
The Movie: Dementia 13 (1963)
What Is It?: Francis Ford Coppola delivers his assigned Psycho rip off to Roger Corman and kick starts his own career as a writer-director. More fun than The Godfather, though that’s probably true of every movie with Patrick Magee.
Why Today?: Today is Friday the 13th. You thought I might assign Friday the 13th today? Nah. I like you too much to expect you to watch that crap. Watch this crap instead!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 225


The Date: May 12

The Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

What Is It?: Jack Nicholson brings a little anarchic spirit to the local mental institution and goes toe-to-toe with the toughest nurse in cinema history. And all he loses is his frontal lobe.

Why Today?: Today is International Nurses Day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 224


The Date: May 11

The Movie: Silence of the Lambs (1991)

What Is It?: Horror finally gets a little respect from the Academy Awards and all it took was a few insect-stuffed corpses, a couple of suits made of human skin, Jodie Foster getting jizz tossed in her face, and one rather chatty cannibal.

Why Today?: Today is Eat What You Want Day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 223


The Date: May 10
The Movie: Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
What Is It?: Dead janitor waltzes into teens’ dreams and slaughters them with the steak knives on his fingers. Frank Capra’s perennial holiday classic is delightful watching for the whole family on any night of the year! Sweet dreams!
Why Today?: Today is National Stay Up All Night Night.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: 'Sharon Signs to Cherry Red: Independent Women 1979 – 1985'


In 1985, The Kamikaze Pilots released “Sharon Signs to Cherry Red”, a mild piss take aimed at all the aspiring artists who’ve shipped unsolicited and rather rough demo tapes to indie labels such as, well, Cherry Red. Thirty-plus years later, that very label (or at least its subsidiary RPM Records) is embracing the good-natured barb and even retroactively “signing” a multitude of artists like starry-eyed Sharon with a new compilation called Sharon Signs to Cherry Red: Independent Women 1979 – 1985. Well, Kamikazes, if all the aspiring artists who’d tried to get signed with a cheap demo were as good as the majority on this new comp even the slightest piss take would be bang out of order.

The liner notes tend to reference The Slits and The Raincoats a lot, but the styles are as diverse as can be—there’s Northern Soul, mod rock, garage rock, hard rock, psychedelia, reggae, jazz, punk, disco, folk, even big band (check out The Twinsets and The Shillelagh Sisters!)—but almost all of it sounds like it belongs on the same two discs because the synths, uniformly thick accents, and sparse arrangements brew the various tunes in the distinctively flavorful waters of early-eighties British indie pop.

The first disc is 100% filler-free, with Grab Grab the Haddock’s trippy “Nothing You Say…”, The Flatbackers’ slashing “Buzzz Going Round”, and The GTs’ deliriously catchy “Boys Have Feelings Too” all deserving to be singled out. Disc Two is less consistently spectacular, dominated by an odd split between more mainstream pop pieces that sound too polished for this collection (Tracie’s “The Boy Hairdresser” and A Craze’s cheesy bossa nova “Wearing Your Jumper”, for example) and acquired-taste experiments. Disc Two still has enough smashes— The Petticoats’ freaky “Normal”, Dee Walker’s “Jump Back” (which also found a worthy home on Cherry Red’s fabulous Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival box set), The Delmonas’ insane basherWoa Now”, Eleanor Rigby’s tough power popper “I Want to Sleep with You”— to warrant multiple spins.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 222


The Date: May 9
The Movie: Don’t Look Back (1967)
What Is It?: There was one hell of a swelled head under all that frizzy hair, and Dylan lets it take over the screen for better and worse in D.A. Pennebaker’s classic, warts-and-all documentary. As soon as you laugh at one of D’s clever snipes, you feel the sudden pang of guilt for the victim that he surely didn’t feel when this movie was shot in 1965. When that victim is dear Donovan (whom Dylan eviscerates by saying “That’s a really good song, man”!), the guilt stings all the worse. Still, this is who the guy was, and the fantastic music he performs in the film almost justifies the egomania. After all, he does finish off Donovan by playing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.
Why Today?: On this day in 1965, Dylan plays the Royal Albert Hall concert featured in the film.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 221


The Date: May 8

The Movie: The Big Red One (1980)

What Is It?: Sam Fuller poured his WWII experiences into a book that became a movie that became a shard of what he intended it to be when UA started meddling. That under-two-hours theatrical release is not your assignment today. I hope you cleared three hours in your schedule, because this motherfucker is looooong. But it is funny and rewarding and insane and completely uncompromising in its depiction of the camaraderie and luck that gets one through the horrors of combat.

Why Today?: Today is VE Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 220


The Date: May 7

The Movie: Curse of the Cat People (1944)

What Is It?: RKO demanded a follow-up to the smash hit Cat People, so cheeky producer Val Lewton reused that film’s three main characters and nothing else, basically turning the characters into completely different people too. The original Cat Woman, Simone Simon, is now a ghost guide to a sweet little girl with an overactive imagination. This is a beautiful, enchanting, and somewhat sad fairy tale about putting away childish things.

Why Today?: On this day in 1904, Val Lewton is born.
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