Thursday, September 30, 2010

Psychobabble’s 20 Greatest One and No Hit Wonders of 1965!

Psychobabble’s 20 Greatest One and No Hit Wonders of 1965!

Tomorrow is October 1st, and that means Monster Movie Month will be returning to Psychobabble, and that means the Rock & Roll half of this site’s Jekyll & Hyde personality is going on hiatus. In the final Rock post until November, we’ll be taking a nice, long look at twenty phenomenal singles by twenty phenomenal one and no hit wonders released 45 years ago. These artists either only managed a single placing in the Top Twenty of Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart or never managed to get in there at all. So turn up the volume as loud as it will go and get ready to go-go to Psychobabble’s 20 Greatest One and No Hit Wonders of 1965!

20. “What’cha Gonna Do Baby” by Jason Eddie & the Centremen

Sweeping down from the cosmos with a burst of sci-fi organ, “What’cha Gonna Do Baby” by Jason Eddy & the Centremen is instantly identifiable as the work of producer Joe Meek. Meek is sometimes referred to as “the English Phil Spector,” both for his distinctive production style and his legendary madness (Meek’s life ended in a murder/suicide). Unlike Spector, Meek rarely worked with singers of the caliber of Darlene Love or Tina Turner. That Jason Eddy’s voice isn’t the strongest instrument matters little, though, as Meek swathes his sub-Gene Pitney croon in a luxurious shroud of otherworldly textures, making this single by the hitless Eddy and his Centremen a truly dramatic experience.

19. “The Rebel Kind” by Dino, Desi, and Billy

Considering their hopelessly unhip credentials as the sons of Desi Arnaz and Rolling-Stones-disser Dean Martin, Desi Jr. and Dino Jr. (joined by Billy Hinsche) had no right to cut a record as groovy as “The Rebel Kind”. Penned by freaky cult crooner Lee Hazelwood, this fuzzed out hunk of garage bubblegum outclasses Dino, Desi, and Billy’s sole top-twenty hit, “I’m a Fool”. No one would ever mistake these dewy teens for rebels, but that might not stop them from fruging madly to “The Rebel Kind”.

18. “Lies” by The Knickerbockers

Monday, September 27, 2010

Psychobabble recommends 'The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles'

The Beatles' ubiquitous presence in pop culture makes it difficult to fully appreciate what a fresh gust they were in the early '60s. Nothing puts this in perspective better than the recently released double-DVD set The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles, which includes all the Borscht-belt comedians, acrobats, magicians, show-tune singers, and novelty acts teens had to endure while waiting for the Fabs to return to the stage and blow the cobwebs back out of 1697 Broadway.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Psychobabble recommends 'Beatles for Sale: How Everything They TouchedTurned to Gold'

I approached John Blaney’s Beatles for Sale: How Everything They Touched Turned to Gold with a degree of reluctance. Having read more books about The Beatles than I care to admit, I couldn’t imagine Blaney’s effort would have anything fresh to say about the Fabs, no matter how much I enjoyed his Lennon & McCartney: Together Alone. That the book’s angle is a focus on The Beatles’ financial dealings and disasters didn’t particularly excite me either.

The first chapter of Beatles for Sale seemed to confirm my first apprehension. It reads like a straight biographical narrative of The Beatles’ early days leading up to their breaking in America peppered with awkward asides about how much they got paid to play this gig or how they signed that misguided contract. Then the second chapter sprints through the remainder of their career to settle on the formation of Apple Corps and the emergence of Allen Klein in the late ‘60s and the aftermath of these events. This leads us through the next four decades. Chapter three whips us back to ’62 for a look at Lennon and McCartney’s sad publishing deals.

Beatles for Sale continues in this manner with each chapter reading like a stand alone essay on the various aspects of The Beatles’ business career assembled in jumbled chronology. The results of this structure could have been a mess, and it did, indeed, take a while for me to acclimate to it. But halfway through Beatles for Sale I started to really dig Blaney’s approach. The book kind of reads like a mix tape: a lot of the information is familiar, but assembled out of order it offers a fresh perspective on an old tale. And the business angle gives Blaney the opportunity to scrutinize certain aspects of Beatlemania closer than even an exhaustive biography like Bob Spitz’s The Beatles did. And I’m not just talking about those chapters focusing on the multitudinous post-‘60s lawsuits (the most fascinating of which is a lengthy dispute between Apple Corps and Apple Computers). Beatles for Sale offers new details and insights on such sundry oddities as Al Brodax’s Beatles cartoon, the Beatles’ official fan club (a real financial black hole), Apple films, the Apple boutique, and goofy Beatles merchandise like those awful mop top wigs. Beatle dabblers won’t find this book essential, but more devoted fans might find Beatles for Sale to be an original, enlightening look at Beatlemania and all it wrought.

Monday, September 13, 2010

So long, Kevin McCarthy

It was arguably the most genuinely disturbing scene yet to appear in an American film: Kevin McCarthy zig-zagging between speeding cars in a paranoid frenzy, screaming through windows with crazed futility, "You're next! You're next!" At the last moment, his mad eyes glare directly into the camera to warn the viewer that she or he is not safe either.

Kevin McCarthy may have performed in some 200 films and TV shows during his 96 years, but it is his starring role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers for which he'll always be best remembered. And the above scene particularly solidified his role as a cinematic icon. Philip Kaufman even had him recreate that scene for comedic effect in the 1979 remake of Body Snatchers.

But McCarthy's creepy credentials don't end with the original 1956 sci-fi-horror classic. Certain young genre fans who were terrified and enthralled by his work in Invasion of the Body Snatchers grew up to be folks like Joe Dante, who cast McCarthy in Piranha, The Howling, and one of the better segments in Twilight Zone: The Movie. That final title was particularly appropriate considering that McCarthy starred in the classic original "Twilight Zone" episode "Long Live Walter Jameson". McCarthy's square jaw, animated expressions, and nervous energy were fixtures of film and TV right up through the current year (according to his imdb page, he played in a 2010 short film called "Drawback").

McCarthy died on Saturday, September 11th, of natural causes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Meet the Song of the Day: "The Ostrich" by The Primitives

Even with all those grotesque tales of addiction, decadence, and coprophagia, the weirdest chapter in the Lou Reed myth may be the time he spent as a sub-Tin Pan Alley hack for the Long Island, New York, label Pickwick. The guy best known for penning such freaky excursions as “Heroin”, “Sister Ray”, and “The Murder Mystery” spent time in ’64 and ’65 cranking out made-to-order surf and pop tunes for ex-Phil Spector roommate and wannabe pop mogul Terry Phillips. Phillips paid Reed $25 per day to hole up in a tiny studio with collaborators Jerry Vance and Jimmie Sims and write disposable novelties like “Cycle Annie”, “Johnny Can’t Surf No More”, and “Hot Rod Song”. While one number actually went on to achieve classic status among garage rock fanatics, the great “Why Don’t You Smile Now?” (co-written by future Velvet John Cale) recorded by The All Night Workers in the US and The Downliner’s Sect in the UK, the one that most suggested Reed’s upcoming work was a dance tune begging the listener to “put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it … do The Ostrich!”

Recorded by “The Primitives” (i.e.: Reed but soon to include Cale, guitarist Tony Conrad, and drummer Walter De Maria), “The Ostrich” is notable not only for its bizarre lyrics inspired by an article about the ostrich feather fashion craze, noisy wall-of-sound, and keening harmonies, but for what has become known as Reed’s “ostrich guitar”. This describes a tuning rather than a unique instrument: Reed tuned all his guitar strings to a single note, a technique he’d employ later on the Velvet Underground tracks “Venus in Furs” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. A live performance of the number at a high school in Leigh Valley, Pennsylvania, inspired a local DJ to shout, “These guys have really got something—I hope it’s not catching!”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Psychobabble recommends 'So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star: TheByrds Day-By-Day 1965-1973'

While most books about Rock & Roll legends either aim to lionize their subjects or tear them down via sleazy (and often exaggerated) anecdotes, Christopher Hjort’s So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day 1965-1973 takes one of the most respected bands of the ‘60s and presents an eye-opening, yet often depressing, portrait. In terms of influence and quality, The Byrds may only rank behind The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground (and, arguably, The Band) as the greatest American band of the ‘60s. Even beyond their sometimes overly familiar hits (“Turn! Turn! Turn!” is one of those songs like “White Rabbit” and “Time of the Season” that unimaginative filmmakers love to use to tell viewers “Hey, dummy, you’re in the ‘60s!”), they cut some of the decade’s most consistently spectacular albums: Mr. Tambourine Man and Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers. With Sweetheart of the Rodeo they became the first Rock band to bypass Country Rock— a genre they helped create with stuff like “Mr. Spaceman” and “Time Between”— and delve directly into the pure stuff. Every time you hear a guitarist jangling away on a 12-string Rickenbacker, whether he is Peter Buck, Tom Petty, or George Harrison (the Beatle acknowledged that “If I Needed Someone” was a tribute to one of his favorite bands), he or she is paying homage to Roger McGuinn.

Yet, So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star tells a somewhat different story of The Byrds. One can’t really accuse Hjort of conscious iconoclasm since he so clearly adores the band and since the vast majority of his book consists of period interviews and concert and album reviews. But the story those reviews tell is one of a band that often went unappreciated during its time. Much of the first half of the book is devoted to scathing concert reviews. Apparently, it was common knowledge among the Rock press that The Byrds were one of the worst live acts on the scene (and, sadly, the footage of them in the “Outtakes Performances” disc in Criterion’s excellent Monterey Pop box set doesn’t exactly provide contrary evidence). This is certainly interesting in light of the group’s current impeccable reputation, but it starts to get a little painful to read by the time the original Byrds begin flying the coop mid-way through the book. Still, the album reviews are generally good, and it’s interesting to see how widely The Notorious Byrd Brothers, a relatively obscure record in The Byrds’ catalogue since it contains no hits, was praised as a masterpiece upon its release.

After Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and the departure of Chris Hillman left McGuinn as the sole original Byrd, the reverse becomes true. The Byrds grow tremendously as a live band (listen to the first disc of the (Untitled) album to hear how good they got), but their albums diminished in quality. Those Byrds just couldn’t have their feed and eat it too. And even though the concert reviews become more positive, the samey set lists and the tendency of journalists to focus on the same few songs might inspire readers to skip around.

But perhaps So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star is not really meant to be read cover-to-cover like a straight biography (and perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the tremendous readability of The Velvet Underground Day by Day, also published by JawBone Press). As a reference book for Byrdmaniax, it is certainly indispensable, incredibly researched stuff. There are plenty of interesting nuggets scattered throughout to keep readers compelled: the revelation that Bob Dylan listened to The Byrds’ cover of his “Mr. Tambourine Man” obsessively despite his dismissive words about the band in Scorsese’s No Direction Home documentary, the amusing story of how McGuinn and Dylan came to collaborate on “The Ballad of Easy Rider”, the story about how that song made Candice Bergen cry, and how the main characters in the Easy Rider film were based on McGuinn and David Crosby, and McGuinn’s unending, frustrated dream to shed The Byrds’ country influences in favor of futuristic synthesizers. There’s also the interesting tale of how all-five original Byrds came to reunite for one last record in ’73, bringing the band full circle while also ending it not with a bang but a whimper. It’s a fittingly melancholy way to conclude an often melancholy read.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Psychobabble Babbles with… Philip J. Riley!

Regular visitors to Psychobabble know of my fondness for the work of Philip J. Riley. Riley is the Indiana Jones of classic Monster Movies, executing daring vault raids and emerging with such invaluable artifacts as the long-lost script and treatments for James Whale’s unproduced version of Dracula’s Daughter, the Mummy-precursor Cagliostro, the version of Dracula in which Lon Chaney was to star, and the scrapped Monster Rally Wolfman vs. Dracula. Riley’s finds are fascinating both for their obscurity and for their often bizarre nature (a quick perusal of Dracula’s Daughter will reveal why Universal gave it a pass!) and can be read as part of his “Alternate Histories for Classic Film Monsters” series published by BearManor Media. He recently allowed Psychobabble to pop open his skull and pick his brain for the first fascinating installment of our new interview series: Psychobabble Babbles with…
Philip J. Riley

Psychobabble: You have a truly impressive catalogue of published archival scripts. How did you get started in your work as an ace researcher and what led to you publishing your finds?

Philip J. Riley: It all started with (Famous Monsters of Filmland-founder) Forrest J. Ackerman. I donated all my rare scripts and items, such as the hat and teeth from London After Midnight (Lon Chaney's lost 1927 MGM film), to his collection. While I was working with him during the day and playing music at night (I did a lot of session work with Elton John, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, etc. and occasionally played bass for the original US stage production of The Rocky Horror Show) I found out from Forry about some lost silent films, so I contacted a friend in MGM's legal department and got permission to use all the MGM material that was still on the lot— this was in the ‘70s when MGM was sold and before the auction.

MGM still had all their original nitrate 8x10 negatives at the time, so we had prints made from all the lost Chaney films — plus other lost films such as Garbo's Divine Woman for a 50 cent a piece! When I finished the reconstruction of the films I was encouraged to continue writing by many famous visitors to Forry's house, like Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Fritz Lang. So I did, but it took 10 years until a publisher picked it up. In the ‘70s there was not much interest in "old films" and videotapes were just getting started, so no one really had a chance to see them except on TV, which rarely aired a silent film. And that's what started my publishing projects.

PB: If we can just back up for a second, I have to know how exactly you came into possession of Chaney’s teeth and hat.

PJR: The hat I found right at the costume building in 1974, I think, at MGM before the big sale went on. I traded the janitor, who was wearing it, for my beloved Stetson hat. The teeth I arranged for a permanent loan from the Museum of Natural History through their curator. Now that Forry is gone, I believe they went back to the museum— I hope they did!

PB: I love the image of the janitor sweeping up the MGM costume building while wearing such a priceless piece of Monster Movie history. So, what sparked your own fascination with the genre, and do you have a favorite Monster Movie?

PJR: I've always loved the old horror classics. I remember when I was 11 I took a paper route for the summer so that I could earn enough to buy a cheap 8mm projector and a full 8mm print of the 1925 The Phantom of the Opera, which remains my favorite film. I couldn't tell you what started it all— a shrink would probable tell you that I identified with the monsters as they were hated because they were different— or maybe it was a hidden desire to save the heroine from the monsters.

PB: As for the “Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters” books, did you go seeking these scripts and treatments with the series in mind, or did you just happen across some of them as part of your regular research, thus inspiring it?

PJR: I've been carting these scripts around for years. During my research for the Universal Filmscript Series by MagicImage Filmbooks, I had the chance to meet all the great actors, producers, musicians, and crewmembers that were still alive at the time. I was one of the few authors to be permitted access to the Universal Vaults. I’d been trying to get into Universal for 10 years, but they wouldn't even admit that they had a vault! Then one day I was having lunch at Universal with Patsy Ruth Miller (star of the 1923 The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Leonard Maltin, when Patsy's brother grabbed my arm and said he wanted me to meet someone. Well, that someone happened to be (Universal Studios owner) Lew Wasserman, himself, who said in a loud voice so all the lawyers could hear, "I like your work, kid. Give this kid anything he wants for his books". That started me on the Classic Monster/comedy/Science fiction series for Universal.

I found many, many rare items in the vaults — some of them being the old Universal Exhibitor's Books, which announced what titles the theater owners could book in advance in the following year. That is where I originally found that Lugosi was to star in the sequel to Dracula and Karloff was to star in The Wolf Man and Cagliostro and Lon Chaney was to star in Dracula. But at the time, I didn't want to get sidetracked, and many of the announced but never produced films had very little production files. The scripts just came to me from many sources. The draft of Dracula's Daughter was given to me by the writer, himself, R. C. Sherriff, and several came from (former Universal Studios head) Carl Laemmle Jr., whom I befriended in his last years before he became too ill. Some were only available on Microfilm, so they had to be transcribed for the PDF format that modern publishing houses use. Then I saw some of the advance ads again in Ron Borst's wonderful book Graven Images, and that is what inspired me to produce the answers to practically the last mysteries about the Classic Monster films. The series was picked up by a great publishing house called BearManor Media run by Ben Ohmart. They deserve a lot of credit for getting these scripts out of my trunks and into the books. They recognized the historic importance in them.

PB: What kind of work goes into putting one of these books together? I imagine the research is intense.

PJR: Yes it is. Today it is harder to locate material since I donated all my collection to the Universal Archives, MoMA, and Forry Ackerman and the Academy libraries. But I've been very lucky to have kept transcripts of the interviews I did back in the ‘70s at a time when I was younger and could go diligently through thousands of articles and photographs just to find the right ones. So these books are as fun to produce as they are fun for the fans. Plus the Internet has been a great source of new material.

PB: Which find most blew your mind? I personally couldn’t believe you dug up the original Dracula’s Daughter treatment and script, nor did I imagine they would be so outrageous.

PJR: That is my favorite. I was told by Sherriff that James Whale did not want to do another horror film. Laemmle Junior insisted, though, but in 1934 when the draft was being written along side The Return of Frankenstein, Whale hatched a plot with his friends and they came out with the draft you see in the book, with it's mutilations, sexual overtones, and over-the-top scenes to drive the budget up. Whale secretly and anonymously submitted the script to the Censor who naturally went into shock! The project was stalled and Whale got to do his other projects like Show Boat. It's a script that could be made today and be enjoyed by the slice and dice generation. But without Lugosi — who knows?

PB: Are there any great, lost films that continue to elude you? What would be the ultimate discovery?

PJR: London After Midnight of course, Garbo's Divine Woman, Chaney's The Big City, A Blind Bargain, Thunder, Murnau's The 4 Devils, and Laurel and Hardy/Lawrence Tibbett's The Rogue Song, as well as the 2-color Technicolor Mysterious Island.

PB: So, what’s next in the “Alternate Histories for Classic Film Monsters” series?

: The next book, coming out for Halloween through BearManor Media will be Bela Lugosi in Frankenstein, followed up with Willis O'Brien's unmade MGM film War Eagles for which the production background is being written by David Conover. Then in the “lost film” series I have started a 2nd revised edition of my London After Midnight reconstruction — then Chaney in The Man Who Laughs, Karloff in The Invisible Man, and hopefully the first draft handwritten script by Noel Langley for Shirley Temple in The Wizard of Oz. Someday I'll get to writing my novels (laughs).

Thanks again to Philip J. Riley for his time and insights.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Little Things: 20 Underrated Moments in Rock & Roll

We all love a big, hooky chorus and a catchy riff, but sometimes it’s the little things that keep us coming back to our favorite records: a quick grunt here, a flubbed guitar there, a little sonic detail tossed in at the caprice of an extra-creative producer. Some of these small elements have built their own legends, like Roy Orbison’s feline growl in “Oh! Pretty Woman”, Roger Daltrey’s primal scream at the climax of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and the cold-ending of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s so Heavy)”. Some are less celebrated, and therefore, riper for rediscovery. So tune up your ears and get nice and vigilant as we go on the lookout for the following 20 magnificent moments that deserve to be memorable ones, too…

1. Elvis’s ghost appears 21 years before the King dies…

Of all the versions of Rodgers and Hart’s standard “Blue Moon” that have been recorded, the most stunning is the one cut by Elvis Presley in 1956. Completely bizarre even by early Rock & Roll standards, Elvis’s voice and the sparse backing of percussion, guitar, and bass are caked in reverb, making it all sound as though it’s being transmitted from beyond the grave. Elvis links the verses with strange falsetto cries, the one at the 1:38 mark being particularly intense. This was as scary as Rock & Roll got before artists like The Velvet Underground, Nico, and The Beatles went avant garde in the late ‘60s. And speaking of The Beatles…

2. The Beatles think sensitive ballads are totally hilarious…

On the precipice of moving beyond the ‘50s Rock & Roll that so deeply influenced their first few records, The Beatles cut a pretty little ballad called “If I Fell” for the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack. The tune couldn’t have been more out of step with the guys’ budding Dylan infatuation, which would come to the fore on their next album. Perhaps John and Paul were a bit self-conscious about the retro-quality of “If I Fell”. That might explain why the latter was unable to suppress his giggles at the tail of the second bridge (Paul cracks on the word “vain” at the 1:45 mark). The culprit certainly couldn’t have been pot, since their intro to the wicked-weed via Dylan was still a good seven months away.

3. Keef’s premature discharge…

Few Rock & Roll songs have been pored over as obsessively as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and few guitar riffs are as deeply ingrained in the collective pop-culture consciousness. Yet, somehow Keith Richards’s big flub at the 2:34 mark has inspired little text. Switching on his fuzz box to launch into the final chorus, Keith farts out a single note, which apparently so discombobulates him that he comes in late on the next riff. A mistake, perhaps, but it puts a funky little exclamation point on the climax of the Stones’ signature hit.

4. Mary Weiss falls in l-u-v…

Has any other group delivered as many way-way-way-cool spoken asides as The Shangri-La’s? Their eternal question of “Is she really going out with him?” at the outset of “Leader of the Pack” was so memorable that Joe Jackson constructed an entire song out of it. Even groovier is Mary Weiss’s improperly spelled declaration that kicks off the attitude-soaked “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”: “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, l-u-v.” Once again, the line took on an additional life when David Johansen appropriated it for the intro of The New York Dolls’ “Looking for a Kiss” eight years later.

5. The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil & an armadillo…

Justifiably frustrated with the tame sounds of Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane were determined to get as freaky as they desired on their third (and, in my opinion, greatest) record, After Bathing at Baxter’s. The album launches with The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil, a surreal, feedback-riddled ode to A.A. Milne and folk-singer Fred Neil. Or something. Perhaps it’s an ode acid. Yes, definitely acid. An ode to acid. Lots and lots and lots of acid. How else could one explain Grace Slick’s melisma of “Armadillo” during the first bridge (1:11) or Marty Balin’s spoken interjection of that same cryptic word that follows (1:16)?

6. Baker gets a boost…

People love to gush on and on about how “Clapton is god,” but for my money, his six-string contributions to Cream were utterly dwarfed by the otherworldly singing and bassing of Jack Bruce and the tribal thump of Ginger Baker. For all his effortlessly nimble and monstrously muscular ventures around his gigantic kit, Ginger Baker’s most memorable moment in my mind arrives by way of a simple kick drum during the fade of “White Room”. And, in all fairness, it really has more to do with producer Felix Pappalardi than Baker. For whatever reason, Pappalardi decided to raise the level on Baker’s kick to a superhuman level, making the final moments of the record its mightiest.

7. Clayton cracks…

I tried to limit each artist referenced on this list to a single entry, but those bloody Stones offered up too many instances of fleeting genius to trim. Certainly Merry Clayton’s entire cameo halfway through “Gimmie Shelter” rates as one of the greatest performances in Rock & Roll, but it’s the way her voices cracks on her third frenzied shout of “Rape, murder” (3:01) that elevates it to something beyond the beyond. The Stones never had a problem sounding unhinged, but it took a guest to provide their most unhinged moment.

8. Roy Harper’s damage control…

Under normal circumstances, re-recording a song because of a screw-up is an artist’s nightmare (Pete Townshend was so irate that the cleaning staff at Talent Masters Studios broke the tape of “Rael” that he threw a chair through the control room’s glass partition). But imagine if the song in question is 12:25 long! This was the case with the most epic epic on Roy Harper’s quartet of epics, Stormcock. After cutting the best take of “The Same Old Rock”, a venom-spewing screed against organized religion, Harper realized he’d skipped a line. Rather than attempt to recapture the magic take from scratch, he simply faded out his acoustic guitar and sang the line a cappella. The moment (6:04) adds an extra dimension of mystery to an already mysterious… and absolutely gorgeous… recording.

9. Bowie gets bitchy…

Much like when Hendrix would take a completely innocuous phrase like “Aw shucks” and transform it into the most lascivious come-on you ever heard, David Bowie does the same at the end of his Lou Reed-tribute “Queen Bitch”. After wailing the final chorus, he spits an impromptu “You betcha!” (2:58) potent enough to erase two years-worth of Sarah Palin’s folksy idiocy from your memory.

10. Bolan loses it in the count-in…

You can tell that Marc Bolan the serious musician intended to count in “Baby Strange” with a simple “1 and 2 and 3 and 4”. That’s pretty clear. But Bolan the Imp only allows him to get halfway through it, interjecting a spew of funky gibberish, and transforming the count into something like “1 and 2 and BUBBLY BUBBLY BOO BOO YEAH”! As goofy/insane as the exclamation is, after hearing it one or two times, it’s impossible to imagine “Baby Strange” beginning any other way.

11. Seagulls over Brighton…

The Who were on a constant quest for transcendence, which they achieved with some of their most famous recordings (see the primal scream referenced in the introduction to this article). But there are moments of powerful transcendence secreted in some of their more obscure tracks, as well. One hits hard during the third verse of “The Dirty Jobs”, a magnificent yet underappreciated number from Quadrophenia. As the band’s energy level peaks, a seagull-like cry invades the track (2:46), which somehow hits that same emotional g-spot as the scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (well, for me, at least). Perhaps the sound effect was meant to conjure images of gulls soaring over Brighton Beach, the spot where the Mod Opera’s main character Jimmy has his most significant experiences. Whatever its purpose, the cry’s plaintive quality, coupled with Daltrey’s emotionally bare vocalizing, makes for a truly transcendent moment. When The Who’s catalogue was subjected to a really misguided remixing in the ‘90s, the gull cry was edited out of “The Dirty Jobs”. I sincerely hope someone lost their job over that moronic decision.

12. Van’s breakdown…

Van Morrison’s voice is as expressive an instrument as, say, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar or John Coltrane’s sax. Fearless, powerful, and endlessly imaginative, Van’s voice does things no human pipes should be able to do. Just listen to Astral Weeks to dig what I’m saying, but if you really want to hear him at his most outre´, spin “Cul De Sac”, an underrated track buried on side B of his altogether underrated LP Veedon Fleece. The song is a loping country-soul number of the sort The Band did so well. Nothing terribly strange here. At least, not until Van apparently decides enough is enough with his band’s low-key restraint and starts, well, freaking out. He does his best approximation of an escaped mental patient as he starts making weird grunting noises through his nose at the 4:38 mark before letting loose a truly terrifying primal scream 17 seconds later, only to resume his nutso grunts with increased fervor (5:25), sounding quite like a pig rooting out truffles. Brilliant!

13. John Cale stumbles…

John Cale’s avant garde background seems eons away for the majority of “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend”, a poppy piano-based number that isn’t really that different from Elton John’s more creative songs. The song plods along excitingly in that manner for it’s first 3:09. Then, following a brief piano/guitar break, a reverb-drenched bass thuds through the floor, and Cale stumbles in on the off-beat to howl the refrain like a feral freak until the track’s completion. That introductory moment when Hell breaks loose across “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend indicates the unpredictable direction the rest of the Fear album… and Cale’s career… would take.

14. Bonzo’s funky prelude…

I remember praising the brilliance of John Bonham’s hi-hat rhythm that leads into “Night Flight” to my Led Zep-crazed friends when I was in high school, and they could never see what the big deal was. Surely, for a band that paid as much attention to detail as Led Zeppelin did, this barely audible 2-second bit of hi-hat is a relatively minor moment. Yet I think it’s such a funky little spin on the usual “1-2-3-4” count-in that it defines why Bonham’s style was so much more than the “BOOM-CRASH-BOOM-CRASH” beat it is so often pigeonholed as better than all the soloing in “Moby Dick” (which lasts for roughly four and a half months).

15. Joe Strummer thinks he’s a chicken…

The best songs by “The Only Band That Matters” were seething wake-up calls to the injustice and oppression looming over us all. On the title track of The Clash’s greatest record, London Calling, Joe Strummer puts a particularly fine point on this by “cock-a-doodle-do-ing” like a rooster. It’s a moment that might have been undignified coming from a less confident singer. Coming from Strummer after 2:38 of prophetic growling about punters nodding out amidst the threat of nuclear war, that cockcrow is the ultimate wake-up.

16. The snarl…

Chrissie Hynde made a career out of subverting sexual stereotypes about women in Rock & Roll. She decked herself in tattered jeans and leather jackets in stark contrast to Debbie Harry’s miniskirts. She hunched before the microphone like a scoliosis patient with her Telecaster slung down at her knees. Her scraggly hair hung in her face to such a degree that you couldn’t really tell what she looked like at all. And, yet, she oozed sexuality as much as Harry or Brigitte Bardot or Jagger or anyone else because of her uncompromising lyrics (see “Tattooed Love Boys”), her unflinching attitude, and her huskily expressive voice. If you can hear Hynde’s from-the-diaphragm snarl 15 seconds into “The Wait” without getting a little turned on, check yourself into the local morgue, because you’re dead.

17. Revving up…

The Revillos’ debut was one of the most exciting albums of 1980, and its title track gets started in a manner that both peaks that excitement level barely two songs into the record and sums up the Revillos’ cartoony appeal. After the sound of a motorcycle racing off and a psychotic little guitar riff play at chipmunk speed, the tape slows down to normal speed like an elastic band snapping back into place. Yet the band still races through “Rev Up” at hyper-speed. A rush in every sense of the word.

18. The Damned do Lorre…

The Damned rarely took their Goth-leanings or Monster Movie-obsessions very seriously, which suited the band just fine. Take “Grimly Fiendish”, their sizable UK hit that paid tribute to the villainous Grimly Feendish from the comic books Wham! and Smash!. They deliver this ode to a very “bad boy” as if it’s an outtake from The Who’s cartoony masterpiece The Who Sell Out (the mood of Edwardian gloom is reminiscent of Entwistle’s “Silas Stingy”, while that “bad lad, bad boy” chorus is lifted straight from “Our Love Was”). An extra element of comic book ghoulishness was left off the version in the official running order of the Phantasmagoria album and the A-side of the “Grimly Fiendish” single. Someone (chief singer Dave Vanian, perhaps?) utters the title in a sniveling imitation of cinematic villain Peter Lorre in the “Bad Trip Mix” included as a bonus track on the Phantasmagoria CD and the “Grimly Fiendish” 12” single. It’s a neat moment repeated throughout the song (first appearance: 00:29) that helps make the “Bad Trip Mix” the definitive mix.

19. The other Elvis’s ghost screams at us from Mars…

The punks scoffed at Elvis Costello, because even in 1977, they could tell his heart was more into Cole Porter-style song craft than Johnny Rotten-style raving. Yet, Costello is one of the all-time great ravers. His screams are unparalleled. If you can figure out how he got his vocal cords to squeeze out those screeches in “Playboy to a Man” without the aid of helium, please drop me a line. Another amazing example of his lunatic yelping can be heard 6:02 into the pounding “Tokyo Storm Warning” from Blood and Chocolate. Costello lets off a scream at the track’s climax that, when bolstered by a burst of repeat-echo, sounds like a ray gun zapping down from another planet.

20. Kristin Hersh thinks she’s a goat…

Of all the angular elements that comprise the Throwing Muses sound, the most potent one is Kristin Hersh’s voice. She could scream as violently as her buddy Black Francis from The Pixies, belt as powerfully as Grace Slick, and coo as delicately as George Harrison. On "Colder", the opening song of the Muses’ first consistently great album, House Tornado, she detonates all her vocal fireworks, culminating in a round of bizarre bleating at the 3:01 mark. It’s chilling and thrilling and as memorable a moment as any other on this list.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Psychobabble recommends 'It Came from Kuchar'

In the early ‘60s, George and Mike Kuchar were at the forefront of underground film, both because of their unique visions and their extreme prolificacy. Between 1960 and 1969, the twins turned out well over thirty films, including the cult classics Sins of the Fleshapoids, Hold Me While I’m Naked, and The Craven Sluck. While their underground peers like Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger were laboring over inaccessibly arty experiments, The Kuchars were shooting perverse 8mm homages to genre pictures: science fiction, horror, and melodrama (then patronizingly labeled “women’s pictures”). Yet, amidst the outrageous premises, outlandishly bad acting, and grotesque makeup work of “Mr. Dominic” (a.k.a.: George Kuchar!) are oddly heartfelt stories of damaged humanity and the desire for connection. It’s impossible to imagine John Waters’s film career without the Kuchars’s influence (a statement with which Waters would no doubt agree).

Jennifer M. Kroot’s It Came From Kuchar is a wonderful tribute to the eccentric Kuchars, featuring testimonies by a wide range of more renowned filmmakers, including Wayne Wang, Atom Egoyan, Buck Henry, and, of course, Waters. But the stars of the film are most definitely introverted, sensitive Mike Kuchar and extroverted George, who teaches film at The San Francisco Art Institute and continues to pump out bizarro films with the assistance of his students at a prodigious rate. Because of the Kuchars’s off-kilter methods of expressing themselves and their troubled upbringing It Came from Kuchar bears a striking resemblance to Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 doc Crumb (and the Kuchars, both remarkable painters and illustrators, were also ‘60s scene-mates with R. Crumb). While that film occasionally felt as though Zwigoff was holding Crumb and his very troubled brothers up to a small degree of ridicule, and it’s overall tone was one of glum decay, Kroot’s film is inspirational, clearly coming from a place of deep love and respect for the Brothers Kuchar. 
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