Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Farewell, Davy Jones

He may not have been as much of a driving force behind the music as his bandmates were, but there is no question that Davy Jones was the face of The Monkees. The diminutive heart throb from Manchester parlayed a career as a Tony-nominated hoofer and crooner into frontman for one of the most popular, misunderstood, and ultimately, best pop bands of the '60s when he was selected to take part in the television/stage/recording/movie-making project that was The Monkees. Although he didn't seem to have any major musical ambitions, he backed Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork when they fought for control of their music to make the album Headquarters in 1967.

The singer of several of The Monkees' biggest hits--"A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You", "Daydream Believer", "Valleri"--Jones developed into a good songwriter as well. He described his style as "Broadway Rock," some of the best examples of this fusion being the album tracks "Hard to Believe", "Dream World", and "If I Knew" (all co-authored with other writers). His "You and I", co-written with Bill Chadwick, was among the group's toughest songs, and features a corrosive Neil Young guitar solo. In fact, despite Davy's bubblegum persona, he was the scrappiest member of the group, a facet captured during his boxing sequence in the movie Head.

Of course, Jones will always be remembered for the more romantic side showcased on "The Monkees" TV series: his eyes twinkling with cartoon stars whenever he'd fall for the latest starlet at the beginning of each week's episode. Davy continued thrilling his old fans throughout the decades in various reunited incarnations of The Monkees and as a solo performer. Just last year he took part in an aborted tour with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, who'd beaten cancer a couple of years earlier.

Sadly, Davy Jones died this morning of a massive heart attack. He was 66.

On a personal note, there would be no Psychobabble if not for The Monkees, which means this site wouldn't exist if not for Davy Jones. During the musically antiseptic mid-'80s, it was The Monkees that sparked my obsession with the pop music of the past. Ironically, a group regularly chided for being "phony" sounded a hell of a lot more organic, exciting, and "real" to teenage-me than, say, Motley Crue or Bon Jovi. Although I quickly moved on to more "sophisticated" groups like The Beatles and The Who, I always held a special place for the group that first turned me on to the greatest era in pop history. Plus, watching Davy's moves on "The Monkees" taught me to dance.

Here are a few more of my personal favorite Davy Jones musical moments:

"This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day"- A nutso combo of hippity-hop bubblegum, chamber music, and fuzzed-out Turkish rock in the "Paint It Black" vein.

"Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)"- Euphoric union of Davy Jones bubblegum vocal and Neil Diamond bubblegum tune.

"Shades of Gray" and "Early Morning Blues & Greens" - Davy duets with Peter Tork on the kind of stark, mature songs Don Kirshner never let The Monkees do on their first couple of albums.

"She Hangs Out"- Davy doing a raunchy Tom Jones impersonation. The track that inspired me to hunt down my favorite Monkees L.P.

"Porpoise Song"- Davy only sings the chorus, but his childlike vocal offsets this magnificent track's psychedelic gravity beautifully.

"Someday Man"- A breezy, adult pop song by Paul Williams wonderfully sung by Davy.

"French Song"- Lovely, evocative pseudo-European cinema soundtrack.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Complicated: The Skills and Versatility of Brian Jones

“He was a cat who could play any instrument. It was like, ‘There it is, music comes out of it, if I work at it for a bit I can do it’.”
-Keith Richards (Rolling Stone 1971)

Despite the towering reputations of records such as Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, and Some Girls, The Rolling Stones lost a certain adventurousness when Brian Jones died in 1969. Having defined their signature sound the previous year with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, The Stones spent the ensuing years churning out variations of that track, often with wonderful results but without the variety and imagination of the albums leading up to it. Though the band Brian built basically became Mick and Keith’s machine as soon as they started recording, he was often responsible for the vibrant garnishes that made the music buzz. Keith’s guitar and Charlie’s drum kit are the skeleton and muscle of The Stones; Brian’s sitars, Mellotrons, dulcimers, and marimbas are the makeup, hair dye, and dandy attire. All he had to do was spend a little time fiddling with a new instrument, and it was ready to get laid over the latest track. Keith contended that off stage, Brian was finished with straight rhythm guitar as early as 1963 (an exaggeration, of course). Here are some ways he busied himself in the studio during The Rolling Stones’ most creative years.

The Instrument: Slide guitar.

The Skills: Brian may have lost his interest in straight rhythm guitar early on, but his zeal for blues slide remained strong right up until his final work with The Rolling Stones. Brian’s playing was crude compared to the more finessed work of his replacement, Mick Taylor, but he could make his Vox Teardrop sting with a rawness that wasn’t quite in Taylor’s vocabulary. His weeping slide is the star player on The Stones’ unlikeliest number-one hit, a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s slow country/blues “Little Red Rooster”. It slices through the definitive reading of Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man”. It’s on the attack in the shambling “Grown Up Wrong” and taking the title role in “I’m a King Bee”. Heavily effected, it masquerades as a sitar on “Mother’s Little Helper” and makes a resounding return to Earth on Beggars Banquet, remaining vivacious and upfront on “No Expectations” even as Brian was withering and sinking into the background.

The Defining Track: “Little Red Rooster”. Brian's silky slide adds distinctive color to this slow country blues, providing the personality that helped it achieve huge hit status.

The Instrument: Harp.

The Skills: Again, Brian was overshadowed by a Mick when it came to this instrument, and without anything else to do but prance and yowl, Jagger was able to devote himself to the harp more faithfully than Jones. Yet Brian dug into the instrument with the same offhand passion he brought to his other instruments. His huffing and puffing is especially stirring before Jagger fully took his rightful place as resident harpist, steam-engine chugging on “Not Fade Away” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You”.

The Defining Track: “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. Brian grunts along with the hard beat his bandmates burn through, then leaps out with gut-wrenching whines during a fiery solo spot, leading the band through the frenzied fade.

The Instrument: Keyboards.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: 'Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear'

In a business that canonizes artists, writers, and producers, Don Kirshner is the rare pop music publisher to achieve household name status. Much of his fame is due to his hosting of his own tremendously successful music series, “In Concert”, during the ‘70s. It is also due to the unusual role he played pioneering the ‘60s bubblegum sound, first as the dominating music coordinator behind The Monkees, then as a veritable Gepetto who brought cartoon band The Archies to life by helping “them” score a massive hit with “Sugar Sugar”. But even without such odd side roads, Kirshner would still deserve his own chapter in the Rock & Roll history books for assembling the reserve of songwriters who sweated over their pianos in Manhattan’s Brill Building to craft classics like “Uptown”, “The Loco-Motion”, “Up on the Roof”, “One Fine Day”, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and countless others for Kirshner and partner Al Nevins’s Aldon Music company. These writers—Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka, Jack Keller—may not have had the successful careers they enjoyed had they not caught the “golden ear” of Don Kirshner.

Rich Podolsky’s new book Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear is not as much a straight biography of Kirshner as it is a vivid account of the post-‘50s, pre-British Invasion years in which Aldon hits infused the air waves. And it is as much the story of that stable of writers as it is Kirshner’s tale. This is integral since the supporting players of Don Kirshner are a more colorful than the straight-laced title character, who often fades into the background after, say, discovering Connie Francis or surmising that “I Love How You Love Me” would be a hit without hearing more than the song’s title. Kirshner’s staid exploits aren’t as attention snatching as Goffin and King’s volatile relationship and preternatural artistry.

The extensive interviews Podolsky conducted are the backbone of his book, which is a bit freewheeling stylistically. He begins in narrative mode, using dialogue to entertaining effect, before shirking off that inspired conceit to tell his story in a more conventional biographical manner. Although the shift means the storytelling becomes less interesting, the story remains essential, and Podolsky does a terrific job of setting the early-‘60s record industry scene, when singers and songwriters were rarely the same people. The Brill Building comes to life as a family home overseen by Papa Kirshner, for whom Podolsky clearly has tremendous affection, referring to the publisher as his “hero” right from the book’s introduction. The writer sometimes takes his hero-worship a bit too far, bending facts to overstate Kirshner’s achievements. Podolsky claims The Monkees never had another number one hit after they fired Kirshner in early 1967 (“Daydream Believer” was number one for a month at the end of the year), and seems to agree with producer “Snuff” Garrett’s assessment that the boys were “assholes” for wanting the freedom to make music they way they wanted to make it. What young artist doesn’t want that? He credits the ‘70s series “In Concert” with launching the career of Van Morrison (who had a top ten hit with “Brown Eyed Girl” back in ’67) and giving The Who their first shot on American T.V. (they’d made an explosive appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Show”, also in ’67). However, Don Kirshner is such swift, entertaining, and generally informative reading that such flaws may be worth overlooking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: The Chocolate Watch Band's 'No Way Out' and 'The Inner Mystique'

That the musicians whose name appears on the album cover may have had little to do with the music inside was one of the great open secrets of the ‘60s record industry. The press crucified The Monkees when word got out that they didn’t play a note on “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer”. Pet Sounds was regarded as a work of tremendous artistic value (particularly in the UK), yet it is essentially a Brian Wilson solo project, the other Beach Boys having contributed little instrumentally and recording vocals under their leader’s direction in the same way, say, studio musician Hal Blaine laid down his drums. But the bands understood these particular arrangements. Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter understood they’d been hired to play the roles of a band on a TV show, and only rebelled and demanded to record their own music after the press started ridiculing them. Mike, Carl, Dennis, and Al recognized Brian’s genius, and only deposed him from the producer’s chair when they felt his ambitions had gotten too ambitious during the SMiLE sessions.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: 'The Phantom of the Opera: Angel of Music Edition'

We’re all cinephiles here, right? So it’s OK to assume we all agree that it’s criminal to tamper with a classic film unnecessarily, whether you’re a doofus zillionaire who decides It’s a Wonderful Life is somehow inferior in black & white or a curmudgeonly geek who insists on constantly “upgrading” his own films with off-putting digital effects and freshly dubbed cries of “Nooooooo!” Yet— and bear with me here— the first truly great American horror feature may be an exception to this rule. That’s because Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) has a long and rich history of being monkeyed with. The film has appeared with various soundtracks, in tinted and untinted versions, and two distinct edits with alternate title cards and shots and running times that differ by fifteen minutes. The 1929 edit also committed a revision of Lucas-proportions by featuring newly shot scenes with original actors Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry speaking their dialogue for the first time (Chaney was unavailable for the reshoots). Additional dubbing was added to this new, “improved” semi-talky version of the silent classic.

So, I must admit I wasn’t totally against the concept of Terror Inc. Films’ new “Angel of Music” edition of The Phantom of the Opera. The independent company not only remastered the film to the best of its ability (it looks much better than any other budget version I’ve seen), but it gave The Phantom a whole new dialogue track, a new music track, re-edited it using bits from both the 1925 and '29 versions, and converted it to 3D. If you’re going to monkey with a classic, might as well go ape.

Though purists are justified in regarding this reupholstering as an unconscionable violation, the producers clearly love the movie. I admire the amount of work that must have gone into composing a new script and synching the voice actors up with the lip movements of the original actors so well. But if you’re going to go to such trouble, why not spring for voice actors with stronger chops than this cast? And since that cast only consists of six actors, they often alter their voices in ridiculous ways to differentiate the characters. The guy who provides the Phantom’s voice sounds like a teenager doing a bad Frankenberry impersonation. The inspector is made to sound like the French Taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Others have absurd cockney accents. A work of high art transforms into high camp; What’s Up, Tiger Lily? without the jokes.

Perhaps it would have been a good idea to grunge up the dialogue track a little. Even without the poor performances, the voices would still be distracting because they sound too digital-clear set against the relatively scratchy images. Seeing these images in blurry 3D doesn’t help. The effect is arbitrary, lapsing for long stretches then highlighting random foreground objects like a statue or a chair. More questionably, 3D is employed to make a letter’s signature and a newspaper’s headline leap off the screen. These things aren’t 3D in real life. Why are they 3D in this movie?

No matter, because you’re likely to switch off the eye-aching 3D before long and switch to the 2D version conscientiously included on the first of this set’s two discs. Then you’re likely to hit the mute button since that version includes the bad dialogue track too.

The extras are definitely preferable to this set’s main feature. There’s a nifty motion comic utilizing still photos to recreate the film’s lost ending, which gives the Phantom a more sympathetic exit (and bonus points for allowing speech bubbles, rather than crappy voiceover, to convey the story). There’s a crude but fun vintage RKO cartoon called “Tom and Jerry in the Magic Mummy” (no, it’s not the Tom and Jerry you think it is), a handy comparison of the 1925 and 1929 edits, and a short piece that allows us to drool over select Phantom toys, models, comic books, novels, laser discs, masks, and advertisements. The most substantial extra is an 18-minute primer on the film’s history. Alas, it is also marred by a bad voice over, the narrator affecting a gravelly grunt reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Dark Knight. Apparently, good voice talent is hard to find.

Get The Phantom of the Opera: Angel of Music Editon at Middle Earth Collectibles here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: 'The Move Live at the Fillmore 1969'

The Move were one the great singles bands of the mid-‘60s. They didn’t even get around to releasing their first L.P. until their 45s had already been chart staples for some seventeen months. By the time the sweet and refreshing Move appeared in April 1968, the self-consciously serious San Francisco scene had stimulated a vogue for epic, meandering jams. The Move had already been feeling a bit old hat, having taken so long to produce their first long-playing statement. When they finally made their way to San Fran the following year, they feared compact confections like “Blackberry Way” and “Curly” would make them seem hopelessly unhip. For a two-night stint opening for Little Richard and Joe Cocker at the legendary Fillmore West, they jettisoned all but three of Roy Wood’s wonderful originals, and those songs were given lengthy, winding makeovers. “Hello Susie”, a bubblegummy hit for Amen Corner, gained Led Zeppelin weight, “Cherry Blossom Clinic” acquired passages from Tchaikovsky and Dukas, and “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” careened into quotes from “Born to Be Wild” and a speedy Bev Bevan drum solo. Amazingly, the new “bigger is better” Move worked, largely because they tended to insert fully-developed new parts into their pop songs instead of endlessly wanking away on chord progressions like The Grateful Dead. A smart clutch of tunes from artists such as The Byrds, Nazz, and Tom Paxton filled out the rest of their set.

Vocalist Carl Wayne was particularly delighted with his band’s work at the Fillmore. He held onto tapes of the shows for his own enjoyment, though he felt the recordings were too ragged to warrant official release. Fortunately, studio technology has improved to the point where Rob Keyloch of Church Walk Studio was able to give the recordings an acceptable polishing. Forty-odd years after The Move’s milestone Fillmore shows, these tapes are finally getting a proper CD release.

Despite Keyloch’s admirable efforts, The Move Live at the Fillmore 1969 is still pretty rough. The sound is tinny and the vocals are mixed too loud. But this double-disc set is an important document for Move fans. We hear them working out daring ideas for their next album in front of an audience. They made the right choices when getting into the studio to cut 'Shazam', losing the bits that don’t quite work (Wood dragged the electric sitar solo on “Fields of People” to an interminable nine minutes on stage) and retaining the brilliant ones (this live rendition of “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” is nearly identical to the spectacular version on 'Shazam'). As a bonus track, Bev Bevan gives a fascinating and often hilarious account of The Move’s American tour in a brand-new interview. His tales about bassist Rick Price's unintentional acid trip and Little Richard's throne are not to be missed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: 'The Return of Dracula' (1958)

Atom-Age and Cold-War anxiety rendered Gothic supernatural horror old-fashioned for most of the 1950s. The Frankenstein Monster and Dracula were supplanted by giant bugs and ants, the tide only turning toward the end of the decade when American television horror anthologies like “Shock Theater” and Britain’s Hammer Studios brought the creeps of yore back into vogue. Paul Landres’s The Return of Dracula comes close to working as a transitional flick, bridging the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Them! with the new crop of old monsters. The film materialized in 1958, the same year Hammer unleashed its newfangled Dracula with its thoroughly modern emphasis on Technicolor blood and undiluted sexuality. Yet Hammer’s Dracula remained planted in Stoker’s late 19th century. The Return of Dracula drags the Count (assuming our vampire is, indeed, Count Dracula) into modern-day California, and it’s vast desert landscape is a jarring antidote to the ruined castles and moonlit forests in which we’re used to seeing vampires frolic.
The vampire arrives on the west coast after fleeing Europe and having supped on a fellow emigrant. He assumes the identity of the poor guy, taking residence in the home of an all-too-typical American family willing to accept the creature as their cousin Bellac (that name ring any bells or Belas?) since they’d never met or seen him before. As David Skal points out in his essential Dracula study, Hollywood Gothic, The Return of Dracula pivots on the same premise as Shadow of a Doubt (1943). In an unmistakable reflection of the relationship between Hitchcock’s Uncle Charlie and niece Young Charlie, Cousin Bellac captures the fascination of teenaged Cousin Rachel Mayberry. He’s an artist, a suave European with manners to beat Rachel’s boorish teenage boyfriend. The sexuality vibrating along Bellac and Rachel’s connection is nearly as palpable as that of Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie, though since Bellac is merely impersonating Rachel’s cousin, the incestuous undercurrents are not nearly as daring as Hitchcock’s.

Not that The Return of Dracula has any qualms about violating taste, as when the vampire snacks on the family cat or sets his sites on a blind girl he intends to transform into his PA. Though shot in black and white, Landres reserves one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of color when a stake is driven into a vampire and a bright red fountain of blood spews from the wound. It is an unsettling effect, though too quick to pack the same punch as the sudden invasions of color in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Still, it’s an audacious move coming from a filmmaker chiefly associated with vapid T.V. westerns and “Flipper”. In fact, Landres makes clever use of his television background, introducing the Mayberry clan (lower your red flags… “The Andy Griffith Show” wouldn’t debut for another two years) as a typical sitcom family, sans the father figure, living in an artificial sitcom house, whose lives are subverted and nearly ruined by a foreign monster. As Rachel, Norma Eberhardt gives the film’s best performance, crumbling from a perky sitcom stereotype to a frightened, corrupted, and surprising haggard wreck over the course of the film.

Just as Rachel subverts sitcom clichés, Cousin Bellac comes close to doing the same for vampires and xenophobically-conceived invaders. The creature enters the film as a stereotypical foreign menace (and isn’t that what Dracula has always represented?), yet we soon learn he is more victim of communist oppression than “red menace,” explaining that his “life had been confined” and that he came to the U.S. to enjoy its “freedom.” In his letters to America, he “wanted to express (him)self but couldn’t.” This vampire has none of the commanding presence of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee; he is timid, frail, relying on an old man, a cat, and a bedridden blind girl for sustenance. He later uses that newly vampirized girl as bait for victims he’s apparently too unassuming to possess himself. That being said, he has little trouble casting his spell over healthy young Rachel. Go figure.

While an intriguing alternative to the usual communist infiltrators and imposing vampires (and an interesting forerunner of Klaus Kinski’s similarly simpering count in Herzog’s Nosferatu remake), Lederer’s weakness is a problem in such a stagey and talky picture. Tod Browning’s Dracula had those issues too, but it also had the magnetic performances of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye. A smattering of interesting though undercooked ideas isn’t enough to command our interest in a monster movie with such a flimsy monster. The Return of Dracula is still worth viewing for Eberhardt’s good performance and its crisp photography. Plus fans of The Shining may get a kick out of the title sequence.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ten Memorable Musical Moments from Peter Tork

The Monkees fought long and hard to dispel the initially true accusations that they didn’t play the instruments on their mega-selling records. After winning an unprecedented victory by actually becoming the musicians on records that had a lot of studio money riding on them, they still couldn’t seem to dodge the ersatz label that dogs them to this very day. Those in the know are well aware that Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter not only played on many of their best recordings, but they often played very, very well. Without question, the most musically adept Monkee is Peter Tork. A brilliant banjo player, keyboardist, guitarist, bass player, and songwriter, Tork’s flourishes were some of the most memorable moments on The Monkees’ records. Here are ten examples.

1. “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (harpsichord)

While The Monkees were struggling to take control of their records, they met up in RCA studios to cut a new Michael Nesmith composition for their next single. After an awkward early take with Nesmith handling lead vocals, they recut it with the more marketable Micky Dolenz singing and a classic morsel of brisk pop was born. Dolenz’s voice provides the uplift, while guest bassist John London grounds the track, but it is Peter Tork’s harpsichord solo that truly makes it something unique. Stabbing out offbeat chords through the verses, Tork breaks out for a mid-song solo, dancing ascending runs up the keyboard. Much to the group’s irritation, control-freak Don Kirshner relegated this excellent track to the B-side “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”, a mediocre Neil Diamond number cut with studio musicians. Fortunately, Kirshner’s move proved to be the last straw, and he was soon fired, leaving The Monkees free to make records their own way.

2. “You Told Me” (banjo)

The Monkees had worked as a live band almost from the very beginning of the T.V./recording/ marketing project bearing their name. So when it came time to make Headquarters, the first album they recorded as a proper band, they had already developed a decent playing rapport. The sessions weren’t easy and the resulting album required innumerable edits for it to pass muster, but the highlights were plentiful. One of the most dazzling occurs just ten seconds into the disc. The guys goof through a parody of the count-in to The Beatles’ “Taxman”, Nesmith picks a few rudimentary arpeggios on his guitar. Amateur hour? Hardly. Tork’s fleet-fingered banjo shudders into the mix. Suddenly the track whirls, and when Chip Douglas’s bass drops in and Dolenz slams into his four-on-the-floor beat, we’re knee deep in a country-rock funk no “pre-fab band could ever pull off.

3. “You Just May Be the One” (bass)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Farewell, Bill Hinzman

That name may not ring a bell, but his face sure will. When Bill Hinzman appears swaggering through a graveyard just minutes into Night of the Living Dead, we are aware that a) George Romero has no intention of easing us into the hot water and b) the zombie rule book has just been rewritten. Night of the Living Dead was the very first film to reimagine zombies not as voodoo pawns but as a concentrated team of brain-dead brain eaters, and Bill Hinzman played the very first of that new brand of zombie. On the strength of that dialogue-less yet iconic role, Hinzman was cast in horror movies on a semi-regular basis throughout his career, including Romero's own The Crazies, Santa Claws, and the delightfully-titled direct-to-video The Drunken Dead Guy (in which Hinzman played, appropriately enough, "The Experienced Zombie"). Hinzman also directed a couple of schlockers of his own called FleshEater and The Majorettes. According to Dread, Bill Hinzman died of cancer at the age of 75 on February 5th. Insert tasteless joke about his return from the grave.

Review: 'Talking Heads Chronology'

Jagged and unpredictable, Talking Heads get the live retrospective they deserve with Eagle Vision’s new compilation, Talking Heads Chronology. One moment David Byrne is cooing otherworldly sounds during a level check at The Kitchen in 1976. Flash to an amateurish trio shoe-gazing awkwardly at CBGB a year earlier. Byrne stutters through music-devoid introductions back at The Kitchen. Suddenly, Jerry Harrison has joined the fold, and both the musical and video quality spaz into focus on “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, 1978. A swarm of curly fans trumpet their new favorite band soberly outside the Entermedia Theatre later that year. The confines of NYC clubs and TV studios expand to open-air festivals; the band doubles its ranks for the “Remain in Light” shows. Jar from artful black & white to flat-video color to rich film stock. In little over an hour, Talking Heads Chronology covers much ground while traipsing behind a band that covered even more. The results are as unsettling and thrilling as the music that jets from sparse, angular garage rock to enveloping funk. David Byrne evolves from timid scarecrow to bubblegum-legged sock monkey to big-suited icon to snow-capped elder statesman during the exhilarating Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reunion.

Talking Heads Chronology drags along bonuses as essential as the main event. New interviews with all four original Heads form the rare commentary track you won’t want to hear with your thumb poised over the fast-forward button. Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison provide insights into the CBGB scene, the songwriting process, and the meanings behind their work (we learn that Byrne intended “Psycho Killer” to be “a folky, introspective version of an Alice Cooper-type song”). They also dish out funny anecdotes about the colorful characters that strayed their way: Dick Manitoba, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Robert Fripp, John Cale. Whatever personality conflicts existed between the band members is undetectable in their respectful, loving commentaries.

Less enlightening but nearly as valuable, a vintage “South Bank Show” documentary contrasts the disjointed nature of the feature presentation with a taut portrait of where Talking Heads were in 1979 as they rehearsed Fear of Music in their sweltering NYC loft. An awkward Byrne interview from 1978 indicates how much more comfortable in his geeky skin he’d grow in the span of a mere year. Such shock-quick evolution is all over Talking Heads Chronology. You should be all over it too.

Talking Heads Chronology is available in a plastic DVD case and as a hardbound deluxe edition “with a 48 page book containing photographs and an unexpurgated Lester Bangs essay written as a review of the 'Fear Of Music' album for The Village Voice in 1979 but only ever published in a heavily edited version.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

Five Reasons Dave Davies Is the Most

As founding Kink Dave Davies celebrates his 65th birthday today, let’s take a look at a few reasons why we think he’s the most…

Slashing the Fart Box

Guitar distortion had been a tool of Rock & Rollers since before the genre even really began (check out Ike Turner’s work on Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” in 1951). Yet many credit “You Really Got Me” as the first instance of fuzzed-out guitars because the sound Dave Davies achieved on it was so unique. He’d been experimenting with guitar sounds since the age of 16 when he nearly barbecued himself by linking his little Elpico amplifier to a 60-watt Linear, a Vox AC 30, and a radiogram. When one of the wires crossed the transformer at the back of the Linear amp, Dave was blown across the room in a puff of smoke. That taste of electricity only electrified his curiosity, and he kept searching for the ultimate crunch, which led him to put a razor blade to the cone of his Elpico. He shredded it, and something new was born. While brother Ray was messing around with a new two-chord riff on the piano, Dave plugged into the amp he’d rechristened “the fart box” because of its funky new sound. Suddenly, the jazzy number called “You Really Got Me” came into focus as a monstrous rocker. Before long, the cagey techs at Gibson had commercialized Dave’s cro-mag amp modification with its first fuzz pedal, the Maestro Fuzz Tone and Rock & Roll forever changed for the heavier.

Got My Feet on the Ground

The fuzzy weight of The Kinks’ early hits dissipated as the ‘60s boogied on, and Ray’s delicacies, such as “Waterloo Sunset”, “Autumn Almanac”, and “Days”, replaced power-chord pile drivers like “You Really Got Me” and “Till the End of the Day”. For many Kinks fans, this period was the band’s finest, yet they never shed Rock & Roll completely. This is largely due to the increasing involvement of Dave Davies. As Ray’s songs grew more tender, Dave balanced them with the raging voice he was developing in nasty stuff like “Love Me Till the Sun Shines”, “Creeping Jean”, “Mindless Child of Motherhood”, and “Rats”. It is telling that Ray handed the heaviest number on the largely fragile Village Green Preservation Society, “Wicked Annabella”, to his younger brother. Dave’s raw, ragged voice was a potent counterpoint to Ray’s quavering whisper. His guitar work remained forceful even on the softest tracks. Dave was capable of ethereal beauty on occasion (“Strangers”), but he would always be the Rock & Roll heart beating inside The Kinks.
Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Between the sharp yet conservative mod styles of the early ‘60s and the “Showering and shaving is for pro-establishment scum” aesthetic of the late ‘60s, fashion exploded in a rainbow of vibrant shades, dazzling patterns, and daring shapes. Clothing choices traditionally limited to women were now fair game for the lads, who could be seen sporting great floppy hats, and according to “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “frilly nylon panties.” Ray may have intended his toe-tapping tune as a chastisement of trendy clothes horses, but brother Dave could have only regarded it as a celebration considering how he attempted to out-do his fellow fashion followers. Photos of Dave circa-1967 will reveal a chap dedicated to only the most outrageous of dress and grooming. Upon a figure sporting plank-sized muttonchops, the most severe hair-part this side of Oscar Wilde, and mascara-drenched eyes, Dave draped lacey Edwardian blouses, tinted goggles, flowing scarves, yards of paisley, skintight tartan trousers, and a stripy stove pipe hat. Like his buddy Brian Jones, Dave was confident and physically beautiful enough to always carry off the wildest fashion with utmost dignity.

There Is No Life Without Love

Brian Jones and Dave Davies nearly shared more than forward fashion sense when the Stone and the Kink flirted with a sexual liaison in the mid-‘60s. The potentially historic union was never meant to be, though Dave did not hold back when it came to other boys. During an age of adventurousness and experimentation, and years before pop stars like Elton John and Freddie Mercury stepped out of the closet, Dave Davies was freely engaging in bisexual dalliances with Swinging London figures such as Long John Baldry, who’d talk Elton out of an ill-conceived hetero-marriage and inspire the epic “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. Dave Davies largely defines himself as heterosexual, but is unabashed about his affairs with men in his autobiography Kink. While old-guard rockers like Little Richard were futilely attempting to stamp out their true selves with the dried-out Band-Aid of religion, Dave Davies was doing as he pleased and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought.

This Is Where I Belong

Ray’s dominance of The Kinks was a sticking point between him and his brother, so you’d think Dave would have been over-enthused by the prospect of a solo record. This was Pye Record’s scheme to capitalize on Dave’s budding songwriting skills, as evidenced by his hit “Death of a Clown”, without unbalancing the power within The Kinks. Dave generally was allotted a track or two on the band’s L.P.s à la George Harrison. The formula worked well, so the label decided it made sense for Dave to branch into some extra-Kinks activities with an album of his own. The project was something of a ruse from the start, as Dave’s backing band was none other than The Kinks and Ray was on board to produce. In effect, Dave’s “solo” album would really be a Kinks album. But the record was not meant to be, largely because Dave preferred proper Kinks records despite the inflated role of his older brother. Pye continued to push for the disc, and Dave obliged by forcing out songs to his dissatisfaction. Much of his work during these sessions was stellar—“Mindless Child of Motherhood”, “Creeping Jean”, “This Man He Weeps Tonight”, “Lincoln County”—but his heart was never in it and the label eventually lost its zeal too. Although Dave would pursue solo projects with greater commitment in the years to come, he was perfectly happy remaining in the band. Fortunately for the rest of us, Universal Music finally released these sessions as Hidden Treasures late last year, indicating that he could have had a great solo career had he not been so loyal to The Kinks. The wait may have been tough for fans, but Dave’s loyalty is just further proof that he’s the most.
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