Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: ‘Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story’

Mark Dillon surfs a novel wave while telling familiar tales in Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story. He employs the aid of fifty fans and collaborators to relate the history of California’s favorite sons. Although each chapter is labeled according to a guest commentator and the song on which that guest has chosen to comment (ex: “Roger McGuinn on ‘Don’t Worry Baby’”), the guest is not the author of his or her chapter, nor is the featured song the sole focus. Rather, Dillon uses the song as a launch pad to discuss the era in which it was made while allowing the guest to interject here and there.

Typical of these sorts of things, the commentaries from those actually involved in the making of the music (all surviving Beach Boys, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Tony Asher, etc.) are more informative than celebrity guests given to comments like “There’s something in those records that’s going to speak to generation after generation.” But for the most part, Dillon wisely selected celebrities who actually knew the Boys, so the book rarely loses the beat.

A quick scan of the table of contents may raise eyebrows among certain fans. Nearly a third of the chapters profile songs from the band’s post-Holland era when the quality of their music took a dramatic dip. There are even some questionable choices from their golden age. But remember that this book is a biography and not a list of the 50 greatest Beach Boys songs. So while “I’m Bugged at My Old Man” may be barely listenable, it makes way for an interesting extended discussion of Brian Wilson’s fraught relationship with dad Murry. Sometimes the requisite biographical information on the guest commentators is slightly distracting, but Dillon never fails to prod his narrative back on track before such tangents veer off too far. And like any good biography, there are new details that expand the group’s story, particularly in the chapter on “Forever” that delves into Dennis’s sometimes avoided association with Charles Manson and the one on “Sail on Sailor”, in which Blondie Chaplin fully explains the unfortunate incident that initiated his exit from the band.

Despite such reliance on fans and admiring collaborators, Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys is commendable for its refusal to descend into banal hero worship. Dillon acknowledges that post-Holland quality-decline, while also reserving praise whenever it's due (mostly in response to Brian’s solo records). With summer looming over the horizon, Fifty Sides of The Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story is essential beach reading for fans of our greatest champions of surf and sand.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: 'The A to Z of Mod'

Mod culture was defined by rigorous rules of style and musical tastes. Razor sharp mohair suits were donned for shimmying all night to the very latest Northern soul records while pilled to the clouds on bennies and dexys. Mod enthusiasts Paolo Hewitt and Mark Baxter realize Mod is a lot more elastic than that. In The A to Z of Mod, the writers both pay reverence to the strictures of the pioneer modernists and acknowledge how much the culture has changed throughout the ensuing decades. Archetypal Modernalia (A is for The Action! R is for “Ready, Steady, Go!” S is for The Scooter!) is filed amongst less typical entries (F is for Martin Freeman! G is for Glam and Pub Rock! Y is for The Young Disciples!). The A to Z of Mod redefines Modernism while remaining true to its essence by way of slick design. Published by Prestel, it’s a handy volume busting with fab full color photos and smashing pop art flourishes. Plus it’s compact enough to fit right in the pocket of your Parka.

Review: Deluxe Editions of ‘Small Faces’ and ‘From the Beginning’

Small Faces were the quintessential Mod band, one of England’s biggest hit makers of the ‘60s, and recent inductees into a certain turgid popularity club. Ample evidence that their wonderful recorded output should be ripe for double-disc deluxe editions, right? However, there are but four Small Faces albums, and they have been reissued and reissued and reissued since the dawn of the compact disc. But wait. Those myriad reissues have all shared one significant flaw: they’ve all been assembled from second-generation tapes. UMe’s new Small Faces deluxe campaign corrects this wrong, pulling their classic albums from the original masters. The sonic improvement will stop you in your tracks. I have Decca’s expanded edition of Small Faces from 2006, and I always thought it sounded pretty damn great. Playing it alongside UMe’s new edition reveals an anemic, overly trebly master. The UMe version sounds deep, dimensional, and very, very heavy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

21 Underrated Songs by Siouxsie and the Banshees You Need to Hear Now!

I know, I know. As far as most people are concerned, they’re all underrated. Siouxsie and the Banshees have always had a cultier audience than their stadium-filling peers in The Cure. They slink in several slots behind The Sex Pistols and The Clash during discussions of British punk’s genesis, even though they were there from the start. Siouxsie Sioux was conspicuously, fabulously present when Steve Jones dropped the live-T.V. profanity bombs that ignited the filthy, furious war between the Pistols and proper (i.e.: tedious) society.

Of course, Siouxsie and the Banshees are hardly obscurities in the new wave collective consciousness. Siouxsie, who turns 55 today, is still as iconic for her terrifying trill as she is for her exotic, immensely influential sense of style. The band’s equally otherworldly music has been profiled on three greatest hits compilations. None of the tracks contained therein are included here. Instead, Psychobabble digs a little deeper into the dark wells of the band’s catalogue, reemerges a little dazed, a little roughed up, but clutching 21 underrated songs by Siouxsie and the Banshees you need to hear now.
1. “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)” (from the album The Scream) 1978

In classic punk fashion, Siouxsie and the Banshees began their career doing everything in their power to be as off-putting as possible: interminably massacring “The Lord’s Prayer” at their debut show, adopting disturbing Third Reich imagery, allowing Sid Vicious to drum. Those who know the group from pleasantly poppy crossovers like “Cities in Dust” and “Kiss Them for Me” might be shocked to hear their early work. Disjointed, strident, far scarier than anything in Johnny Rotten’s imagination. “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)” from their debut embodies this as well as any other track, instantly placing Siouxsie’s swastikas in ironic quotes with a dedication to anti-Nazi artist John Heartfeld, then lamenting/celebrating an increasing mechanized society to a shudder-inducing mechanical rhythm. Siouxsie’s conflicting messages clash just as hard as the vertiginous beat.

2. “Jigsaw Feeling” (from the album The Scream) 1978

Like “Metal Postcard”, “Jigsaw Feeling” draws its immense power from intense Sturm and Drang, but there’s also some fiery guitar work from John McKay to melt the ice around Siouxsie’s shout. Still, that does little to sooth the savagely paranoid lyric.

3. “Nictotine Stain” (from the album The Scream) 1978

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ten Reasons Christopher Lee is the Most!

Today, Christopher Lee turns 90 and Psychobabble surveys decades of reasons why he’s still the most.
1. Has any actor ever portrayed as many iconic characters as Christopher Lee? He equaled Lon Chaney, Jr., by playing four of the major movie monsters: Dracula, The Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy, and Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde (renamed Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake). He also filled the shoes and cloven hooves of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Fu Manchu, Rasputin, Lucifer, Tiresias, Saruman, and the Jabberwocky. That’s quite a cv.

2. Christopher Lee had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the studio and role that made him famous. He has been known to refuse to sign memorabilia depicting him as the title vamp in Hammer’s Dracula pictures. At the same time, he has been strangely devoted to Hammer. In the studio’s earliest days, he was quick to defend its films against its many critics by describing them as “adult fairy tales” rather than “Horror,” a term he loathed. In later years he often narrated documentaries about the studio and answered the call when it revived in 2007 to take a role in its comeback flick. The Resident was a pretty bad movie, but it was still nice to see Mr. Lee’s face follow the Hammer logo once again.

3. After playing the Count in the romantic tradition of Bela Lugosi a couple of times, Christopher Lee got the chance to be the first actor to really portray Dracula as Bram Stoker described him in Jesús Franco’s excellent Count Dracula (1970). Lee wasn’t the first to don a mustache to play the vampire. That distinction goes to John Carradine, but Lee was the first to resemble Stoker’s Dracula and perform in scenes and speak dialogue far closer to the source novel than we’d seen in any earlier Dracula film.

4. On screen, Dracula had a first-class nemesis in Van Helsing. In real life, Christopher Lee had a wonderful friend in Peter Cushing. Though the serious Lee and the jocular Cushing could not have had more different personalities, they remained close friends and were always quick to defend each other to jerky journos looking for discord behind the scenes of those nasty, nasty Hammer gore fests.

5. Christopher Lee’s closest Horror associate will always be Peter Cushing, but he was also involved with the genre’s definitive star. Christopher Lee was both a co-star of Boris Karloff (Corridors of Blood, The Curse of the Crimson Altar) and a next-door neighbor. In his autobiography, Tall, Dark, and Gruesome, Lee wrote, “When we came out of our houses simultaneously, people expected to see body-bags dumped on the pavement”!

6. Christopher Lee is literally the most! At 6’5” he is one cinema’s tallest leading men.

7. Christopher Lee is a man of numerous talents, not the least of which is his stunning bass. He first got to show off his singing abilities in his best film, the 1973 Horror musical The Wicker Man. In 2010 he released his very own album, the wacko “symphonic metal” opera Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross.

8. Paul McCartney loaded the cover photo of Wings’ excellent 1973 L.P. Band on the Run with familiar faces: boxer John Conteh, journalists Michael Parkinson and Clement Freud, actors Kenny Lynch and James Coburn, and of course, the three members of Wings. But by far the coolest face belonged to Christopher Lee.

9. OK, so the Star Wars prequels weren’t too hot (and The Phantom Menace was downright wretched). Still, it was pretty groovy that George Lucas selected Christopher Lee to play the villainous Count Dooku in Episodes II and III. Lee’s casting was a neat way to link the new films with the original trilogy because of his unbreakable association with Peter Cushing, who’d played General Tarkin in 1977’s Star Wars. And let’s not ignore the significance of his character’s name: “Dooku” may sound like something you’d find in a diaper, but “Count” is another unmistakable reference to Lee’s best known role. It was a cool move for some pretty uncool movies.

10. Even as Christopher Lee turns 90, he is just as in demand as ever. The 21st century has been one of the most active eras of his career. According to imdb, Lee has loaned his voice and face to some 30 films and television series since 2000. They have included such major releases as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and upcoming Hobbit movies, the Star Wars prequels, several Tim Burton films, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. After all these years, Christopher Lee is still creating new cinema icons. That’s the most.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’

Early in George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Ringo Starr says, “George Had two incredible separate personalities. He had the love, bag of beads personality and the bag of anger.” This observation functions as a sort of low-key thesis statement for George Harrison: Living in the Material World; low-key, because director Martin Scorsese does not spend a lot of time dwelling on the dark side of the quiet Beatle. But because of George’s spiritual persona, the fact that he had some drug problems, was a bit of a womanizer, and had a tart tongue to rival Lennon’s might take some less-informed fans back a step or two. Most of Living in the Material World portrays Harrison as a good man not nearly as dependent on the material world as “Taxman” or his reputation for being a bread head suggest. Above all else, George Harrison seemed to be a great pragmatist and perhaps the most logical proponent of spirituality ever to nab the spotlight. When he wasn’t Hare Krishna-ing on “My Sweet Lord”, he was damning the pope in “Awaiting on You All”, quoting a Swami who said, “It’s better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite,” and funding the religiously controversial Life of Brian (considering his similar experiences with The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese could no doubt relate). That good head on George’s shoulders is as worthy of our respect as the talent that created so much wonderful music.

Living in the Material World, however, is not overly concerned with music, barely acknowledging George’s work after All Things Must Pass. We still get extended discussions of his underrated songwriting and guitar playing and his all-too brief dalliance with the sitar, which highlights his lifelong friendship with Ravi Shankar sweetly. There is also a delightful sequence in which he gets a huge kick out of old footage of The Beatles performing “This Boy”. He seems particularly taken with the sight of himself as such a young man. Unlike Lennon, George didn’t seem to yearn for his youth. He wasn’t the type to cry, “When I was a boy, everything was right.” There were certainly bumps in the road along George Harrison’s journey, and none were worse than his 1999 stabbing, which wife Olivia recounts in chilling detail. But more than anything else, Living in the Material World presents an dauntless man who dealt with the hysteria of Beatlemania and everything that followed with grace and intelligence.

Friday, May 25, 2012

50 Years/50 Reasons The Rolling Stones are the Most!

According to Karnbach and Bernson’s It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first went to see Brian Jones and Ian Stewart rehearse with their new blues band on May 25, 1962. Kismet. For the next fifty years, The Rolling Stones would remain the definitive Rock & Roll band, leaving a trail of milestones in their wake. Here are 50 that prove The Stones are and have always been the most.

1. Start Me Up
“Hot Stuff” notwithstanding, Stones albums could always be counted on to get off to a rousing start. Track one always packed a little extra kick: “Route 66” on their debut, “She Said Yeah” on Out of Our Heads, “Sympathy for the Devil” on Beggars Banquet, “Gimme Shelter” on Let It Bleed, “Rocks Off” on Exile on Main Street, “Start Me Up” on Tattoo You. Sometimes The Stones lured you in with beguiling mood music, as they did with “Mother’s Little Helper” on Aftermath, “Yesterday’s Papers” on Between the Buttons, and “Sing This All Together” on Their Satanic Majesties Request. No matter what, as soon as the needle drops on side one, there’s no mistake you're listening to the world’s greatest Rock & Roll band.

2. Imagination
Sometimes The Stones’ exploits overshadow their music. Mick and Keith are rarely spoken of in the same breath as fellow lyricists Dylan or Lennon and McCartney, but could they be Rock’s greatest wordsmiths? They were not as poetic as Dylan. They were not as empathetic as The Beatles. Yet Mick and Keith were far more personal, varied, and imaginative than many listeners realize. Songs such as “Before They Make Me Run” and “Wild Horses” are vulnerable contemplations of real situations. “Citadel”, “Torn and Frayed”, and “When the Whip Comes Down” establish incredibly detailed scenarios of fantasy and reality. “Sympathy for the Devil” may be Rock & Roll’s finest—and most frightening— character study, while “Monkey Man” might be its most hilarious self-parody.

3. Copy Me
One of the things that made Mick Jagger such a stellar frontman was his ability to mimic the greatest frontmen before and of his time. He spent the first few Stones records working hard to capture Chuck Berry’s audible smirk, Jimmy Reed’s slur, Marvin Gaye’s sweet roll, and Otis Redding’s transcendent shout. By the mid-‘60s he was an expert impersonator who had Ray Davies’s wryness (“Cool, Calm, & Collected”), The Beatles’ Liverpudlian harmonies (“Yesterday’s Papers”), and Dylan’s whine (“She Smiled Sweetly”) down pat.

4. The Bass Player He Looks Nervous…and the Drummer, He’s So Shattered…
Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were never a flash rhythm section like Moon and Entwistle, or rhythmic melodists like Starr and McCartney. They just locked into grooves like no other white rhythm section, smearing slicks of drums and bass Keith could slide all over with his greasy licks. So what if Charlie played a little behind the beat? So what if Bill didn’t have the interest in distinguishing his lines from the mix, making it necessary for Keith to tear the bass from Bill’s hands and do the job himself from time to time? There’s still an undeniable magic to their boogie: Charlie wacking away like a slightly slack metronome; Bill tossing off walking runs with ease, occasionally dive-bombing down neck like Bo Diddley. On stage, the guys looked like they could not have been less interested in what they were doing. The exquisite rumble they made proved otherwise.

5. …and the Guitar Players Look Damaged
While Bill and Charlie were perfecting their rhythms at the back of the stage, Keith Richards and Brian Jones were out front revolutionizing guitar dynamics. The lead and rhythm player had always been distinct entities in Rock & Roll. Keith and Brian started changing that through a technique Keith christened “weaving,” instinctively trading rhythm and lead roles within a song. While Mick Taylor’s virtuosity meant that the roles became less integrated during his tenure, The Stones’ acquisition of Ronnie Wood in 1976 resulted in the most perfect weaving Keith would ever achieve with a guitar partner.

6. Slipped My Tongue
It’s been slapped on T-shirts, jackets, and air fresheners (though it’s hard to believe anything associated with The Stones would actually make the air smell better). Over-commercialized for sure, The Rolling Stones’ tongue is still a perfectly lascivious, unbelievably iconic logo for the world’s dirtiest band of pirates. It has certainly gotten more mileage than if it had “slowly (turned) into a cock,” as Keith Richards once suggested it might.

7. I Got the Blues

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: 'RAM' [special edition] by Paul and Linda McCartney

Lambasted in 1971, RAM has stood up better than any other Paul (and Linda) McCartney album. This well-crafted grab bag no longer bears the baggage of The Beatles’ messy break up, so we can enjoy its refreshing pop, country, blues, pocket symphonies, psych, and metal guilt free. Now there’s even more to enjoy on Hear Music’s double-disc special edition of RAM. The remaster is warm and most complimentary to Paul’s incomparable bass work. Aside from the hit single “Another Day”—another terrific pop confection that outpaces its initial bad rep—the bonus tracks are mostly the kind of fun fluff critics once accused RAM of being. Imagine what a shellacking the album would have received had it included the B-side “Little Woman Love” or “Hey Diddle”! “Oh Woman, Oh Why” is at least heavy-duty fluff. The drum-driven jam “Rode All Night” is pretty weighty too, though its nine minutes is a bit much.

Review: ‘Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll’

Without a truly era-altering record since 1991, when Nirvana released Nevermind, it is now easy to forget there was a time when a single disc of pop songs could make the earth quake. In the mid-‘60s that record was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With its audacious jacket, cornucopia of weird sounds, and weighty “concept album” conceit, The Beatles’ Summer of Love definer was the first Rock & Roll album to be widely accepted as serious art. Strange, when just a year earlier, The Beatles had put out a record that was even more experimental and was wrapped in an even more avant garde jacket… not to mention it contained considerably better and more diverse songs. No claims of an overarching concept necessary.

Why wasn’t Revolver regarded as the masterpiece it is during its own time? Robert Rodriguez spends a good deal of his new book Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll getting to the bottom of this question. He also addresses the album’s composition, recording process, and immediate aftermath in deep detail. By also checking in on the peers who influenced and were influenced by Revolver—The Beach Boys, Dylan, The Stones, The Byrds—Rodriguez crafts a complete and compelling portrait of one of Rock’s key years.

In an era when books seem to escape the editor’s desk with any number of embarrassing factual errors intact, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll is a true rarity. This is an impeccably researched work. The writer doesn’t let a single question about some of Rock’s greatest music go unaddressed, right down to why Paul’s front tooth only appears to be chipped in certain shots of the “Paperback Writer” promo video. Rodriguez attempts to address who really played the dual guitar leads on “And Your Bird Can Sing” and if and why Paul walked out on the “She Said, She Said” session. He is not always able to emerge with definitive answers, but the explorations are always thorough and fascinating. From the differences between the various available mixes to the precise details behind the “Butcher Cover” photo shoot, Rodriguez allows no Beatles-’66 stone to go unturned. Like me, you may have read a tower of books on the Fabs and all but vowed you never need to crack another. As long as excellent ones like Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll are being published, you’re going to have a real tough time sticking to that vow.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monsterology: Brides

In this new feature on Psychobabble, we’ve been looking at the history of Horror’s archetypal monsters.

“Here come the brides”…

As they have in so much of our male dominated cultural, women have always taken a backseat in the horrifying side of horror literature and film. While there is no shortage of women playing the victim or the damsel in need of rescuing, far, far fewer have been the agents of terror. The most common—and ancient— she-monster is the witch. But another lady killer has also been a fixture of horror, and she’s been in the game a lot longer than 1935 when Boris Karloff’s Monster first demanded a mate.
Logically, it was a woman who first saw fit to touch upon the monstrous bride. In her genre-defining Gothic horror novel Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dwelled on a disturbing plot thread in which the creature does, indeed, demand a mate. He presents his creator with a grotesque ultimatum: build me a bride and I’ll stop killing and otherwise making your life less than pleasant. The plotline had any number of unsavory implications. The Monster had more in mind than handholding (“…one as deformed as myself would not deny herself to me”), essentially inventing a new strain of necrophilia in which both parties are deceased. There is Frankenstein’s equally demented destruction of the bride that bears traces of sexual violence (“trembling with passion, [I] tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged”). The doctor destroys the bride before she has a chance to animate and reject her nefarious fiancé, as she would in the film this plotline would inspire 117 years later. Rather than a havoc-raising monster in her own right, she is just another of the numerous female pawns destroyed during Frankenstein and his creation’s macabre chess match. Victor’s destruction of the Monster’s potential mate is payback for the Monster’s murder of Victor’s brother William, as well as the ostensible destruction of the boy’s nanny Justine Moritz, who is executed after being accused of the murder. His own mate obliterated, the Monster kills Victor’s fiancé Elizabeth on the day they are to be married.
Mary Shelley at Work

In Frankenstein, Shelley angrily, unflinchingly comments on the roles women so often played in reality and maps out the roles they would often play in horror fiction for centuries to come. As such, Frankenstein can be read as an anti-patriarchal diatribe, a criticism of a society in which women are built, controlled, and ruined according to the whims of men. Mary knew well of such things firsthand. Percy Bysshe Shelley left his bride’s name off the book when he submitted Frankenstein for publication, knowing that her gender might hinder its acceptance. Upon its first printing, she received no credit for her extraordinarily imaginative and influential work. Not surprisingly, Percy was generally believed to be its true creator, and even after his wife finally received her due credit upon the book’s 1822 second printing, her authorship was often questioned and continues to be to present times (see John Lauritsen’s The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, published in 2007).

The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the pioneering feminist commentary A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, must have felt the sting of such sexist skepticism keenly. Even those who accepted that Frankenstein was written by a woman often used that fact against the novel. As related in Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s essential Frankenstein: A Cultural History, a writer for British Critic grunted, “If our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should, and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment.”

Contrary to that critic’s command, Frankenstein was not forgotten. Its brand of Gothic horror persisted similarly. So did the bride, and toward the end of the decade, Bram Stoker supplied not one but three monstrous brides in Dracula. And this time, they would not be destroyed before getting the opportunity to terrify. However, Stoker was no feminist. Quite the opposite, and his trio of brides are both fiendish abominations of female sexuality, hungrily draining the essence from poor Jonathan Harker, and embodiments of female subservience, cowering before their master like Mormon sister wives at the feet of their priesthood-holding husband. Shelley wanted us to sympathize with her women. Stoker wants us to be repelled by his. If Dracula’s brides are not the most flattering representations of women, they at least get the chance to do some damage, keeping Harker prisoner and Van Helsing and Mina at bay. They also eat a baby.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: The Damned's 'The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing'

After the ever-volatile Damned disbanded after 1977’s disappointing Music for Pleasure on Stiff Records, they soon regrouped (minus Brian James) for a two-year stint with Chiswick in 1979. Poppier, Gothier, The Damned were, indeed, a new band, and they created some of their very best work for the label: the L.P.’s Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album and several singles with exclusive B-sides. Late last year, Chiswick collected these 45s onto a new CD called, self-explanatorily enough, The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing. With the bulk pulled from songs already included as bonus tracks on Chiswick’s essential editions of Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album, this comp isn’t great value. Plus the new-remastering job is too fucking loud. The Damned never needed help making listeners feel agitated, so the added volume is particularly unnecessary.

The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing does have a selling point, and it’s a huge one (hint: it’s the non-Chiswick “other thing” in the CD’s title). This is the first time the great “Friday the 13th” E.P. has made it to CD since the 1993 comp Tales from the Damned, which is long out of print. Perhaps the E.P.’s four cuts have been MIA so long because they were The Damned’s only recordings for NEMS records and there were rights issues. Whatever the case, it’s great to have them back (particularly since my vinyl copy of “Friday the 13th” warped mysteriously several years ago). This is one of The Damned’s very best hidden treasures. The uproarious “Disco Man”, with its melody so similar to that of Family’s “Peace of Mind”, has been a staple of the band’s live sets for decades. “The Limit Club” is a haunting fan favorite in the Black Album vein. “Billy Bad Breaks” is pogoing power pop, and a cover of “Citadel” realigns The Damned with the ‘60s psychedelia they so adored and reasserts the fact that The Stones hardly went soft when they made Their Satanic Majesties Request  .

The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing has a few other recommendable oddities, such as a slightly longer mix of “Suicide” and non-Chiswick oddities like the momentous Damned/Motörhead collaboration, “Over the Top”, and a fiddle-adorned version of “Anti-Pope” from the “There Ain’t No Sanity Clause” single that was oddly left off the extended Black Album CD. The booklet is well annotated by Roger Armstrong and full of great photos. But The Chiswick Singles… And Another Thing earns its “must have” status for one reason only: the “Friday the 13th” E.P.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Criterion Announces Late Summer Release for 'Quadrophenia' on DVD and Blu-ray

Followers of the Criterion Collection have surmised this has been in the works for a while, but only yesterday was it made official. On August 28, 2012, Criterion will be issuing Quadrophenia on DVD, and for the first time in the U.S., Blu-ray. Inarguably the greatest film ever based on a Rock album, Quadrophenia brought Jimmy the Mod from the grooves of one of The Who's greatest records to the screen. Devoid of the mushy surrealism of big-screen Rock operas like Tommy and Pink Floyd: The Wall, Quadrophenia is both a bitterly nostalgic look back at the Mods vs. Rockers clashes of the early '60s and a commentary on Britain's social and economic mire of the late '70s. As much a punk movie as a mod one, Quadrophenia is a vital, violent reflection of those vital, violent punk pioneers, The Who.
  • Criterion's special edition, approved by director Franc Roddam, includes the following features (from
  • New high-definition digital restoration of the uncut version, with the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack as well as an all-new 5.1 surround mix, supervised by the Who and presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition
  • New audio commentary featuring director Franc Roddam and director of photography Brian Tufano
  • New interview with Bill Curbishley, the film’s coproducer and the Who’s comanager
  • New interview with the Who’s sound engineer, Bob Pridden, discussing the new mix, featuring a restoration demonstration
  • On-set and archival footage
  • Behind-the-scenes photographs
  • Trailers
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Nick James, a reprinted personal history by original mod Irish Jack, and Pete Townshend’s liner notes from the album

Pre-order info to follow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: 'Poster Art from Classic Monster Films'

During a recent trip to Paris, my wife and I were passing a cinema presenting a revival of In the Heat of the Night. She commented that the poster looked strangely modern. It was, indeed, a non-vintage photo composite, the kind you’ll see promoting any contemporary film, slapped outside any contemporary theater. Quite a shame, considering that the original poster advertising Norman Jewison’s film was terrific: graphic, kinetic, painted. It was art, something contemporary movie posters most certainly are not.

Prior to the ‘80s, painted movie posters were the norm, and the loss of them meant the loss of a legitimate subcategory of pop art. In his new book, Poster Art from Classic Monster Films, Philip J. Riley eulogizes this sadly defunct art form by presenting striking, full-color posters from the major films of Universal’s golden horror age, beginning with 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and creeping through the decades to 1954’s This Island Earth, when that era shuddered its last.

These posters are magnificent. Many will be familiar to Monster fans, though there are some interesting variations included throughout. The real treat in Poster Art from Classic Monster Films is Riley’s inclusion of numerous hand-tinted lobby cards, so we get to see the Frankenstein Monster’s beige (not green!) face, Ygor’s purple cloak, and Im Ho Tep’s green (not beige!) bandages for the first time. Certain films, such as Dracula (both English and Spanish language versions) and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, were promoted with what looks like exclusively painted lobby cards, although it’s possible the artist just put on the tinting with an unusually heavy hand. Even more fascinating, Erik’s face has been blurred out from the Phantom of the Opera lobby cards, probably because Universal didn’t want to spoil Lon Chaney’s big, horrifying surprise.

There’s no commentary, and barely any captions, so it would have been nice if Riley had supplied a bit more text, perhaps providing some information on the artists. Still, this is art that speaks for itself, and we can be grateful to him for collecting it all in such a swell volume. It’s nice to see that even when Universal was cutting corners on the screen, as it did with some of its later Horrors, it still invested in memorable, artful promo paintings. If only modern film companies maintained such attention to detail.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Psychobabble’s Rock & Roll Tour of London…

Regular Psychobabble readers may have noticed that new posts were particularly slow during the week of May 5 through the 13th. That’s because Psychobabble was “doing” Europe, or to put it in terms less reminiscent of 1970s pornography, my wife Elise and I were visiting London and Paris. As a Rock & Roll geek in London, I could hardly take two stepswithout looking down at a map, up at a street sign, or over at a bush without being reminded of some incredible old song by one of the city’s great chroniclers: The Kinks and The Clash, Donovan and Elvis Costello, The Smiths and Morrissey. Had I broader musical knowledge and a real zeal for nauseating tedium, I might be able to map the entire city with classic British pop songs. Whether it’s because of a basic sense of civic pride or the simple love of saying words like Goodge and Piccadilly, Londoners love to sing about London. With the possible exception of New York, no other city has been so moved to sing about its streets, rivers, and train stations.

From the moment we set down at Heathrow Airport (where I did the “Heathrow Shuffle”, or some exhausted facsimile thereof) to our arrival at our flat in Tottenham Hale (which convolutedly reminded me of The Kinks’ “Denmark Street” because that song name-checks Tottenham Court Road, which is actually nowhere near Tottenham Hale) great songs were never far from my thoughts even when sitting quietly on a bus or hearing an able-fingered yet deeply, deeply misguided harpist plucking out that vile “Titanic” song in a tube station.

So, maybe you can call the following article a useful guide the next time you find yourself wandering around London looking for songs to hum. But no matter what you call it, call it Psychobabble’s Rock & Roll Tour of London!

May 5

Our journey begins as it always will—or would if not for the Bank Holiday service disruptions on Sunday and Monday: on the Victoria Station tube line. The line was named in tribute to the lead-off track from The Kinks’ 1969 Rock opera Arthur: Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. The song also inspired Kinks-freak Alexandrina Victoria to embark on the lifelong campaign of kindly Imperialism and genital-based prudery for which she is still revered in the U.K. today. You can second guess or “fact check” these facts if you must, but I can assure you there is absolutely no way they are anything less than 68% historically accurate, and that is a strong percentage by any standard.

Though severely jet lagged, Elise and I were determined to venture down to the South Bank to check out the Bermondsey Street Market. I could already tell this would be a music-rich area, and not just because the London Bridge Tube Station brings to mind an annoyingly beloved children’s song. This is the site of the Tower of London and London Dungeon tourist attractions, where children of all ages can delight to the ruling class’s history of peasant oppression (the former) or the murders of Jack the Ripper (the latter). The Tower of London has been eulogized by both XTC (who tossed it into a song along with some other towers) and The Damned. In their “Lovely Money”, which has to be the single greatest non-L.P. single of the 1980s, The Damned tear into the commercialization of a site of great historical misery with some unforgettable help from Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. 

The Misfits were even less enthused about their chosen South Bank landmark. Following a miserable trip to Blighty in late 1979, they wrote “London Dungeon”. Although the title dungeon actually refers to Brixton Jail, where they spent a night during their ill-fated trip, the lyric “Don’t wanna be here in your London Dungeon” could probably just as easily apply to the queue outside the attraction, which was very, very long.

Elise and I eschewed such tourist attractions in favor of the Bermondsey Street Market, which as far as I know, has yet to inspire a song. Elise purchased a giant meringue there just as the market was shutting down, so at least she was happy. I was pretty knackered (that’s English for “tired”) and could barely finish my fish and chips and Guinness at a local pub before passing out in my mushy peas. So we headed back to Tottenham Hale. After a refreshing jet lag nap, we watched a channel 5 program called “Sex: How to Do Everything” (apparently, “everything” is achieving orgasm by electrocuting your eyeballs and getting blown by a guy in a crocodile costume. Great show!) and a retrospective about New York Rock, which featured performances by Patti Smith, The Ramones, Lou Reed, Blondie and others of their ilk from old episodes of “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. Perhaps not the cultural-immersion I was looking for when we left the U.S. East Coast, but certainly not a bad way to spend a late night either. Not bad at all.

May 6

Saturday, May 12, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known about 'Exile on Main St.'

On May 12, 1972, The Rolling Stones dropped an A-bomb on the Rock & Roll scene and the dust still hasn’t settled four decades later. Exile on Main St. may be the band’s most celebrated album, but some of the details swirling around its chaotic creation, epic four-sides, and endless legacy may still be unfamiliar to you. Here are 20 things you may not have known about Exile on Main St.
1. Before it was rechristened Exile on Main St., The Stones’ 1972 album was provisionally titled Tropical Diseases.

2. Although The Rolling Stones have sometimes been criticized for fleeing England as tax exiles in 1971, Keith insists they weren’t entirely to blame for shirking their fiscal responsibilities in his autobiography Life. He says manager Allen Klein regularly loaned the guys money on which he had not paid the 83% tax that was the going rate for those in The Stones’ bracket. Staying in England would have left the band bankrupt.

3. The “Main St.” in the album’s title refers to the Riviera Strip where The Stones spent a lot of time hanging out while living in the south of France.

4. Several future Exile tracks—“All Down the Line”, “Loving Cup” (as “Give Me a Drink”), and “Tumbling Dice” (as “Good Time Women”)—were first attempted at much earlier sessions. The earliest versions of “Line” and “Cup” date all the way back to 1969.

5. Keith’s smack addiction was partially responsible for the weird hours the band kept while cutting Exile. The guitarist would call a session for 6PM, but by the time he was finished “putting his son Marlon to bed” (i.e.: shooting up and coming down), it would be 1am. The schedule became known as “Keith Time”.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Psychobabble’s 15 Most Beautiful Songs in the English Language

Tomorrow is the 45th anniversary of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”, a song journalist Robert Christgau once described as “the most beautiful song in the English language.” In this feature, Psychobabble chronologically expands the list from one song to a very beautiful fifteen.
1. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” written and performed by Bob Dylan (1963)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: ‘The Encyclopedia of New Wave’

I’ve consumed my share of colorfully illustrated books on punk, but they’ve always seemed a little wrong to me. Cheerily eulogizing the musical equivalent of a stick of dynamite up the sphincter kind of misses the point. The overtly commercial, style conscious New Wave, however, is ripe for that kind of overview, and Daniel Bukszpan’s Encyclopedia of New Wave is a doozy. Or maybe I should say “it’s a totally tubular tube of awesomeness that doesn’t make me want to gag myself with a spoon” or something. However you word it, The Encyclopedia of New Wave is a supremely entertaining retro trip through a pop-culture movement that seemed retro while it was happening, even though it was supposed to be, like, totally futuristic.

Bukszpan trots out hundreds of profiles on megastars like Madonna, credible artists like Elvis Costello, obscurities like Q-Feel (seriously… who?), and—errr—Robert Palmer. The profiles are brief but fairly informative. Above all else: They. Are. Hilarious. Bukszpan is a really, really, really funny guy. Consider this quote from his piece on Bananarama:
“The follow-up, Bananarama (1984), was another success, featuring the song “Cruel Summer,” which would appear in the epic Pat Morita film The Karate Kid, which was the moving story of a man getting his car waxed by a teenage boy.”
His profiles on Alphaville and Animotion also made me laugh out loud. Bukszpan must have written his profiles in order, because some of the comic inspiration evaporates as the book moves from A to Z. That still leaves us with a fun look at a diverse menagerie of one-hit, multi-hit, and no-hit wonders. Bukszpan sometimes interrupts his artist profiles with tangents on New Wave fashion, heart throbs, T.V., videos, and movies delivered with the same thrilling irreverence as the rest of the book. And if all those pesky words are too much for your coke-addled, Simon Le Bon-obsessed brain, The Encyclopedia of New Wave will still captivate you with its abundant photos and a design so dazzlingly colorful and awesomely garish you may need your Ray-Bans to view it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Houses of Frankenstein: Universal and Hammer's Horror Epochs

“We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein... It is one of the strangest tales ever told… I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even — horrify you.”

These words helped usher in Horror’s golden age when Edward Van Sloan spoke them in the prologue of Universal Pictures’ Frankenstein in 1931. For the next ten years, the studio was the first and last word in Horror. All others paled in terms of production values, iconography, and well, interest. Although other major studios produced great horror movies during the decade—Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Island of Lost Souls, MGM’s Freaks and Mad Love, Warner Bros.’ The Mystery of the Wax Museum—only Universal aligned itself with the controversial new genre with utmost fidelity. That’s because studio chief, Carl Laemmle, Jr., wasn’t just a fad-hopping dabbler like the heads of the rival majors. He was a genuine monster fan; cinema’s first horror hound. And under his watch, all of Horror’s essentials were carved in granite: the vampire, the creation monster, the werewolf, the mad doctor, the twisted lab assistant, the mummy, the monstrous bride. The pictures were big money makers, hence the pretenders from outside Universal, but they were dismissed by critics for their lowbrow luridness. Junior’s own father thought his son’s devotion to all things macabre and ghoulish was foolish. So, when he was muscled out of Universal in 1935, the studio’s interest in producing quality Horror gradually faltered. Following its final prestige monster movie, 1941’s The Wolf Man, Universal proceeded to churn out fun but fatuous sequels, some barely distinguishable from the Z-grade flicks rolling off Poverty Row. So went the ‘40s. So went the ‘50s.

Well, at least in the States.

In England, Enrique Carreras’s Hammer Productions was a small studio that slipped out a few movies in 1936 and ’37 (including The Mystery of the Marie Celeste starring Bela Lugosi) before declaring bankruptcy amidst an economy more concerned with looming war than producing B-pictures. Like The Mummy, Hammer was in mere hibernation.

With the War two years past, Enrique’s son James helped utter the incantation that revived Hammer in 1947. The studio birthed cheap sci-fi and mystery pictures, “quota quickies” designed to slip in and out of cinemas and turn a fast pound. One such film was 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment, Val Guest’s sci-fi potboiler about a rocket that returns to Earth with an infectious monster in tow. Another quota quickie for sure, but The Quatermass Xperiment did not behave itself as other pictures of its ilk had. This was a different kind of sci-fi movie than anything that preceded it, more concerned with horrifying than stirring the imagination—and on a more revolutionary level, the first film bent on grossing out its viewers. The violence was more graphic, the mutations goopier. There was no way this movie was going to make it to theaters with anything less than an X-certificate. In a brilliant, and rather cheeky, stroke, James Carreras and producer Anthony Hinds seized on the undesired rating, stamping a big, blazing “X” in the film title. Audiences rushed to see this nasty piece of work. Carreras and Hinds plotted their next move.

And this is where Hammer Horror is truly born—and the monsters of the Universal age are reborn. There had been Frankenstein films before James Whale’s, but it was his that solidified the Monster in the collective consciousness. No longer was he the articulate, jaundiced creature Mary Shelley described in her novel. He was now a mute blockhead with electrodes jutting from his neck, droop eyed and decked in hobnail boots and a sport coat. Whether the face belonged to Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., or Glenn Strange, the basic design was always the same. For any studio beside Universal to present the Frankenstein Monster in any other way would be downright iconoclastic.

Hammer, of course, was now in the business of iconoclasm. The filmmakers tossed out the make-up devised by Universal’s Jack Pierce. This new monster would be lean rather than bulky, more like a horribly scarred man than a misshapen, otherworldly creature. Karloff was chosen for his grim countenance. This new Monster was matinee-idol handsome when not scabbed, stitched, and clouded. And most shocking of all, his gory scars and wounds would be presented in vivid Technicolor. The Universal Horrors that were so questionable during their day would be rendered quaint by Hammer’s new approach. Karloff’s extreme pathos is barely detectable in Christopher Lee’s almost mechanical killing machine. Colin Clive’s moral turmoil has been dissolved in favor of Peter Cushing’s unrepentant evil, and from here through subsequent sequels, Dr. Frankenstein would always be Hammer’s wickedest villain. His tawdry affair with his maid introduced another integral element to the Hammer stew: sex (though the studio’s fixation on heaving cleavage was still several years away). The Curse of Frankenstein was released on May 2, 1957, and with it, the Hammer Horror era had begun.

No shocker that critics were outraged, and none that audiences turned The Curse of Frankenstein into a box office phenomenon. The formula was now set. Naturally, Dracula would swoop in after Frankenstein, the Mummy would stalk out next, and then the werewolf, almost in the very same order they paraded across the Universal back lot. And like that studio, there would be a stock company of monsters and mad scientists. Universal had the Laemmles, James Whale, and Karl Freund behind the camera and Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., in front of it. Hammer had the Carrerases, director Terence Fisher, who rendered his images with a painter’s eye, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, Cushing and Lee. Uncannily, Hammer also followed Universal’s creative trajectory. Its stealthily artistic early films eventually gave way to tossed-off moneymakers, endlessly trotting out the same monsters: fun but fatuous sequels. Serious Horror gave way to camp. And reflecting the times as much as steering them, the films became lazily edgy: bigger buckets of blood, bigger boobs.

But before the decline, Hammer resembled Universal in another crucial way: it pulled Horror into vogue. The 1960s was the most vital time for the genre since the ‘30s, and Hammer’s stylistic paw prints were as evident on Eyes without a Face, Psycho, The City of the Dead (starring Christopher Lee), Night of the Eagle, Viy and the films of Roger Corman and Roman Polanski as Universal’s stamp was on the Horror pictures of its era. But once Hammer faded in the late ‘70s, the genre did not crumble around it like some desiccated old dark house, as it did when Universal’s epoch wound down. By helping to embolden the genre in a time that produced much similar (and, to be honest, often superior) work, Hammer helped Horror get its foothold in cinema once and for all. Some of its spawn—Psycho, The Haunting, Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, The Exorcist—also gave it a scaly leg up in terms of artistic and critical credibility.

Hammer too has enjoyed its own critical reevaluation in more recent years. Once synonymous with the basest drives behind movie making, Dracula, Curse of the Werewolf, The Mummy, and the one that started it all, The Curse of Frankenstein, are now regarded as cinema classics. Lee and Cushing remain the most beloved team of miscreants since Karloff and Lugosi, and Terence Fisher’s kaleidoscopic imagery has been copied endlessly by filmmakers from Mario Bava to Dario Argento to Tim Burton, but rarely bettered. Karloff’s face may forever be the first that lumbers to mind when one hears the word “Frankenstein”, but Universal may not necessarily be the first studio that leaps forth when pondering Horror’s definitive laboratory.

The Curse of Frankenstein was released 55 years ago today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: ‘Authorship and the Films of David Lynch’

Throughout 2006, there was no film I anticipated more than INLAND EMPIRE. This was not because of the mixed early notices it received or its vague tagline “A Woman in Trouble.” I looked forward to INLAND EMPIRE because it was “A Film by David Lynch” and I am a David Lynch junkie. So when I finally settled down to see it, and was struck by how crude the digital photography looked and how disjointed the plot was, disappointment started tugging at me. By the end of the film, I’d witnessed enough creepiness and absurd humor that I didn’t declare it a wash out, but it still failed to knock me out of my seat as Mulholland Dr. had. Nevertheless, one week later I was back at the IFC Film Center, having paid my twelve bucks (lousy overpriced NYC theaters!), primed to give INLAND EMPIRE another shot.

With each subsequent viewing, I got more out of the movie. I grew to appreciate its murky aesthetic and unconventional—even by Lynch standards—storytelling. I gave INLAND EMPIRE the full benefit of the doubt and was rewarded for the effort. Would I have worked so hard had INLAND EMPIRE been made by, say, Uwe Boll? Probably not (hell, I probably wouldn’t have even seen it). Would I have watched Dune over and over until I was able to convince myself it wasn’t a total inept mess if it wasn’t also directed by Lynch? No again. As a David Lynch fan, I expect brilliance, and when that brilliance isn’t immediately evident, I assume the problem is mine, not his.

This is something Anthony Todd refers to as the “horizon of expectation” in his new book Authorship and the Films of David Lynch. Todd takes an interesting tack in studying Lynch’s role as an auteur, revealing how the Lynch persona has powerfully affected interpretations of and reactions to his work. A more traditional study of auteurism would trace the level of collaboration in a particular filmmaker’s work. Filmmaking is always a collaborative process, but if there is one major filmmaker who doesn't really need an entire book to convince us he's an auteur, it is David Lynch. He not only directs, but often writes and produces, sometimes acts in, personally promotes, and creates music and sound effects for his films. A David Lynch film cannot be mistaken for any other filmmaker’s work.

Although Todd does discuss how collaboration altered such works as Dune, “Twin Peaks”, and Mulholland Dr., his chief focus is on how the very fact that David Lynch’s films were made by David Lynch has altered our perceptions of them. Todd intriguingly points out how reactions to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me depended on whether the critics were non-fan journalists or biographers who had a greater stake in Lynch appreciation and understanding. He also illuminates how these particular films were criticized in the early ‘90s for the very same reasons Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. were later praised because of Lynch’s personal standing at the time.

Readers less inclined toward the excessively scholarly (such as myself) will have to wade through quite a bit of thesis-speak to get to the meat of Todd’s analysis, which is overall lucid, enlightening, and downright engrossing. I may not have toughed it out had this book been about anyone other than David Lynch, but that’s the horizon of expectations for you.

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