Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: Paul Revere and the Raiders Featuring Mark Lindsay 'Something Has Happened! 1967-1969'

When we last left Paul Revere and the Raiders they were hitting their creative peak and passing their commercial one with 1967’s Revolution!, the final album represented on Raven Records’ Evolution to Revolution: 5 Classic Albums. After that the group recorded a numb-skulled Christmas album, prepared to part with producer Terry Melcher, and made their already unwieldy name unwieldier when they started going by “Paul Revere and the Raiders Featuring Mark Lindsay.” That unofficial new name was more than a way to cash-in on lead singer Lindsay’s heartthrob status. From this point on, they’d really be his band. Nowhere else would this be clearer than on Goin’ to Memphis, essentially a solo album on which Revere and the Raiders supported him on just one track, “Peace of Mind”. The albums that followed weren’t exactly one-man shows, but Lindsay’s compositions continued to dominate and he took over production duties for good.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Track by Track: 'A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records'

In this ongoing feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been taking a close look at albums of the classic, underrated, and flawed variety, and assessing them Track by Track.

“The biggest thanks goes to you for giving me the opportunity to relate my feelings of Christmas through the music that I love.”

-Phil Spector “Silent Night”

Like so many visionaries, Phil Spector refused to grow up. Perhaps this has been the cause of so many of his problems—his infantilizing of ex-wife Ronnie Spector, his daddy issues, and his fatal obsession with playing with guns—but it is also the source of his art. His favorite toys are the ones found in a recording studio and his favorite time of the year is Christmas. In 1963, Spector attempted to capture the essence of the holiday several months before December 25th in the less than seasonal setting of sunny Los Angeles’ Gold Star Studios. How would his thunderous Wall-of-Sound work with corny kiddie songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” or the hymn carol “Silent Night” or the easy-listening standard “Winter Wonderland”? Brilliantly, of course, though it has taken longer than Spector surely wished for this to become common knowledge.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Psychobabble Hall of Fame to Open in Cleveland!

Breaking news! After an as-yet unidentified Cleveland museum was accidentally demolished by a slightly moist fart, city officials agreed it would be idiotic to rebuild it, instead deciding to replace that as-yet unidentified museum with a new one called the Psychobabble Hall of Fame! 

All artists are eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. At least one non-shitty contribution to Rock & Roll history is the sole criteria for induction. The ability to apply clown makeup will not be a consideration for induction.
Proposed Museum Design.

Breaking update! The list of inductees has just been announced! It is as follows:

Paul Revere and the Raiders

Outstanding Contribution: Can play brutal bubblegum garage rock while doing choreographed dance moves in American Revolutionary War costumes.
Most Outstanding Work:  The Spirit of '67 (1966)

The Zombies

Outstanding Contribution: Crafted ethereally jazzy pop and masterful, Mellotrony psychedelia. Responsible for the current zombie craze.
Most Outstanding  Work: Odessey and Oracle (1968)

The Pretty Things

Outstanding Contribution: Recorded and released the very first LP length-rock opera. Wore the very first 1970s-length long hair. Rocked terribly hard.
Most Outstanding  Work: S.F. Sorrow (1968)

The Turtles

Outstanding Contribution: Racked up hits by recording consistently wonderful bubblegum folk rock with an emphasis on beautifully stoned harmonies and wise-ass humor.
Most Outstanding  Work: Turtle Soup (1969)


Outstanding Contribution: Metamorphosed from gorgeous, icy voiced pop chanteuse into ghoulish, icy voiced goth princess. Was the scariest thing about The Velvet Underground, which is saying a hell of a lot.
Most Outstanding  Work: The Marble Index (1968)


Outstanding Contribution:
One of the few integrated rock groups of the sixties made a totally new sound with each album, and each one was fabulous. Were LA's coolest underground band, and Arthur Lee could shout as well as he could coo.
Most Outstanding  Work:
Forever Changes (1967)

The Monkees

Outstanding Contribution: Started as a totally manufactured sitcom pop band, said "Fuck that!" and threatened their record company until they were allowed to be one of the greatest real bands of the sixties. Were pretty awesome even before that. Hated by Jann Wenner, which is practically instant credibility.
Most Outstanding  Work: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, Ltd. (1967)

The Left Banke 

Outstanding Contribution: Single-handedly invented mopey British pop. Were from New York City.
Most Outstanding  Work: Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina (1967)

The Creation 

Outstanding Contribution: Parodied art by setting canvasses on fire on stage. Taught Jimmy Page how to bow a guitar. "Making Time"? Holy shit!
Most Outstanding  Work: We Are Paintermen (1967)

The Move

Outstanding Contribution: Ripped out hilarious power pop, power bubble gum, and power prog rock, often while smashing used cars with sledgehammers. Kept Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne out of trouble.
Most Outstanding  Work: Move (1968)

Procol Harum 

Outstanding Contribution: Invented goth rock even though everyone insists on primarily categorizing them as prog rockers. When they did play prog, Gary Brooker's voice made it soulful prog. Revolutionized the double-keyboard approach. Made their non-singing, non-instrument playing lyricist an official member of the band, which is very considerate. Occasionally wore Merlin costumes.
Most Outstanding  Work: A Salty Dog (1969)


Outstanding Contribution: American rockers who kept the concise spirit of '65/'66 British pop alive during the long-winded, jammy late sixties. Were the first thing on Todd Rundgren's resumé.
Most Outstanding  Work: Nazz (1968)

Nick Drake

Outstanding Contribution: Was the king of morbid, introverted singer-songwriters. Made three perfect yet distinct albums.
Most Outstanding  Work: Bryter Layter (1970)


Outstanding Contribution: Fused Beatlesque pop with prog pretensions. Jon Anderson sang lyrics that didn't even make sense when you were tripping your butthole off. Pissed off your super dogmatic punk buddies.
Most Outstanding  Work: Fragile (1971)

King Crimson

Outstanding Contribution: Are the only prog band you're not embarrassed to keep in your record collection. Robert Fripp did incredibly beautiful things with heavily distorted electric guitar and  incredibly heavy things with the beautiful Mellotron.
Most Outstanding  Work: In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

Big Star

Outstanding Contribution: For those with no space in their hearts for prog, Big Star were the early-seventies saviors of power pop. But only critics knew that.
Most Outstanding  Work: #1 Record (1972)

Pete Townshend

Outstanding Contribution: Already inducted in old museum as member of The Who, deserves to be inducted in new one for making better solo albums than any other member of a major band and better demo recordings than God.
Most Outstanding  Work: Empty Glass (1980)

The Damned 

Outstanding Contribution: Punk, pop, psych, goth, garage rock, prog. They mastered it all without losing their sense of humor. Made the first punk single and the first punk album and toured the states before any of their British brethren. Outlasted about a million break ups and all the asshole critics who said they'd never last.
Most Outstanding  Work: Machine Gun Etiquette (1979)

The Jam

Outstanding Contribution: Introduced sharp mod style and twelve-string Rickenbackers to seventies punk rock. Made eighties new wave honest and organic even if no one else did.
Most Outstanding  Work: All Mod Cons (1978)

Cheap Trick 

Outstanding Contribution: Were the only traditional Rock & Roll band that mattered during the late seventies punk revolution. Their lyrics were as funny as their two heartthrobs/two slobs image.
Most Outstanding  Work: Cheap Trick (1977)

The Cure

Outstanding Contribution: Made the most thrillingly bi-polar music in rock history. Reinvented the dirge. Reinvented grooming.
Most Outstanding  Work: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Outstanding Contribution: Transformed punk rock into avant garde art, transformed the Gothic into the delectably poppy, transformed millions of perfectly nice high school girls into wild-haired, wild-makeupped mini-Siouxsie Siouxs (note: just to confirm, Siouxsie's outstanding ability to apply clown makeup was not a consideration in her induction).
Most Outstanding  Work: A Kiss in the Dream House (1982)


Outstanding Contribution: Made the best hurky-jerky new wave since Talking Heads and the best Beatles and Beach Boys albums since The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
Most Outstanding  Work: Black Sea (1980)

The Replacements

Outstanding Contribution: Were too crazy to contain, too beautiful to ignore, too drunk to keep it together, and too cool for that other hall of fame.
Most Outstanding  Work: Let It Be (1984)

The Smiths

Outstanding Contribution: Made gloriously shimmering pop for mopey kids who didn't quite understand that Morrissey is really, really, really funny.
Most Outstanding  Work: The Smiths (1984)

Suzanne Vega

Outstanding Contribution: Most often stereotyped as a folk singer, the New York singer-songwriter actually reinvented herself as regularly and audaciously as David Bowie. Possibly the only pop artist to dabble in industrial music without making a fool of herself.
Most Outstanding  Work:
99.9 (1992) 

Throwing Muses 

Outstanding Contribution: Were the scariest thing ever to come out of Rhode Island. Had the most stellar rhythm section in college rock history and a front woman with a voice that could melt your face faster than the Ark of the Covenant.
Most Outstanding  Work: The Real Ramona (1991)

Guided by Voices

Outstanding Contribution: Made it OK to be a lo-fi, middle-aged, self-made Rock & Roll superstar. Literally released 6,000 albums, including a slick, hi-fi one produced by Rik Ocasek that is amazingly awesome despite what everyone says.
Most Outstanding  Work: Bee Thousand (1994)

The Pixies

Outstanding Contribution: Have you ever heard nineties rock? They're responsible for that.
Most Outstanding  Work: Doolittle (1989)


Outstanding Contribution: Revitalized Rock & Roll after the "hair metal" years. Were the last truly culture-crossing, globally important band of the Rock & Roll era. Only band of previous museum's recent inductees deemed worthy of inclusion in the Psychobabble Hall of Fame.
Most Outstanding  Work: In Utero (1994)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad' and 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' Blu-rays

Late in his career, Ray Harryhausen returned to the subject of one of his hugest mid-period successes to make The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Neither of these films received the accolades or classic status of 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, though I suspect the main reason is that folks started viewing Harryhausen’s DynaMation stop-motion technique as a bit old-fashioned in light of the special effects developments displayed in recent films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes. That Eye of the Tiger came out the same year as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind probably didn’t do it any favors in that department either.

Watching these films today is a totally different experience. While the knowledge that all modern special effects are done by some nerd with a computer has robbed them of their “Wow!” value, Harryhausen’s effects are all “Wow!” In The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), a bat-like homunculus drops a prized golden amulet in the famed sailor’s ship, sending him on a treasure hunt in which he duels with his ship’s animated figurehead and a six-armed Kali statue and encounters a giant Cyclops-centaur and a griffin. In The Eye of the Tiger (1977), his mission to rescue a prince transformed into a stop-motion baboon leads him to fend off a gaggle of bug-eyed goblins and a dinosaur-sized walrus, while also befriending a giant, horned troglodyte. These creatures are as magical as any in Harryhausen’s more critically lauded films, so it’s kind of unfair that they get short shrift just because of the era in which they appeared.

The stories that surround these animals and monsters are better than their reputations too, though the human characters are usually up-staged by the creatures. This is actually particularly true of the better film, Golden Voyage, which drags for the mostly creature-deprived opening 38 minutes but takes off like a monster-packed rocket for the final hour. Still, that film’s Sinbad, played by the reasonably charismatic John Phillip Law, is much more enjoyable than the personality-devoid Patrick Wayne, who plays our hero in Eye of the Tiger. That film makes up for his shortcomings with a stronger gang of supporting players led by Jane Seymour as the baboon-prince’s sister and Sinbad’s girlfriend (she’s a much more engaging heroine than Caroline Munro’s nearly dialogue-less slave girl in Golden Voyage) and Patrick Troughton as the wizard with the knowledge to un-monkey her brother.

However, these being Ray Harryhausen films—the only kinds of films we think of as belonging to the special effects guy rather than the director—the effects are paramount, which is why Golden Voyage comes off as superior. Tiger’s goblins are like poorly designed retreads of Harryhausen’s legendary skeleton soldiers from Jason and the Argonauts. The baboon-prince and the troglodyte are both wonderfully articulate and disarmingly emotive creations, but the other animals are less imaginative than the monsters of Golden Voyage. The overuse of bad traveling matte shots is another issue with Eye of the Tiger.

So it is fitting that Twilight Time has put a lot more effort into their new Golden Voyage of Sinbad blu-ray than their Eye of the Tiger disc. Both films look excellent in high-definition, which is a real relief considering the possibility that stop-motion might not have translated well in such flaw-revealing clarity. Golden Voyage has received an especially careful restoration. Take a look at the details on those fabulous costumes: the golden texture of the Grand Vizier’s frock, the spangles on the villain’s black robe, and the nap of the little patches of purple velvet on his sleeves. Eye of the Tiger isn’t quite as dazzling because it’s a lot less colorful with too many poor-contrast night scenes, though that’s probably more the film’s fault than the restoration’s.

Golden Voyage has some nice extras to match it spectacular visuals. There are three Harryhausen interviews focusing on his earlier films Mysterious Island, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. He talks about his special effects techniques (including animating a real dead crab in Mysterious Island), use of travelling mattes, locations, and props. In the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers featurette, interviewer Joe Dante gets to manhandle the actual UFO prop used in the film, ostensibly because he wants to explain how it works… but you know he just wanted to play with a really cool toy. There are no details on when these interviews took place, but based on how young Dante looks, I’d guess late eighties/early nineties.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad also features a booklet essay and an isolated musical score track. These extras are included on the Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger blu-ray too, though the only featurette is a three-minute 1958 documentary on DynaMation. It has nice retro value, but Twilight Time would have given this disc more value had it spread those interviews between both discs instead of hording them on one. So Golden Voyage is the totally essential disc, but both are well worth checking out for their underrated main features. But you better not dilly-dally because they’re both only available as limited editions of 3,000 units, as are all Twilight Time releases. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger are only available at Screen

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: 'Good Ol' Freda'

And so we’ve pored over Beatlemania so thoroughly that the only thing left to scrutinize is the band’s secretary. “Who would want to hear the secretary’s story?” Freda Kelly herself asks at the beginning of Good Ol’ Freda. Well, to answer her and any other skeptic, 660 Beatles fans, for starters. Good Ol’ Freda was made on their generous contributions to the film’s Kickstarter campaign. One fan even sold a single strand of George Harrison’s hair on ebay to earn $1,600 of the $58,000 ultimately raised. Well, there’s one story that hasn’t been told in any of the other Beatles documentaries.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: Edsel Records' They Might Be Giants Twofers

Saying that two nerdy dudes on guitar and accordion who sing ditties about night lights, President Polk, and imaginary rivalries between XTC and Adam Ant don’t sound like any pop group before them may provoke shrieks of “Duh!” However, John Flansburgh and John Linnell of They Might Be Giants play with so many recognizable styles—country, garage rock, zydeco, psychedelia, sea chanty, reggae, new wave, soul, funk, new wave…you name it—that it’s still a shock to hear how little they sound like any artist before them. Like all truly visionary groups, plenty of pretenders would follow, but even after hearing a group like, say, Of Montreal, They Might Be Giants still sound totally individual and totally fresh.

After releasing two quirky albums on the indie Bar/None, They Might Be Giants signed up with great, big Elektra Records, which would put out their next four albums. Edsel Records, in conjunction with Rhino, is now packaging the quartet of major label releases as remastered, bonus-track appended twofers. These two double disc sets, which sound excellent, deluge the listener in nearly 100 tracks of wildly divergent styles that present many pleasures, though also a few problems.

We begin in 1990 with Flood the album that introduced non-cultists to the quirky work of They Might Be Giants with the big college radio/MTV favorite “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and the reasonably successful follow-up “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. This album is a kaleidoscope of genre pastiches and bizarre teacher’s pet lyricism (history, science, and civics lectures are all on the lesson plan). Great tracks dominate—the singles, the go-going “Twisting in the Wind”, “Particle Man”, We Want a Rock”, “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair”—though They Might Be Giants’ attempts to work in African-American forms don’t really work, especially when they try to marry heavy-handed social commentary to phony funk on “Your Racist Friend”. Lounge lizard crooning over awkward reggae makes “Hearing Aid” another track that might have been better as a bonus track, particularly since Flood offers the fewest bonuses. There are only three: the neat mallet-trembling of “Ant”, “James K. Polk”, which will make another appearance a few records down the road, and the atmospheric show-closer “Stormy Pinkness”.

Despite all the styles They Might Be Giants run through over nineteen tracks of Flood, noisy guitar rock is on short order. They made up for that in 1992 with Apollo 18. Though it lacks an indelible anchor like “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, and it’s grunge-era arrangements deprive it of Flood’s sonic diversity, Apollo 18 is another terrific album. The opening track, “Dig My Grave”, is as intense as these intellectuals ever got, but the strings provide early indication that predictability still isn’t on Flansburgh and Linnell’s to do list. The single “I Palindrome I”, “My Evil Twin”, the ’50s-ish “Narrow Your Eyes”, and “See the Constellation” are other stand out rockers, though esoteric weirdness has not been left out on the porch completely. The disjointed “Spider” weaves a retro-horror vibe, and the single “The Guitar” deconstructs conventional pop, leaving shards of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” among the debris (this number also reappears in three remixes among the bonus tracks, two of which are long, lousy club mixes).

The strangest stroke of Apollo 18 is a cluster of seconds-long mini-songs called “Fingertips”. This piece was intended to provide zillions of possible listening experiences to listeners comfortable with the “shuffle” button on their CD players. In a major blunder of an otherwise well thought-out repackage, Edsel has included all 21 mini-songs of “Fingertips” as a single track, so you won’t be able to try out the shuffle-experiment with this new disc. Drag.

Having given their music a big fuzz-pedal boost on Apollo 18, They Might Be Giants toured the album with a proper band and then went into the studio with one to cut their third disc for Elektra. While rocking harder distinguished Apollo 18 from Flood and served its first-rate songs well, the group sounds a bit like they’ve rocked themselves into a corner on 1994’s John Henry. For the first time, They Might Be Giants sound like they’re trying to sound like the classic artists who’ve influenced too many other bands before them (the greasy Faces country rock of “Unrelated Thing”, the Kinks music hall of “Extra Savoir-Faire”, the Who-like rhythmic abandon of “Out of Jail”, the Brian Wilson production touches of “End of the Tour”). The more conventional music of John Henry is matched with overly polished production. The less conventional tracks sometimes gasp for inspiration. The Alice Cooper-tribute/piss-take “Why Must I Be Sad?” is a good song but listing Cooper songs for an entire verse is not one of TMBG’s cleverest brain waves. That they’d even sing about Cooper—or cover The Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica” in the same period (included among a weak crop of bonus tracks)—also indicate a lack of progressive ideas. While their jokiest ideas of the past were usually glued to listenable music, “O, Do Not Forsake Me” is not. As usual, there are still a number of really good songs—“Destination Moon”, “Thermostat”, “Subliminal”, “End of the Tour”, No One Knows My Plan”, “Out of Jail”—but John Henry is the work of a band that needs to huff some fresh air.

Cutting back on the overt weirdness and the sprawl may not have been every critic and fans’ idea of how They Might Be Giants should get their second wind, hence the unenthusiastic critical response to Factory Showroom ( gave it a mere two stars while The Rolling Stone Album Guide only improved on that score by half-a-star). This reaction reminds me of the near unanimous panning Guided By Voices’ similarly formula-breaking Do the Collapse received, and I think it’s nearly as unearned. While Factory Showroom is not as flawless as Do the Collapse (you read me right—it is flawless), it finds Flansburgh and Linnell serving up a series of superbly crafted pop and rock songs. “Till My Head Falls Off” and “Metal Detector” are two of their best big rock songs, and their cover of Cubs’ “New York City” is their most convincing blast of punk pop (the bonus track “Sensurround” is another top-notch rocker from this era). Oddly, the album’s most misguided track, the pale funk “S-E-X-X-Y”, was chosen as the single (it reappears in two different mixes, one of which is an interminable club one, at the end of this reissue). However, aside from that track and the equally misguided idea to muck up the otherwise good “XTC vs. Adam Ant” with pseudo-metal guitar noodling, Factory Showroom is full of good ideas and good songs worthy of reevaluation by the non-believers. Edsel’s new reissue is as good a place to get started with that as you’ll find.

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