Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: 'Fandom and The Beatles: The Act You've Known for All These Years'

No band can have a real career without fans. Fans are the bodies who crowd the floors at concerts, the wallets who purchase tickets and albums, and the voices who advertise their fave groups and recruit new fans. No band has had a career like The Beatles' and no fans have been as integral to the history of the band they worship as Beatlemaniacs have been. How many other fan groups have their own, widely known name? 

The ten essays in Fandom and The Beatles: The Act You've Known for All These Years look at different aspects of Beatlemania throughout history. Candy Leonard's "Beatles Fandom: A De Facto Religion" attempts to piece together a core Beatles philosophy mostly by cherry picking a dozen songs that support the band's "All You Need Is Love" ethos. The essay might have been more compelling and nuanced had it made room for the less palatable philosophies of songs such as "Taxman", "Dr. Robert", and "Run for Your Life". Punch Shaw's look at Lennon's role as cultural and political icon could have used more analysis and fewer objective bullet points of Lennon's most noteworthy and inflammatory moments, although Shaw's willingness to acknowledge Lennon's hypocrisies fleshes out the discussion a bit. Co-editor Kit O'Toole's essay on how Beatle fans engage with online media overdoes the statistics and underdoes the analysis. More insightful is Katie Kapurch's "The Beatles, Gender, and Sexuality", which challenges sexist stereotypes of Beatlemaniacs as mindlessly screaming girls. Other essays deal with fan fiction, cover bands, and how the young Beatlemaniacs of the twenty-first century express their fandom online and elsewhere. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Scat Records to Reissue Guided by Voices' Early Albums

Guided by Voices did not become indie It Boys until they released the critical favorite Bee Thousand in 1994, but the kings of lo-fi pop had been making great albums since their earliest days in the late eighties. For a long time, the only way to get those albums was in the Box CD box set that has been out of print for quite some time. 

That is about to change as Scat Records is releasing GBV's pre-Bee Thousand albums on multiple formats. The label had already rereleased 1933's Vampire on Titus last summer. Next month will see the release of the eclectic Propeller on vinyl, CD, and cassette for those who were always disappointed that Guided by Voices' albums don't sound quite shitty enough. 

After getting those two albums that immediately precede Bee Thousand out of the way, Scat will wind way back to the beginning and reissue GBV's LP debut, Devil Between My Toes, "in early summer-ish" according to the label's website. The site promises the rest of those early LPs (Sandbox, Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, and the spectacularly underrated Same Place the Fly Got Smashed) "over the next two years." Hopefully that will also include the R.E.M.-by-any-other-name mini-album Forever Since Breakfast.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Review: 'Joy and Fear: The Beatles, Chicago, and the 1960s'

The Beatles and Chicago, Illinois, were both very hot in the sixties. The Beatles were hot because they sold tons of records and concert tickets while radicalizing pop music, fashion, and attitudes about drugs, sex, and religion. Chicago was a volatile hotbed of violence and racism. In August, 1966, white supremacists pelted Martin Luther King, Jr., with rocks and racial epithets, prompting him to make the very pointed comment, “I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” Sixties Chicago was where the Catholic Church wielded extreme conservative power, segregation still prevailed, murder ran rampant, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention served as the site for an infamously violent clash between young protestors and the police.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Review: 'Relax Baby Be Cool: The Artistry and Audacity of Serge Gainsbourg'

Serge Gainsbourg didn’t have the most versatile voice in the world and he generally couldn’t be bothered with composing more than a verse and chorus and putting them on repeat, but he made the most of his musical limitations and lyrical advantages. In the sixties, only The Velvet Underground rivaled him for creative exploitation of repetition. For those of us who do not speak French, Gainsbourg’s gift for withering wordplay is lost, but there’s something about his monotone, sneering delivery that conveys all the cleverness and sleaziness that made him a superstar in his home country. There’s certainly no mistaking what’s going on once he starts grunting and Jane Birkin starts groaning in his signature provocation “Je t’aime … moi non plus” even if we miss the subtlety of lines like “Je vais et je viens entre tes reins (trans: “I come and I go between your kidneys”). I was so convinced that Gainsbourg was a wry comic genius and that perusing his lyrics would be more titillating than a metric-ton of dirty magazines that a few friends and I tried to learn French just so we could translate his songs when I was in my twenties (we did not get far).

Friday, February 12, 2021

Review: The Band's 'Stage Fright' 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

The Band were responsible for one of the most influential albums of the late sixties when Music from Big Pink helped spark the era’s “return to the roots” trend in 1968. They were responsible for one of the era’s very best albums when they released their perfectly crafted eponymous LP the following year. So The Band could be forgiven if their third album wasn’t quite as fresh or electrifying as their first two. Rather Stage Fright finds the quartet working in the deep groove they’d already etched out. “Strawberry Wine” is a return to the driving backwoods funk of “Up on Cripple Creek”, “Sleeping” is another delicate Richard Manuel vehicle in the model of “Whispering Pines” or “Lonesome Suzie”, and so on.    

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Farewell, Mary Wilson

The Supremes were America's number one hit-making machine of the sixties, and though Berry Gordy pushed Diana Ross to their frontline, the Supremes were very much a group. Behind Ross's brassy leads were the softer, sultrier sounds of Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. When Ballard left the group amidst unfortunate circumstances in 1967 and Cindy Birdsong stepped in, Mary Wilson remained a constant. Classics such as "Where Did Our Love Go", "Back in My Arms Again", and "Come See About Me" (in which she receives a neat namecheck) would be unthinkable without her. She also contributed leads to such tracks as "Baby Don't Go", a cover of the Vandellas' "Come and Get These Memories", "Floy Joy" and "Automatically Sunshine". 

When Ross went on to to a superstar solo career in the seventies, Mary Wilson remained the Supremes most dedicated torch bearer, sticking with the group through several more line ups, penning books about her days in the band, and often talking to and meeting with fans. By all accounts she was a charming and gracious woman as well as a stand-out talent. Sadly Mary Wilson died of unknown causes yesterday. She was 76.

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