Just a short post tonight... a few songs that have been playing on my computer this weekend while I've been working. I pulled a 14 hour shift on Saturday and thought I'd gone insane by the time I went home. Imagine sitting alone in a room, performing the same task repeatedly (in this case, assembling a few hundred coil-bound books) with 4 giant photocopiers running for hours on end.
For the first few hours I listened to as much upbeat music as possible. Kinks. Ramones. De La Soul. Eventually, all that upbeat stuff just wears you down. Your brain says, "Look, douchebag, I'm not as happy as Sly and the Family Stone right now."
So here are a few of the more contemplative, quiet songs I've been spinning:
Pedro the Lion "June 18, 1976": Sure, it's not the happiest little ditty about a woman abandoning her infant child and diving off the hospital roof. Like the short story writer Raymond Carver, no one will ever accuse David Bazan and Pedro the Lion of glossing over the ugliness of reality. I love this band, but it always seems like I have to go to the mat for them being Christians. People don't give a shit that Bob Dylan recorded pro-Christian albums, but when a little religion finds it way into indie rock, watch out for flying hipster bile. These guys are not DC Talk, so just calm down.
Archers of Loaf "Chumming the Ocean": This song isn't representative of the Archers "sound" at all, but it's one of the finest songs on their next-to-final album, ALL THE NATION'S AIRPORTS. If you ever need a good cry but can't eke out the tears, throw this desolate bastard on your stereo and try not to weep. "The water is red... red... red.... red." The rest of this album, along with the rest of the band's catalogue, is fucking fantastic.
Elliott Smith "I Don't Think I'm Ever Gonna Figure it Out": By now, anyone who knows how to navigate a music blog must know all about the sad life and demise of brilliant singer/songwriter Elliott Smith. This track is a b-side, and I think is taken from the actual 7" record. Essential stuff. If you haven't given the man an ear yet, I seriously implore you to buy at least one of these three albums: EITHER/OR, XO or FIGURE 8. XO is my personal favorite... so goddamned good. If I weren't so poor, I'd even declare a money back guarantee if you didn't like that album. It's an absolute masterpiece. Once you've been sucked in, defintely check out the posthumously released FROM A MANSION ON THE HILL. Check out the links below for some great Smith sites, a lot of which feature free downloads.
My posts never actually wind up being short, do they?
For more on these bands, click below:
Official Pedro the Lion site
Free Pedro downloads at Epitonic.com
Pedro the Lion's mail order site
Alias Records' bio for the Archers of Loaf
Web in Front, an Archers of Loaf fan page
Official Elliott Smith site (Check out the live videos!)
Sweet Adeline, an Elliott Smith fan site
I had to find some time to lock myself away in a room for a few hours and whittle down the next ten songs in my GBV 100. I have to get up early tomorrow, so there's no time for love, Doctor Jones. Let's get to it.
... My previous 20 songs: Big School, Gonna Never Have to Die, My Thoughts are a Gas, When She Turns 50, Tractor Rape Chain, Land of Danger, June Salutes You!, Smothered in Hugs, Now to War, A Crick Uphill, Things I Will Keep, Postal Blowfish, How's My Drinking?, The Tumblers, Lethargy, Game of Pricks, Lord of Overstock, Do the Earth, Ester's Day, Mother & Son...
I took a trip in 1999 with my friends James and Olivia to New York City to see GBV at the Bowery Ballroom. It was one of the hottest two days I'd ever experienced in my life. I swear to god, we saw a dead man laying on asphalt. He had to have been dead... no one could just cop a nap in that weather. Anyway, while we were in town, we went to a few record stores in the village and I found a vinyl copy of JELLYFISH REFLECTOR, a double-LP bootleg that featured a couple of bonus studio tracks. One of those tracks was"Pantherz", and it would soon become one of my all time favorite GBV songs and the only Pollard song I've ever played live myself. GBV fans may recognize the little guitar riff from "Don't Stop Now." Favorite lyric: "Debbie X I love you so / But there's one thing you should know / If he comes 'round here again / I will have to take my teeth out."
I must make a special note here. There's a certain muddiness in the sound on this track and it's because the song has only ever been available on vinyl. I would not have any digital copy of "Pantherz" if it weren't for the insanely gracious help of David, the host over at Large Hearted Boy. I am now knee deep in Pollard obscurities because of his kindness.
"Pretty Bombs" is a later-era song from UNIVERSAL TRUTHS AND CYCLES, one of the band's most underrated records. It has a few duds on it ("Car Language" still cracks me up), but for the most part it's a great merging of the prog-leaning stuff Pollard was drawn to and the melodic rock the band specialized in. Love the strings, and the Gillard solo(s).
"(I'll Name You) The Flame That Cries" is another b-side/obscurity, this time from the I AM A TREE single. This is just a totally awesome chunk of proggy cock rock, thanks to Doug Gillard on guitar. That the song builds to a crescendo just as Pollard is bellowing about a warlock's daughter makes it that much sweeter.
Sticking to the same era, I'm pulling out a few more songs from the superb MAG EARWIG! album. First there's the drunken, warbling glory that is "Bulldog Skin," born for massive radio but falling on deaf ears. There's a pretty funny video for this one out there somewhere (I think it can be found on the Matador "Everything is Nice" video compilation. For the rarity seeker, here is an acoustic live version of "Bulldog," recorded on a radio program.
From the same album, there's the simple but beautiful "Choking Tara." After enjoying the slower MAG EARWIG version, check out this faster, "(Creamy)" version.
"Why Did You Land?" is another song from their proposed but aborted POWER OF SUCK album. Here, we're back to an earlier lineup of the band, from the UNDER THE BUSHES UNDER THE STARS era. GBV rarely played this song live (if ever) after 1995. I would have killed to seen them do this at their final show in Chicago.
One song the band DID perform at that final show was "If We Wait", originally released on a 7" in 1993 and rereleased on the SUNFISH HOLY BREAKFAST CD. "Crying my life away" is the greatest lyric-as-emo-band-name ever.
"Drinker's Peace" is catchy little bummer from 1990's SAME PLACE THE FLY GOT SMASHED LP. This album has a ton of fantastic songs, including previous 100 entry "When She Turns 50" and a couple of future picks as well.
What's this week's pick from the flawless BEE THOUSAND record? Why, "Gold Star for Robot Boy," a song with a melody as genius as its title. Apparently, all instruments are being played by Robert Pollard, with the exception of the drums (handled by Don Thrasher). Ever since seeing the "Watch Me Jumpstart" documentary, I can't hear this song without thinking of that one super geeky kid singing along to this at a show with about 20 people in attendance.
I'm closing things up tonight with "Downed," a b-side from the BEST OF JILL HIVES EP. ("Hives" was one of the better songs from the EARTHQUAKE GLUE album and will probably wind up in the 100 at some point.) I guess, as a Cheap Trick cover, it isn't technically a GBV song and is questionable as a candidate for the 100. Too damn bad, because it's a fantastic cover and a step in a different direction for the band. It'll probably be the only cover to make the list.
This is going to be an insane week. I know my posting is sporadic at best, but I'm going to try real hard to get a few more entries in between all the work. I'm hoping to maybe get my next GBV post out in the next day or two, but for now, I can only offer a couple of songs that I've had on Repeat for the last few days. Just a few talented white guys with their stringed instruments.
As a born and bred Omahan, I must admit I've been a little surprised (and a little amused) at the attention that has been thrown the way of my old hometown in the past couple of years. Of course, I'm glad that guys like Cursive, The Faint and Conor Oberst have been put "on the map." (I personally think Cursive and Tim Kasher's side project, The Good Life, are the best things to come out of the town.) I must admit I've never been a huge fan of Oberst's music. It has nothing to do with the hype, and I don't think he's untalented. Just never did it for me. I'll be damned if I can deny "Landlocked Blues" from his new album I'M WIDE AWAKE IT'S MORNING. Maybe it's Emmylou Harris's riveting backing vocals, or that awesome horn bit near the end. Like I said, I'm not a huge fan, but I tip my hat to the skinny little bastard.
Now, you really want to envy someone? Take Chicago's Andrew Bird. Brilliant lyrics. Elastic voice. A virtuoso violinist who mixes classical music with indie pop (when he's not fronting Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, which throws in elements of jazz, folk and country) . Dare I say a damned handsome man, as well. I'm planning a full length post on Bird in the near future, when his new album THE MYSTERIOUS PRODUCTION OF EGGS finally sees the light of day. Until then, I'm dropping a new song from that record, "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left".
Another artist whose upcoming album is making me drool with anticipation is Josh Rouse, whose upcoming NASHVILLE record hits stores on February 22nd (overseas readers get the record on Valentine's Day... WTF?). The first single, "Winter in the Hamptons" is like a great lost Smiths song, and "Streetlights" is one of the prettiest songs the guy has ever penned. If you haven't already heard it, you should check out his previous album, a tribute to the music of his birth year called 1972 (Buy it!). Check out the title song, "1972". I'm planning another post for Rouse in the coming weeks as well.
How do you know Rod Stewart? Is he that shaggy haired old lady in your mom's CD collection, the one doing lame covers of old standards these days? Do you know him as the disco shithead from "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," or as the creepy middle aged man trying to get into young girls' pants, like in "Tonight's the Night?" Or maybe you remember him from (s)hits like "Love Touch," the theme song from LEGAL EAGLES.
Well, believe it or not, there was a time when Rod Stewart was cool. A brief window - in fact - that began in the late 1960s. Stewart began his career as the frontman for a few barely known bands like the Hoochie Coochie Men, or The Shotgun Express. In 1966, Stewart teamed up with ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck in the Jeff Beck Group. In that same band was future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood (who was playing bass for Beck's group).
In 1969 as the Jeff Beck group rose to power and then disbanded, Steve Marriott also left the Small Faces (he would go on to form Humble Pie). The remaining members of the Small Faces brought in Ron Wood and Rod Stewart (who had just begun a successful solo career), shortened their name and created one of the most fantastic yet unheralded rock groups of all time, the Faces. Wondering if you've ever heard them? If you've ever seen the end of Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE, you've heard "Ooh La La." Oddly, that was the only Faces track ever on record sung by Ron Wood.
While Stewart sometimes ceded vocal duties to Ronnie Lane, the man who actually wrote "Ooh La La," and some of the bands' other classics like "Debris", the Faces were largely Stewart's show.
Check out the first song the Faces ever recorded, "Flying." Who would have thought that a Scot would have pipes to sing like this? Stewart's raspy voice peaks like a distorted guitar and combines blues with glam rock. Hot stuff.
"Cindy Incidentally" is a bit more of a bluesy groove and shows off the Faces as the greatest bar band that ever was. "Had Me a Real Good Time" gives any of the Rolling Stones' 70s output a run for its money.
Many say that as a live band, the Faces were unmatched among classic rocks greats like the Who and the Rolling Stones. Part of that reputation is because the Faces' shows were one huge drunken party. Anyone who has read my Guided by Voices posts can appreciate the special breed of rock band that can pull off a flawless rock show while sauced. This live version of "Stay With Me" proves that the Faces were that band.
And just to show that they weren't just some sort of blues rock juggernaut, check out how the Faces, and more specifically Stewart, take absolute ownership of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" from another live BBC session. Ronnie Lane sings the introductory part just like Mac, and then Stewart comes in after the first few lyrics like a vocal fuzz pedal. The greatest thing about the Faces is their constant shifts in tempo, and this song has no shortage of ebb and flow.
Anyone curious about these guys should really check out FIVE GUYS WALK INTO A BAR, the superb 4 CD box set recently released by Rhino records. I couldn't recommend it more highly. If you're looking for a cheap deal, you might be able to find it for under $25 HERE.
FOR MORE ON THE FACES:
Rod Stewart fan club.
Their official site.
Buy merch from Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen.
Official info on the box set.
Ron Wood's official site.
I felt like having a little fun tonight. Instead of focusing on an artist or an album, I'm just going to throw out a few funky Beatles covers from a few funky individuals.
What brought this all about was iTunes. My roommate and I have amassed a huge collection of music on his computer, and we usually just let it play randomly whenever we're sitting around the house hanging out. I'm sure for those of you who have been listening to music on Random for a few years know the joy of submitting yourself to the whimsey of your computer when it comes to picking out music.
So, today as I'm sitting at the computer trying to force myself to work on a freelance project due next week, Aretha Franklin's version of "Eleanor Rigby" came through the stereo. I was about 40 seconds from the end of the song before I realized what the hell I was hearing. I didn't recognize it at all, and that's a sign of a well executed cover song. Aretha doesn't just breathe new life into this song; she changes the entire meaning of the lyrics with her delivery. Here, she isn't just wallowing in the loneliness. She openly pities folks like Father Mackenzie and all the other lonely people.
Another soul singer who completely revamps a Beatles' hit for the better is Al Green. His version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is -- dare I say it -- better than the original. The recording is so loose and full of life that you can hear Al's band rib him at the beginning of the track (whoever says "Shut up, Al Green," is surely having a good time). That slinky guitar and bouncing bass line are funky as hell, and Al will blast your ass out of your seat with his delivery on "I get high, I get high, I get hiiiiiiiigh." This song is getting played at my wedding.
Jimi Hendrix's "Day Tripper" isn't just face meltingly good -- it's also a totally live recording from the BBC. Listen to his radical take on the song, and take special note of Noel Redding's backing vocal (it was rumored for years that John Lennon's was the second voice) and Hendrix's searing solo which begins at the 1:24 mark. It's hard to believe that this version came only a couple of years after the original came out.
I owned the CD that contained Wilson Pickett's "Hey Jude" for about seven years before a vinyl jukebox in one of my favorite bars showed me the power in his rendition of this kinda-worn-out-McCartney-classic. Great horns in the coda, and again the guitar work shines.
For me, a true Beatles thread -- even if it's about cover songs -- can't end without some mention of George Harrison:
Take Nina Simone's "Isn't it a Pity." I think George Harrison's ALL THINGS MUST PASS may be my favorite solo Beatle record. George always seemed to be my mom's favorite in the group, so I always remember being mesmerized by her vinyl copy of this 3LP album. Funny that it would take almost 25 years for me to hear "Isn't it a Pity" and really have it hit home. On the night of September 11, 2001, I was playing ALL THINGS while watching footage of the day's carnage on Mute on my television. Harrison's "Pity" came on my stereo and I wept like I'd been trying not to all day. A few days later, my friend Sid told me that the only version of the same song she'd ever heard was Nina Simone's. She played it for me from a cassette and I was floored.
I'm closing things out with what isn't so much a cover as it is a re-imagining of the aforementioned Harrison track. CCC's "I Want Pity" is a "mash-up," where someone combines the elements of two different songs to make a new song. This track combines "Isn't it a Pity" with the slowed-down vocals of the Jackson 5 from their hit "I Want You Back." The genius of this mix is the fact that CCC (whoever you are) combines vocals from both songs without making the song a confusing mess. A well made mash-up can make you convinced that the new version of the songs has just as much right to exist as the base material. This one definitely pulls off that notion.
FOR MORE ON THE BEATLES, ETC.:
Their awesome site for the "#1s" album from a few years back.
Official site for the Capitol box set of albums.
Wilson Pickett in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame
The extraordinary Nina Simone
Official Jimi Hendrix site
Al Green's official page
Buy Al Green CDs
Welcome back to the second of ten installments on Guided by Voices, where I have undertaken the sadistic task of narrowing down the band's catalogue into my 100 favorite songs. Normally, picking even 20 of your favorite songs from any other artist could be a manageable task. Daunting, sure, but doable. Most other artists have about 1/10th to 1/20th of the songs in their catalogue. Most artists will never write a song as catchy as Robert Pollard's "Teenage FBI." And yet, that song isn't even in my top 100.
Luckily, I have my own historical insignificance to rely on here. No one knows who I am (and hopefully, few of you even give a shit), so I don't have to be "definitive." This isn't going onto the cover of Rolling Stone. In a perfect world it would, but this world sure ain't perfect. And really, the point isn't so much that these are my 100 favorite... the point is that you should buy all of these albums, EPs and more... and decide for yourself.
(For your reference, the previous 10 songs I posted: Big School, Gonna Never Have to Die, My Thoughts are a Gas, When She Turns 50, Tractor Rape Chain, Land of Danger, June Salutes You!, Smothered in Hugs, Now to War, A Crick Uphill)
I mentioned in my previous post my disappointment with DO THE COLLAPSE, the band's first "major label" release for TVT Records. I found the record to be a little too glossy and overproduced. Sanitized. Sober. Rumor has it that Ric Okasek, former frontman of The Cars and producer for bands like Weezer and Bad Brains, kept the band's drinking and partying out of the studio. While I'm sure all that drinking was disruptive to the studio process, at least the band would have sounded like they were having fun. One of the few songs I do like from that album (and the only song from the record to make this list) is "Things I Will Keep". I saw GBV play the Bowery Ballroom in NYC one hot July night before this album came out, and it was one of the best concerts I'd ever seen.
What do you call a real Guided by Voices geek? A postal blowfish. What does that mean, I don't know, but it's in reference to one of the greatest, most simple rock songs in the history of the genre: "Postal Blowfish". The whole song is basically a chord and a half. If you wanted to learn guitar this afternoon, you would have this song down within one hour. And like all great punk rock, that's all you need... a chord, a variation, and a whole lot of great lyrics to yell, like "Hold your tongue! Brace yourself!" Originally intended for the BEE THOUSAND album, this track found its way onto the KING SHIT AND THE GOLDEN BOYS bonus disc in the bands BOX set of albums. A second version was recorded for inclusion on the soundtrack to the bizarre and hilarious Kids in the Hall movie, BRAIN CANDY.
Here's a gear shift jarring enough to give you a nosebleed: "How's My Drinking?" We go from the previous simple ditty into an area of a little more emotional complexity. ISOLATION DRILLS was the band's second (and final) album for the TVT label. While the production was still top notch (and, for some fans, too glossy), the music on this album came from a far more personal place for Pollard. His marriage was on the rocks and he was separated from his wife. ISOLATION DRILLS is essentially his "divorce album" in the way that BLOOD ON THE TRACKS was Dylan's divorce album and HERE, MY DEAR was Marvin Gaye's.
We'll keep it mellow for another few minutes with "The Tumblers", from one of the band's earlier albums, DEVIL BETWEEN MY TOES. This song was recorded to 8-track in a garage, with Pollard on vocals and guitar, Mitch Mitchell on bass and Kevin Fennell on drums. I love the production here, and the way the song's bass and tempo emulate the tumbling in the title of the song. Pollard has a few songs with lyrics that seem almost like beat poetry (Richard Brautigan comes to mind): "House pet chasing birds across/the earth, big ground fading now - scope, span, girth."
"Lethargy" is a quick, sludgy dose of punk rock from 1992's PROPELLER. While I like the albums that came before this, PROPELLER seemed to be a sort of new era for the band, with faster, more rocking songs like "Exit Flagger" and "Under the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox." They must have found it special because in the first printing of 500 copies, the members of GBV hand-designed every single album cover. If you visit The GBV Online Database, you can find scans of dozens of these covers. The photo that ends this very post is one of those album covers. "Lethargy" is one of the most fun songs to see (or, I guess, to have seen) GBV play in concert. I wish I would have written the line, "I wish I could give a shit. Just a little bit."
It may only be a minute and a half in length, but "Game of Pricks" is a big fat melodious chunk of garage rock that immediately sticks in your brain. A live favorite, this track comes from ALIEN LANES. Sometimes Robert Pollard's lyrics can be mysterious and up for interpretation, and other times he can be an incredibly blunt, honest writer. This song has a little of both, "I've never asked for the truth, but you owe that to me."
UNDER THE BUSHES UNDER THE STARS is one of my favorite Guided by Voices albums. I finally got to see them live at a show in Columbia, MO, the year this album came out. It was a fantastic show, and more fun and rambunctious than any indie show I had been to at the time (save maybe the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion). I remember the band diving into "Lord of Overstock" and me thinking, "Wow, these guys are fucking heavy metal, too." It would be a few years before I'd hear "Lethargy," of course. Great bassline, great fuzzy guitar. I checked the GBV database and found that Robert Pollard is listed as playing every instrument on this song. Can any GBV fans out there confirm this for me?
Guided by Voices dug deep into their catalogue on their last few nights as a band, and one of the tracks they dug up was"Do the Earth". This track was a B-Side from the band's "I am a Scientist" CD single and is a great example of one of their early forays into a sort of garage/prog rock. It's sloppy and full of great lines like "Penetrator like a space invader -- Do the Earth!" A fun song to see played live.
I'm sure some of the Blowfish out there are wondering, "Dude, where is Tobin Sprout in all of this?" For years, until Pollard split the band after UNDER THE BUSHES, Sprout was the other songwriter in Guided by Voices. Tobin was quite gifted with a melody himself, as you'll see in "Ester's Day". This song originally appeared on BEE THOUSAND, and is the sole creation of Mr. Sprout (that is, of course, if you don't include the nutty introductory bit where Bob goofily sings about Jimmy the fly and his skin-tight buffoonery).
As far as I know, the only time Guided by Voices ever released the gorgeous "Mother & Son" was on the band's HARDCORE UFOs box set last year. As a pretty big fan of the band, I had already accumulated a lot of what was on that box set, but unreleased songs like this make the set worth every penny. I thought this would be a good song to end with for this week's GBV collection.
For more on Guided by Voices:
GBV Radio from Largeheartedboy
My ISOLATION DRILLS-era interview with Bob
Guided by Robert Pollard
Those 4 of you out there who visited my previous blog ("A Revolution in Getting Sleepy") before I figured out what the hell I was doing will probably recognize the majority of this post. That's because I wanted my first post ever to be about the under-appreciated genius of the music of Matt Pond PA. While you may have already read most of this review, I'm throwing on a bunch of extra tracks that I didn't include in that initial write-up.
I once wrote a review of Rogue Wave's debut album where I talked about how getting a promo CD from a record label can sometimes be a tricky thing. Sometimes, if an album is too good or hits too close to home, you catch yourself thinking, "This can't be this good. I'm being suckered." I remember getting Matt Pond PA's THE GREEN FURY in my PO Box in Hockessin, Delaware. I was working at a Direct Mail advertising agency, doing the corporate devil's work while writing a music column for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper on the side. Pond's label, Polyvinyl, sent me the disc without my even asking. It just showed up.
I was immediately floored. I brought the disc back inside the office with me and spent the whole day listening to it while slugging away at a credit card ad (and my own mortality).
A few weeks later, my company mercifully laid off a good chunk of its staff (myself included) and at the same time, a girl I thought I was falling in love with disappeared from my life. Trust me, it's a long story. My friend's dad died. My dad had a mild heart attack. It was not a good year.
This itsy bitsy review is a shard of what I owe Matt Pond and his excellent band for making THE GREEN FURY. I listened to that CD so much that I could hear it in my head when there was no music. Check out every single thing about "A New Part of Town". The production, done -- I'm guessing -- on the cheap (it's not like they're working with Justin Timberlake's budget), is lush and complex. Every single instrument on this track, down to the cymbals, has its own sensibility. Pond's vocals killed me, and if I've ever felt like the "ghost of the ghost" in my life, it was that winter. "Promise the Bite" is also from THE GREEN FURY, and has some of the best string work on the album.
The most amazing thing is that in the same year, Pond followed the flawless FURY with another gorgeous and pristine album called THE NATURE OF MAPS. I'm forever torn between deciding which of these two records is the better one. The album opens with "Fairlee", a thrilling burst of orchestral bombast akin to Rufus Wainwright's "Beautiful Child." (More on Rufus, and that track, in a later post.) For the rarity seeker, I'm also including the Jackson remix of "Fairlee", available on one of the band's tour-only CDs.
Picking out a favorite on MAPS is virtually impossible. There's "No More", with its intricate instrumental patterns and urgent vocals. And don't you just love that little reggae guitar that comes in and out?
Then you've got the upbeat "Promise the Party", and the absolutely epic "Summer is Coming". The latter track is a perfectly distilled 4.5 minutes of what this band sounds like. I love when that fuzzy bass line groans its way into the beginning of the song, and the sound of those military drums making the song chug along.
Closing off this entry is "Red Ankles", a song from a more recent release, the band's FOUR SONGS EP. Along with this great EP, the band's last album EMBLEMS is also amazing. And, they'll have a new EP coming out in a couple of weeks which features a few new tracks and some covers (including a cover of Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road"... you may remember it as the song that ends "National Lampoon's Vacation").
If you like any of the sounds you've heard here, I beg you to support this band in any way possible. Buy a t-shirt. See them live. Buy every single song they've put out, because they're all pretty damned good.
For more on Matt Pond PA:
Recent news on the band being featured on THE OC
Audible, featuring former MPPA members
January 8th was Elvis Presley's birthday. 70 years ago, Elvis was born in a two room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. While I forgot to get the big guy anything for his big day, I'm giving you some presents instead.
I'm worried about what the future holds for Elvis's legacy. I'm worried about the effect his Colonel-Tom-and-Las-Vegas downfall will have on how he is remembered in the history of rock n' roll. I'm worried that without the context of what was going on in the 50's before he catapulted to fame, people can't really understand how meteoric and powerful his fame was, and how much he paved the way for what we've had in the past 50 years.
Do kids listen to Elvis anymore, or do they just throw him over their shoulders like so much wrapping paper on their new Christmas toys? Do they know just how fucking PIMP this guy was before his weak will and misplaced trust in the people around him -- paired with the crippling solitude of MegaFame that only freaks like Michael Jackson can identify with -- literally stopped his heart dead?
Just listen to "Mystery Train." I could go on a road trip to just this one song. There's a bar in Chicago called Rose, and they have a jukebox full of 7" records. This song is in that box, and I play it every single time I'm in that bar. See, this was recorded in a time where people just stood around together in a room, said "Rolling," and recorded the fucking song. No overdubs, no 24-track machine. Usually just one or two microphones. One take, and everything must be perfect or you have to start the son of a bitch all over again.
I'm pretty sure every song I'm posting today was done in one take. These next two tracks for sure. "Trying to Get to You" was recorded during rehearsals for Elvis's famous '68 Comeback Special, with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, Elvis's original drummer and guitarist. These rehearsals saw Elvis going back to his roots, and the recordings are raucous fun. If I ever figure out time travel, I'm going to be in that tiny audience, watching these guys goof off together. Listen to Elvis's voice as he starts screaming on the bridge! The band also performed one of my favorite Elvis songs, "Love Me". I love the sloppy percussion and the backing vocals.
Obviously, my love for Elvis leans towards his younger, less flashy years. I just think this era is as pure as rock gets, and I've always thought it's the best place to take someone who might think, "Isn't he that sequined, sweaty jackass?" Try to front on "Any Way You Want Me (That's How I Will Be)." You can't! There's just too much damn soul there. And then you've got Elvis-as-Lou-Barlow with the total lo-fi beauty of "Blue Moon." So solemn and sad. This was a hit record? Just a little plunked guitar, some hushed, ghostly vocals and an almost invisible bass line.
And to close off my rant on the pimpness of Elvis, here's a little snippet of movie dialogue where Elvis talks about starting your own record label. Start your next indie rock mix tape out with this track.
I'm going to finish things off the same way I did for Jeff Buckley the other day, with a little tribute song to The King from Gillian Welch. "Elvis Presley Blues" is from her album TIME (THE REVELATOR). It's a damn fine tribute to the mystique of this young southern boy who loved his mom and changed the world. See, Elvis dropped by a Memphis studio one day in 1953 to record a song as a gift for his mother. For $4, he recorded "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." The rest is history. Think about that when Gillian sings "He put on a shirt his mother made and he went on the air." Here, check out a live version of the same track. Both feature Welch's sometime musical partner, David Rawlings.
FOR MORE ELVIS:
Official Elvis Site
Elvis and His Controversial Dancing
Buy ELVIS 56 immediately!
It's my second post, but if any post were ever to reward me with a cease-and-desist letter from a lawyer, it'll probably be this one. Not because it's controversial, but becauseJeff Buckley's music is a surprisingly well policed commodity by his mother, the keeper of his musical legacy. The woman stopped an ebay auction I was doing once, for an extremely rare copy of Jeff's PEYOTE RADIO THEATER CD. Try selling a Jeff Buckley guitar pic or autograph on Ebay. Not gonna happen... her grip -- and her science -- is too tight, yo.
Damn it all. It's worth the risk.
I'm sure you all know the tragic story of Jeffery Scott Buckley. Musical prodigy. Son of folk singer/70s rock jazzbo Tim Buckley. Jeff's dad abandoned his wife and child and rarely saw his son as he grew up. Tim Buckley died in his late 20s and left a shadow over his son's life that would linger large the week Jeff's body went missing after swimming in the Wolf River (an offshoot of the Mississippi, and a dangerous place to swim). Unfortunately, his body eventually washed ashore and his status quickly went from "missing" to "tragically dead."
I would have preferred it if his body were never found. I was crushed by the possibility that he was dead, but I had a glimmer of hope that Jeff had become overwhelmed with writing a follow up to GRACE, his debut full length album, and just ran off. That CD was a hit with critics, and Jeff's career showed nothing but promise. He shows on the album that he can do a little bit of everything... from R&B ("Lover You Should Have Come Over") to paint peeling art/alt.rock ("So Real"). Then you've got the stellar covers of Leonard Cohen/John Cale ("Hallelujah") and Nina Simone ("Lilac Wine").
Jeff had moved to Tennessee and hoped to record his next album there. He bought a tiny home and began some 4-track recording. He had been playing weekly shows at a little local bar. On the night his band was flying to town, he went for a swim and drowned. He was last seen swimming on his back, looking up at the sky and singing Led Zeppelin.
Below you'll find a couple of early performances from Jeff, plus one of the songs he had recorded on his quest to make his sophomore album. You'll also find a track he guested on and two tribute songs from a couple of folks you might know. To download songs, right click the title and save to your computer. To listen, simply click the title.
"Curtains" is a cover of an Elton John/Bernie Taupin song, found on John's CAPTAIN FANTASTIC AND THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY album. Jeff has also covered "We All Fall in Love Sometimes" from this same album. This performance is from 1992 and was taken from a show called The Music Faucet, on WFMU in New Jersey. It's a solo performance, just Jeff and the DJ in a booth, chatting for about 90 minutes. In this same set, Jeff does (by the request of the radio station's janitor) a hilarious, note-perfect cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Alligator Wine," monkey noises and all. If there had been Jeff Buckley stock available for purchase after this show aired, I would have gone all in.
"Be Your Husband" is another Nina Simone cover, this one taken from the "deluxe" edition of Jeff's debut CD, Live at Sin-e. This is basically Jeff performing in a coffee shop that is smaller than most Taco Bells, for a crowd of maybe 30 people TOPS. You can hear coffee being ground right at the beginning of the song. Imagine sitting down to read your newspaper in your favorite little coffee shop in New York, and hearing this guy belt this fucking jam out without even touching his guitar yet.
"Vancouver" is from the posthumous SKETCHES FOR MY SWEETHEART THE DRUNK. I have no idea where Jeff wanted to go next, but this is a pretty cool indicator of one direction.
Now we've got Patti Smith's "Beneath the Southern Cross", a song from Smith's GONE AGAIN. This album was Patti Smith's dedication to the life and death of her husband, the MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith. Jeff pops up in a couple of places here, but it's his brief, 20 second backing vocal at the end of "Beneath the Southern Cross" that always sends chills up my spine. I'd love to hear the studio tape of this... just his vocal, turned up as loud as possible. I don't even know what he's singing, but it's beautiful.
I've read that PJ Harvey had forged a friendship with Jeff, so she's probably speaking pretty explicitly about the guy in "Memphis". This one has a spooky set of backing vocals that all sound like Jeff.
Rufus Wainwright's Buckley ode, "Memphis Skyline," is a newer addition to the Jeff Buckley worship in the world, showing up on Rufus's WANT TWO. Wainwright's cover of "Hallelujah," which I believe found its way onto the SHREK soundtrack, always seemed a little redundant to me. You can't out-pretty JB on that song, no matter how good your voice is, Rufus. This song is a much better tribute.
For more on JEFF BUCKLEY:
At about 3:30 A.M. in Chicago on the first day of this year – not more than 2 miles from my apartment – one of my favorite bands ended their career. After a final, 4+ hour concert to ring in 2005, Guided by Voices was no more.
I have been a pretty rabid fan of Guided by Voices for about a decade now. (Sadly, I spent the night in bed, recovering from god knows what.) I began hearing about the band in the Spring and Summer of 1994, right before I moved away from home for school in Columbia, Missouri. The stories I read of a schoolteacher in Dayton, Ohio, leading a pack of regular guys on a sort of rock fantasy intrigued me. When I was a kid, I used to invent band names, song lyrics and even draw fake album covers. Here were a bunch of grown men who started a band by doing the exact same things.
Reviews and articles kept mentioning the band’s landmark record, BEE THOUSAND. Since I was a now freshman in college, I had no friends, nothing to do and nothing to spend my meager funds on besides CDs. One night, I went into “downtown”Columbia and followed a movie with a trip to a record store downtown. I was searching for BEE THOUSAND, but they had none. The one thing they DID have was BOX, the collection of Guided by Voices first 5 albums (plus a bonus disc of unreleased material). Having never heard a single note from this band, I proceeded to buy 5 of their records at once.
I learned two important things as a GBV Fan that day: Guided by Voices has a TON of music, and sometimes the stuff the band just threw out – like “Postal Blowfish” on that bonus disc – are their best songs.
I was thinking about Guided by Voices this week… thinking about that show, and what songs I would have liked to have heard at MY final GBV show. I even tried to make up a playlist on iTunes to represent that final dream gig. The playlist wound up being 120 songs and 6 hours long.
My task is now to whittle that 120 down to a simple 100, and post those songs for you right here. Now, my bandwidth can’t handle that kind of a load, so what I’m going to do is post 10 songs at a time over the course of 10 (or so) weeks. I’ll still be keeping up with my other regular posts, but once a week, you’ll probably find another 10 GBV tracks available here.
If you like what you hear, please do everything in your power to hunt down these albums, or any other GBV releases you may stumble across. There are thousands of songs… one of them is bound to change your life.
Click the song title to hear the track. To save it to your computer, right-click the song title and click SAVE/SAVE FILE AS in the drop down menu. And now, in no order whatsoever, the first 10:
”Big School” from STATIC AIRPLANE JIVE: There aren’t many bands (as a matter of fact, I can’t think of another) who have songs that I will actually yell for at a show. I usually never do it, but with Guided by Voices, I can’t help myself. “Big School” is one of the songs I always yelled for… but only heard them play once. I even got to interview Robert Pollard once and he said he didn’t like performing that song live because “I just don’t like yelling ‘big school’ over and over again. But don’t stop yelling for it. We’ll play it.”
”Gonna Never Have to Die” from HALF SMILES OF THE DECOMPOSED: This is off the band’s final album. It makes me think of The Pretty Things’ SF SORROW. This one is for anyone who thinks the band is only as good as its old material.
”My Thoughts are a Gas” from the WHAT’S UP MATADOR? comp: Another great “unreleased” song. Bob’s vocals break my heart here… something about the way he says “My thoughts are a gas, I’m not gonna crash” and the screamed beat poetry rant he goes on at the end.
”Tractor Rape Chain” from BEE THOUSAND: I love everything about this song. The sound of the home recording. The melody. Bob’s incomprehensible but undeniably awesome chorus: “Parallel lines on a slow decline/Tractor rape chain!”Buddy, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but I’m buying you a beer.
”When She Turns 50” from SAME PLACE THE FLY GOT SMASHED: This is from one of GBV’s earlier records, and is one of their best songs about getting drunk and growing old. This is a guy in his living room, strumming a guitar and tossing off a better song than you will ever hope to write.
”Land of Danger” from FOREVER SINCE BREAKFAST: This is from the band’s debut EP. I couldn’t get a hold of this until it was released as part of a box set last year, but I’m glad I finally have it. The EP is a great mixture of Wire, R.E.M. and a little Husker Du, as you’ll see here.
”June Salutes You!” from the OFFICIAL IRONMAN RALLY SONG EP: That’s Kim Deal from the Pixies/Breeders on backing vocals. From what I’ve read, Pollard and Deal became friends/drinking buddies through GBV’s bassist-at-the-time, Jim Greer. The lyrics reference Tammy and the Amps. Kim Deal had a side project called The Amps. All kinds of incestuous Ohio stuff going on here.
"Smothered in Hugs” from BEE THOUSAND: This song should be covered by everyone, the same way people always cover McCartney’s “Yesterday.” It’s about a pied piper type character and the kid who follows him out of town, begging him to “teach me all you know.” I always think of Raymond Carver when I hear this whole chunk of lyrics: “In the winter that you left, there was business as usual with the same old fears and frustrations.”
”A Crick Uphill” from the HOLD ON HOPE EP: More proof that sometimes you have to hunt to find the better GBV material. “Hold on Hope” is, in my opinion, the lamest song Guided by Voices have ever recorded. Even if the sentiment behind it was 100% genuine, it still happens to appear on DO THE COLLAPSE, the band’s Ric Okasek-produced stab at mainstream success. I have only one song from this CD left in my digital library, that’s how little I liked it. But if you’re a drooling fanboy like I was, you would have tracked down this EP and discovered that it had SEVEN great songs on it, all of which should have made it to DO THE COLLAPSE before most of the songs that did make the album. I don’t know if they ever did this one live, but I would have screamed for it regardless.
”Now to War” from MAG EARWIG!: This week’s 10 ends with a song from the album Bob Pollard recorded with Cobra Verde. Bob would subsequently steal guitarist Doug Gillard and form GBVmach2, prompting every hipster in America to choose: old sloppy GBV or new streamlined GBV? This album came out at a rough time in my life and I listened to it a lot in the summer of 1997. Even the hard rocking songs on this album, like “Bulldog Skin” and “I am a Tree,” hint at some sort of loss or tragedy. I had a huge falling out with one of my best friends in the world and I’d drive around alone, singing along to this record and thinking about the whole situation. “I am only breathing, breathing around.”
FOR MORE ON GUIDED BY VOICES:
GBV 24 Hour Radio