Just a super quick post tonight as I drudge through hour 10 of a night shift at the hospital. It's nights like this, where time seems to move slower and all you can hear are the occasional buzzes and bleeps of machinery, that I see the one mistake I may have made by heading into a career in nursing: NO MUSIC.
Between this station in my life and the previous one where I played advertising copywriter, I found jobs at record stores in Chicago and Omaha. While the retail environment is definitely not for my personality (I have a short fuse when it comes to stupidity, and retail is littered with it. . . hell, thrives on it), the greatest thing about working in both of those stores was that -- no matter how bad my day got -- I was still listening to something I loved (most of the time).
At the last record store where I worked, Drastic Plastic, you could pretty much play whatever you wanted. Obviously, playing the music sold in the store was ideal, and we usually did because our store was set up for music snobs. The store prior to that was not so user friendly. It was independently owned, yet corporate in nature and size, so the soul the place probably had one or two decades prior had been sucked out and replaced by the thumping, bloodless organ of commerce. The owners were more strict about the music played in the store.
Luckily for me, as one of the night managers, once the owners left in the middle of the day, out came all of the required music and in went dozens of mix CDs I made for the place. The employees, for the most part, brightened up, especially once they realized they didn't have to listen to bad modern Gospel and white boy blues for the rest of the night. A lot of the customers appreciated the change, too. I remember one guy walking in with his girlfriend, stopping dead in his tracks, and exclaiming, "Who the fuck listens to Versus here?!"
The other night I began assembling songs for a future post on some of my favorite instrumentals. As I compiled my list, I came across a song that brought back memories of working in that store. And it wasn't that I was sitting there thinking, "Oh man, what a great song. Everyone in the store must have loved this one." On the contrary.
Imagine you're Joe Average Music Buyer. You're wandering around in a daze at a store somewhat like Tower Records or, hell, even something as lame as Sam Goody. Maybe you're looking for the new Dave Matthews, or the new Kelis, or a copy of that new Tommy Lee Jones DVD (we sold a lot of Tommy, so I'm not pulling that one out of my ass).
And then you hear this:
NOW, WITH WORKING LINK:
"Moya" by GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR!
What would you do if you were in Joe Average Music Buyer's shoes? Don't get me wrong, the song is completely mindblowing and gorgeous. . . but it doesn't exactly make you want to spend your savings on that Incubus CD you've had your eyes on (nor should it). If you're Joe Average Music Buyer, you probably run for the hills from the onslaught of classical music colliding with bombastic orchestral indie/prog rock. You certainly don't peel off a 10 spot and buy the brilliant Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada EP that hosts this and one other equally mesmerizing track.
Of course, it's also great because Godspeed You Black Emperor! pretty much despise the music industry, so I'd bet the boys in the band would get a good laugh knowing that this song probably drove an entire megastore of customers mad as it slowly, over the course of almost 12 minutes, grew to that explosive crescendo.
As I was enjoying the few hours of free time I have between quizzes and a long night of hospital work, I started listening to an old mix CD I'd made a few friends after moving to Chicago a few jumps back.
By moving to Chicago and abusing the resource of my friend Matt's pimped out Mac, I was finally able to break out the spindles of over 1,000 CDs I had burned over the prior 2 years as I sold off my CD collection disc by disc. Suddenly, I was able to pore over albums I hadn't heard in years, along with being presented with Matt's entire library. It was like someone had opened a store in my apartment and I got to play with everything. With an insanely cold winter to brave and no job to speak of, my free time was spent in front of Matt's stereo.
Before I'd left Philadelphia, I made my closest friends there a 6 CD mix, this massive box set thing full of some of my favorite tracks (a lot of which spoke to a theme of moving / leaving / getting the fuck out of Dodge). Not long after arriving in Chicago, I sent off a 4 CD follow up full of songs that had been my soundtrack as I'd wandered around the city, too broke to eat but never bored with my headphones on.
This afternoon, in no particular order, a few highlights from the 80+ songs on those 4 CDs:
"Lady Don't Tek No" by LATYRX: Finally. I've twice blogged about this song without actually posting it, so now I can finally be done. This is one of the greatest party songs of all time. Try it at your next suaree.
"There Was a Time (live)" by JAMES BROWN: I was tempted to post about The Godfather of Soul around the time of his passing, but I know so many other blogs out there would have handled it better. In my own little way, posting this track is my tribute to Mr. Brown, who brought this white boy more than I think I can really comprehend. If you're looking for one of the greatest live albums ever and you already own Brown's Live at the Apollo (either volume, really), check out Say It Live and Loud, which documents the mindblowing 1968 Dallas concert where tonight's song comes from. I swear I'm not burying you under hyperbole. It's so good that thinking about it right now just gave me goosebumps.
"Race Against Time" by PUBLIC ENEMY: This song was a highlight from a later period (and not very good) Public Enemy record, but it was always a hit between myself and a few close friends. Growing up, I was a huge Public Enemy fan, laregely because they pretty much legitimized hip-hop for anyone who doubted its sincerity, message or power. "Race Against Time" was, for me, their last Great song.
"Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That" by LIARS: I had bought, burned and sold the Liars' They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top before I ever heard a single note. It would be a year before it made its way into Matt's computer, and this song jumped right out of that little digital box and punched me in my soggy gut. A great tune for a subway ride, and the people around you who hear this coming out of your headphones will think you're absolutely insane.
"Trouble Everyday" by FRANK ZAPPA: I mentioned incendiary lyrics the other day when I was writing about the Dicks' "Dicks Hate the Police." This paranoid, angry pre-hip hop rant from Frank Zappa is the grandaddy of incendiary. "You know people, I'm not black but there's a whole lots of times I wish I could say I'm not white."
"Dissect" by the JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION: Orange was an album that pretty much carried me through college. I literally wore out my CD, and ownly had the vinyl version by the time I'd moved to Delaware. I finally got to relive its greatness as I darted through Chicago traffic, listening to Matt's digitized copy. It takes a special frontman to pull off yelling "FANTASTIC!" during one of your band's breakdowns, and Jon Spencer is that frontman.
"Lowest Part is Free!"
"Freezing Point" by ARCHERS OF LOAF: The Archers have got to be one of the most overlooked, greatest rock bands - indie or otherwise - to never have a real hit. "Lowest Part is Free!" pretty much speaks to frontman Eric Bachmann's realization that they will never be on the radio or playing stadiums. "Freezing Point" feels like the comedown after that realization. These two songs are paired together on the band's The Greatest of All Time EP, and they should really never be separated. It's pretty much a rule of the mix tape that you never put two songs by the same artist back-to-back, but "Lowest Part / Freezing Point" presents an exception.
"Ohio" by DAMIEN JURADO: This one broke my heart every time it popped up on my lonely walks, but I kept going back to it regardless. It always made me think about all the people I regularly disregarded or ignored, using my headphones to avoid humanity as much as I used them to wryly observe it. The opening lines alone, "Out from my window, across from the city / I have what's considered a good view / Two blocks from the subway, three from the fountain / I walk to break in my new shoes," as vague as they might be, struck me in my situation.
"Brakhage" by STEREOLAB: When you've found yourself rationing $4 a day for food to survive, hearing the repeated lyric "We need too damn many things / to keep our dazed lives going" becomes a sort of mantra. If you're ever bordering on homelessness in Chicago, give me a ring and I'll show you how to get by on hot dogs, noodles and dollar beers. I had even found a bar with a jukebox that gave you 11 songs for a dollar!
"The Cedar Room" by DOVES: For walking around among skyscrapers and dark alleys, there is no better song than "The Cedar Room." God only knows how many miles I pounded out of my sneakers listening to this song, biting my lip as I tried not to sing along as loud as I could.
"Sunset Coming On" by MALI MUSIC: Coming home music. The sun would begin to drop down behind those tall buildings and I knew I'd have to get back, by train or foot, before the temperature dropped significantly. Back to my roommates, take-out thai food, bad television and good conversation. I was poor in a strange world, but I had a great time.
It's Valentine's Day.
And really, that's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. I was going to compile a dozen or so love songs and then pair them off with a dozen or so songs for the jilted hearts out there in the world who spend days like today biting their lip and trying not to look like Public Display of Affection Day bothers them.
Personally (and this will surprise no one who knows me), I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day. Not because I disagree with the sentiments that come with it, but because I think it's silly to have a day where people treat other people the way they should treat them all of the time. Sure, chocolate is tasty, but do you really need Godiva one day a year to get that point across?
Just turn on your TV if you want a tribute to Valentine's Day. You'll find hundreds of lingerie commercials, "very special episodes" of your favorite sitcoms, and more guilt inducing ads for diamonds than you can bribe with a dozen roses.
For the rest of us, there is rock:
"Our Love Will Still be There" by THE TROGGS
"Our Love Will Still be There" by THE FLUID:
When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Brian and I both had a deep love for all things related to the Sub Pop record label. The label had two compilation albums in particular (The Grunge Years and Sub Pop 200, to be precise) that saw as our Bible, our guide to the bands we should be looking into. These albums featured early tracks from bands we would go on to love, like the Screaming Trees, Mudhoney and Nirvana. One band featured on both of those compilations was The Fluid, who showed promise with a decent song on each CD. As Brian soon found after ordering the band's debut EP and first album (paired together on the Glue/Roadmouth CD), The Fluid had already shot their load on those compilation tracks. The first song on the CD, "Our Love Will Still be There," was luckily worth the price of admission.
For years, Brian and I would be left to wonder how a mediocre band could have one great song like "Our Love Will Still be There." It was a complete mystery until the night of my 31st birthday two weeks ago, when my friend Mike made me a mix that featured the original version of "Our Love Will Still be There," performed by British garage rockers (who had a massive hit with "Wild Thing") The Troggs. Only a real music geek can relate to the feeling you get when you get scooped on one of your favorite songs, especially when you find out that song has been in existence for decades. The Troggs version is great, with a huge rolling bassline and a lazy pace. It even served to make The Fluid's take that much cooler, knowing now how they changed it to fit their own sound.
On that same mix from Mike was another revelation:
"Dicks Hate the Police"by DICKS
"Hate the Police" by MUDHONEY:
Once again, it was news to me that Mudhoney's classic "Hate the Police," one of my all time favorite anti-authority anthems, was a cover (I'm sure I could have avoided all of this by maybe reading my liner notes more closely). "Hate the Police" always seemed incredibly incendiary to me, with Mark Arm's screeching vocals handling the point of view of a typical meatheaded, violent, racist cop ("Daddy daddy daddy / Proud of your son / Got himself a good job / Killing niggers and Mexicans"). Now dial the clock back another decade and imagine how hair raising Gary Floyd's lyrics would have been in Reagan's America. That's hardcore in every sense of the word.
I love a good surprise, and I love music.
Happy Love Day, everyone.
BONUS ROSES (from Sub Pop 200 and The Grunge Years):
"Is it Day I'm Seeing?" by THE FLUID
"The Rose" by MUDHONEY
Who needs January, anyway?
In typical Pimps of Gore fashion, the two-year anniversary of this site came and went without note. Instead, as January 9th rolled around, I found myself re-enrolled in college and navigating my university's online education system like an old lady lost in the mall. Two years ago I was hiding from the cold in my Chicago apartment, writing about Guided by Voices. Today, I'm hiding from the Omaha cold in a couple of nursing textbooks. You get lamer every year, you know.
Anyway, I assure you, I'm back. I've paid up my GoDaddy fees and, at least for 11 more months, I'm going to keep driving this boat right into the ground.
And what better way to do that this afternoon than with a few songs by a little unsung 60s British Invasion group called the Rockin' Berries?
In all fairness to us, the listeners, the Rockin' Berries have probably remained unsung because they weren't that great of a band in the first place. I'm not going to sit here like Joe Obscurity Blogger and tell you, "These guys should have been as big as The Beatles!" That opinion is reserved for The Kinks.
The Rockin' Berries, however, had one song so great that it's hard for me to believe it never became even a minor hit in the U.S. I was watching an old movie called Pop Gear a few weeks ago, which features a huge assortment of British Invasion bands (including The Beatles and The Animals) lip synching to their hopefull hits. As I watched this movie, one "performance" in particular jumped out at me:
"He's In Town"
You know how the best part of Harry Belafonte's "Day-O (Bananna Boat Song)" is that falsetto "Wheeeee-ooh-eee-ooh-weee-um-mum-u-wayyyy"? The Rockin' Berries take that same moment and recast it as the most crushing part of this delicate little ballad about losing your girl to that great guy she's been pining for ever since he left town. That perfect, Frankie Valli-esque falsetto comes from one of the Berries' two vocalists, Geoff Turton. Further research showed me why this song jumped out at me immediately: it was originally written for the Tokens by genius songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King. (I vow to write a post in the near future about the undeniable pimpness of Carole King.)
I watched the Rockin' Berries scene another half dozen times before hitting the web to try and purchase the track. No such luck, so my hunt went deeper. . . and more illegal. Thanks to some rock fans on LimeWire, I found a few more Berries songs that I liked, but didn't love anywhere near as much as "He's In Town."
See what you think of:
"Itty Bitty Pieces"
"What in the World's Come Over You"
In the end, the Rockin' Berries were a decent band that marginalized itself through the career choices it made. According to Allmusic, the Berries were caught up in the idea of being entertainers - not just a band - and included a lot of novelty and comedy material on their records. They couldn't have anticipated how musician/lyricists like Bob Dylan were about to change the music industry forever by injecting an air of art and seriousness into rock music, a form that wasn't getting that kind of respect when bands like the Berries were on their way up.
Still, I think it's important not to forget songs as good as "He's In Town." It's always good to be reminded that even the seemingly insignificant bands in rock history contributed some great material to the form.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- Learn a lot more about the Berries here
- . . . or, here