Crawling From the Wreckage

This live version from 1980, is like the studio version, full of Lowe-isms while popping Dave Edmunds up front. I’m sure that’s Elvis Costello introducing the tune, by the way.

I’m not sure of the pedigree of this Graham Parker version. He wrote the song, of course. It’s certainly styled less to please pop, more skiffle and Dylan than Chuck Berry. But Parker knows how to sing and that drummer knows how to make a shoe box rock. For better or worse, you decide that, Parker gives his words more attention here.

Song of the Week – Shake Some Action, Flamin’ Groovies

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Today’s SotW is the 500th song featured since this thing started in February 2008. Thanks for your continued feedback and support. T

I recently finished another great rock music history by Greil Marcus – The History of Rock ’N’ Roll in Ten Songs (Yale University Press, 2014). It’s a terrific book and I highly recommend it if you like intelligent, intellectual rock history.

The first song he chooses is “Shake Some Action” by the Flamin’ Groovies.

The Flamin’ Groovies were a San Francisco based band that formed in the mid 60s and lasted through the 70s as the core band. Different configurations gigged until 1992 and there have been a few reunions in the 2000s. This band never achieved the fame they deserved as pioneers of the power pop genre.

“Shake Some Action” was the title song from their fourth album, released in 1976. The song was produced by Dave Edmunds, a British pub rocker that is no stranger to cutting a pop hit.

Marcus makes his case for “Shake Some Action’s” importance in the history of Roc ‘N’ Roll thusly:

‘The story told in “Shake Some Action” is complete in its title – though in the song it’s a wish, not a fact, a desperate wish the singer doesn’t expect to come true. The words hardly matter: “Need” “Speed” “Say” “Away” are enough. It starts fast, as if in the middle of some greater song. A bright, trebly guitar counts off a theme, a beat is set, a bass note seems to explode, sending a shower of light over all the notes around it. The rhythm is pushing, but somehow it’s falling behind the singer. He slows down to let it catch up, and the sound the guitar is making, a bell chiming through the day, has shot past both sides. Every beat is pulling back against every other; the whole song is a backbeat, every swing a backhand, every player his own free country, discovering the real free country in the song as it rises up in front of him, glimpsing that golden land, losing it as the mirage fades, blinking his eyes, getting it back, losing it again – that is its reckless abandon, the willingness of the music, in pursuit of where it needs to go, where it must go, to abandon itself. “You have to go into a crowd and do something they can’t,” [Neil] Young said that day in 1993. “Some of them are hearing it and some of them aren’t, but it doesn’t matter. The idea is the tension.”

In “Shake Some Action,” the tension is there from the first moments – that count is a count to the end, the dead end, the door you’ve locked from the inside and can’t open, and the whole song can feel like an attempt to escape the tension, to let it dissipate, until the musicians no longer remember that the theme that kicked them off was fate. Here, every element in the music is a leap. As different parts of the song slow, as others pick up speed, depending on where you are, which wave in the song you’re riding, the sense of imminent loss can disappear – and then the singer drops back and there is a guitar, more than a guitarist, replacing the story you’ve heard with one you haven’t.

It’s what the singer is afraid of losing defined now purely in the positive, as flight, as freedom, in Norman Mailer’s words loose in the water for the first time in your life, because no matter how many times in how many pieces of music you are swept away at the instrumental passages in “Shake Some Action” can sweep you away, it’s always the first time. When the guitarist steps onto the magic carpet of his first solo, it is a picture of everything the singer is certain is slipping away from him, but it is not slipping away, it is present, you can hold it in your hand, see it glow. At the end, the guitarist again steps forward – and while the notes played might on paper be the same as they were before, in the air they are speaking in a different tongue. The drum roll that has tripped the song into the instrumental passage that will end it has tripped it over a cliff, and you feel not the worth of what the singer wants, but what it was worth, before it vanished, before it went back beyond memory, into fantasy, as if desire never had a face. Is that why you have to play the song again, to make it come out differently? Or because you can’t live without that beat?’

Alright!

I can’t end this post without answering the question I know you all have – What are the other 9 songs? Marcus often makes his case by discussing multiple versions of a song but I’ll just list the originals:

Transmission – Joy Division
In the Still of the Nite – The Five Satins
All I Could Do Was Cry – Etta James
Crying, Waiting, Hoping – Buddy Holly
Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong
This Magic Moment – The Drifters
Guitar Drag – Christian Marclay
To Know Him Is to Love Him – The Teddy Bears

Enjoy… until next week.

Night Music: Television, “Glory”

My friend Michele Friedman and I have been searching for some interesting music to see live for a while now. I tried to get us tix to the Replacements tour but got aced out; however when I saw Television was going to be playing the Fillmore, I knew she, and our friends Leslie and Lisa would be down.IMG_0355

I was right, and last Tuesday we crossed the bridge and saw Tom Verlaine and his crew deliver a sonically beautiful set, pulled largely from their best known piece, Marquee Moon.

Truth is the band was lots better than I imagined, with very clear guitars ringing through Vox AC30s (not that I imagined them being bad, they just completely exceeded expectations).

It was good to see Verlaine and company: none of us had ever seen them before though I was a tad bummed they played very little from the second album, Adventure which includes my favorite song from the group, Glory.

So, here it is last year in Copenhagen.

Song of the Week – When Things Go Wrong, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters

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Today’s SotW is “When Things Go Wrong” from the eponymous debut album by Robin Lane & the Chartbusters.

Although this album didn’t come out until 1980, Lane already had an established pedigree in the music business. The daughter of Ken Lane (Dean Martin’s pianist on The Dean Martin Show) and wife (for a couple of years) to The Police’s lead guitarist Andy Summers, Lane performed folk rock around LA in the late 60s and early 70s. She caught the attention of Neil Young who brought her in to contribute that haunting harmony vocal on “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Somewhere around the mid/late 70s Lane moved to the east coast and ended up in Cambridge, MA where she hooked up with the Chartbusters — Asa Brebner and Leroy Radcliffe (who had been with Jonathan Richman and the post “Roadrunner” Modern Lovers), Scott Baerenwald and Tim Jackson.

With the Chartbusters she played a brand of harder rock that often led to comparisons with Pat Benatar and Heart. But she always seemed to me to be closer to Chrissie Hynde.

I saw them perform live in Boston a few times and remember that their three guitar attack was exhilarating.

When their album came out, I remember being very confused by the cover art. It didn’t seem to fit the band I had seen live. Warner Brothers seemed to try to soften their street cred by putting her in spandex (Pat Benatar again) and a stupid stripped sweater. I read an interview with Brebner and he seemed to agree.

“I still cringe at that album cover, which I think largely sunk us as a candy-ass major label contrivance to those uninitiated to our music. The music itself was watered down enough so it could not overcome that basically cosmetic impression that the casual record store [browser] would garner on seeing it in the bins. It didn’t represent us, and I felt cheated.”

Lane & the Chartbusters went on to put out a fine 5 song, live EP and a second album, Imitation Life (1981), but they never garnered the acclaim that they deserved. Damn that album cover!

In 2014 her drummer bandmate Tim Jackson, produced, directed and premiered a film called When Things Go Wrong – Robin Lane’s Story that documented her work. Hopefully it will receive a general release sometime soon.

Enjoy… until next week.

Some Call It History But Not Many

I haven’t played in that many bands but my favorite by far was Fun No Fun. We’re having a reunion (minus Nicky which is minus a lot) on July 22nd in Northampton, MA. John Rennau is turning 60 on that date, as I turned 60 a few weeks ago. We were in kindergarten together.
But we weren’t in bands together until our mid-20s, mostly because Johnny Er was living in Colorado from ’74-79. After The Sinatras collapsed in 1980, Nicky and I kept playing together and Johnny Er eventually joined us. One night at the rehearsal studio we ran into Andy Towns, who was auditioning girl singers for his songs. The girls were gone but Andy stayed and we played some Slumlords tunes and just rocked them to bits. I said to Andy “We should start a band.” He nodded eagerly. Thus were The Femme Fatales born. Not my name, too generic and blah I said, but Andy insisted, saying it’s not generic to the public. The idea was to do Andy’s songs – he had about 50 – with three girl singers up front and a roaring rocknroll train behind them. I still think it’s a great idea and to this day it has never really been done. As fate would have it, this song came up on my Pandora tonight and it’s pretty close to what we sounded like. I like to think we snarled more but I like it.

The main reason it didn’t work was that the girls couldn’t hear themselves over the band. The girls were trying to, I don’t know, sing, and we were really loud. The volume problem then is not a problem now, by the way, what with better tech. Anyway, they did fine in practice but onstage at CB’s they fell apart. For all the great sound system at that club, the stage monitors sucked. Sally, Helen and Janice couldn’t hear themselves and they lost the harmonies. There is a tape of that show off the board, really good audio, and it just breaks my heart – the band is so on and the singing is so off it was painful at times. We got an encore out of politeness, and closed by doing Chinese Rocks without the girls, who were off screaming at each other. It’s killer. And that was the end of that band – although we had a gig 3 days later at the Left Bank in Mount Vernon. We did that gig as a foursome, alternating the vocals between me and Andy with Johnny Er helping. There was a tape of that show too and it was a great set. I was all for plunging ahead.
But Johnny Er wanted to play guitar, not bass. At that time I was just married, a baby on the way, fed up with the whole band bullshit thing, and in no mood to start all over. I did still love playing, as I do to this day, but as a life there was just no good reason to endure what had to be endured, and inflict it on my wife and child, with a very possible pile of shit at the end of the rainbow. The music I wanted to play turned out to be cult-popular at best. That’s a sad fact but it’s a fact.
John met a songwriting guitar player named Cindy Pack and they formed the Desolation Angels, to which John brought some fine rocking melodies. They made a good 45 which I don’t have digitally, but here is a live at CBGB version of the A-Side “Shangri-La” from John’s next band Reverba, with my boy ripping out some electric 12-string.

(to be continued)

Song of the Week – Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me), Reunion

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Today’s SotW is a guilty pleasure dating back to 1974, the year I graduated from high school. Maybe it’s that connection that keeps the song so fondly in my memory. It is “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)” by the fake band Reunion.

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Pooh Sticks. On their web page (thepoohsticks.blogspot.com) they did a countdown of their top 50 songs. “Life Is a Rock” came in at #17.

Joey Levine, the song’s lead singer, was also involved in other fake bands including bubblegum music giant The Ohio Express (“Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy).

This single established the template for songs with scores of cultural references spit out in a machine gum like, rapid fire delivery. R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (1987) and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989) followed in a similar vein.

Listen closely… some of the references are pretty hip for 1974, bubblegum music fodder.

Enjoy… until next week.

Afternoon Snack: Joni Mitchell, “Amelia”

I know Joni has caused a lot of buzz on the site, but aside from the fact that I love this cut from Heijara, I have been wanting to write for weeks about my concern for Mitchell, who has been hospitalized for months due to an unspecified illness (it was rumored to be a stroke, and Joni was similarly said to be in a coma, but the latter information is untrue per her official web site).

But, the other day, our Remnants mate Peter lost his father, and well, I figured I would post this both just to keep Joni–an exceptional artist and creative force–in our thoughts, as well as Peter and his father.

I think that it is all I can possibly say, because the song and Joni really do it better. Just close your eyes and listen. And, that is Pat Methany on guitar, and the late and equally wonderful Jaco Pastouris on bass.

 

Extra Song of the Week – The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, The Firesign Theater

I just learned that Phil Austin of the Firesign Theater has passed away. He was 74. Although the Firesign were not musicians, they’re brand of comedy epitomized the spirit and culture of Rock ‘n Roll.

When I was in college, my roommates and I listened “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger” (and all of their other routines) endlessly. We knew and could recite the dialog by heart.

I brought one of their films (Everything You Know is Wrong) to campus and once did a 4 hour Firesign marathon on WZBC (Boston College radio).

I also finally got to see the group perform at Boston’s Orpheum Theater, I think it was the late 80s (could have been early 90s). They were great sports, letting the audience recite all of their most popular lines.

Since Peter Bergman died in 2012, the Firesign Theater is down to two. That is sad news.

RIP Phil (Nick Danger) Austin. You will be missed.

Song of the Week – More Songs About Chocolate and Girls, The Undertones

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The Undertones were a late 70s/early 80s rock band from Derry, Northern Ireland. Their brand of three chord pop punk led to comparisons to Sire label mates, The Ramones. Their songs dealt primarily with teen subject matter, mostly girls and such. (They steered away from political subject matter such as the violence and conflict they were surrounded by at home during “the troubles.”)

They gained their first notoriety when the influential British DJ John Peel championed the band by playing their first single, “Teenage Kicks”, twice during one radio program. He famously named it his all-time favorite song – in fact, a line from the song (“Teenage dreams so hard to beat”) is inscribed on his gravestone.

Today’s SotW is the lead off cut from the band’s second album Hypnotized (1980). It is the tongue-in-cheek titled “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls.” It also pays tribute their other Sire label mates, Talking Heads, whose second album was called More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978).

It comes on with a catchy guitar lick and friendly reggae lilt. It could be a peppier cousin to The Clash’s version of “Police and Thieves.” Later, lead singer Feargal Sharkey implores with his unmistakable warbly vocal:

Sit down, relax and cancel all other engagements
It’s never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment

Ain’t it the truth!

Enjoy… until next week.