Song of the Week – Blackbird, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, The Beatles

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

As I write this I’m aware the 50 years ago today, the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios recording The Beatles, better known as the White Album.  Recording of The Beatles would eventually be completed on October 14th and it would be released on November 22, 1968, just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree for millions of adoring fans.

I love the White Album and will probably post about it again before the end of the year.  But I’ll start with today’s observation that it is the Beatles’ animals album.  Well what the hell does that mean?

There are four songs on the album that specifically mention an animal in the title:

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

Martha My Dear was written about Paul’s sheep dog, but does not explicitly mention it in the lyrics.  However, there are several other songs that do mention animals in the lyrics.  “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun…”  “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…”  And several more.  Go find them.

Today’s SotW are the three that were presented all in a row on Side 2.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Onion, Shannon and the Clams

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Shannon and the Clams is a band based out of Oakland, CA that played the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last night.  Next, they’re off to Europe.

The band is shaped around songwriters Shannon Shaw (bass/vocals) and Cody Blanchard (guitar/vocals), and supported by Nate Mahan (drums) and Will Sprott (keyboards), 

Their latest album, Onion, was released last February.  I’ve been listening to it a lot.  If you think you would enjoy a modern take on ‘60s girl group music, you need to check them out.

Onion was partially inspired by the December 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in their hometown that took the lives of 36 people.  This touched the group deeply because the Ghost Ship was a haven for local artists and musicians – and was a place that Shannon and the Clams had performed.

It was hard to decide which cut to feature as today’s SotW, but I settled on the title track.

“Onion” contains all of the elements that make me a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ music.  It’s part Del Shannon, part garage rock (fuzzed guitar), part soul, with a power pop twist.  It straddles the space between the campiness of The Cramps and the oldies covers recorded by Blondie (“Denis Denis” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too”).

The lyrics to “Onion” are simple, but interesting – dealing with the “layers” of personality of those afflicted with mental illness.

Well I’m working on it
Holy shit I avoid so many problems
Holy shit this isn’t it
No one told me I was just an onion
I’m just a kid oh so I thought
Please doc, make it stop
Let me go home
I’ll keep working on it
But I’ll be gone before I peel this old onion

But the music keeps the tragic lyrics from becoming depressing.  You may still want to dance to it.

Onion was produced by the omnipresent Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), at his Nashville headquarters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Night Music: Tinariwen, “Sastanisqqam”

I apologize, again for any absence of contributions of late, but I am working on this book (third rewrite) and trying to drive some decent mileage to my site (lawrmichaels.com gets you there!) and help Diane with her dog walking business.

And, of course I am still playing in the band, though I quit the Biletones around Christmas time. But, cooly, my pals drummer Nick Bell and songwriter/singer/guitarist Tom Nelson wanted to keep playing with me.

So, we formed a new band called Jackknifed Big Rig. We are already playing out, in fact there is a pretty good vid of us I will post shortly in the new configuration.

Anyway, I was at my guitar lesson the other day, and after 20 years, Steve Gibson, my master and I talk about a lot of stuff in addition to playing scales and licks and such. A lot of music theory discussion, and engineering, and sharing of ideas and songs and bands and such.

Well, a couple of weeks ago Steve saw these guys at a nice little Berkeley venue, and he turned me onto them. And, just the visuals–traditional middle eastern garb, mixed with sand and camels and Gibson SGs played upside down and backwards–are great.

But, these guys are really good. I mean, really good. Check out these tunes and tell me if you can resist…

This one has a killer vid!

Graham Parker and the Rumour, Mercury Poisoning

He’s pissed. The sound isn’t great, but the spirt is clear.

Here’s the original version. Better sound, and you can get the lyrics if you click through YouTube.

Looking at the picture sleeve, which I think I have a version of, the A-side was I Want You Back. How about that cover?

 

 

Nico, 1988

I saw this new film last week with friends. None of us knew much about the film, it had just opened, but it was Nico, about whom good books have been written, and who sang three songs on the first Velvet Underground album (the banana one). We knew that Lou Reed hated her, that Andy Warhol added her to his house band perversely, and our favorite song of hers was a cover of Jackson Browne’s melancholy These Days. Rael thought the trailer was a stinker.

But the movie was very good. Most notably, Trine Dyrholm acts and sings as if she’s living the part of the mordant junkie who can’t help but talk about how she feels and why she lives. But the movie makes excellent narrative choices that pile up, like leading with Nico’s These Days, and then moving on to her much broader music made in an atmosphere of chaos and imprecision.

This review on Slate by Carl Wilson does a good job of explaining the film, and puts it into the context of many other movie bio pix that don’t follow the form of Ray and Walk the Line. Read that, see the movie, and I’ll leave you with this. Not a spoiler, but a game changer in the film’s narrative, surprisingly enough.

 

Graham Parker, You Can’t Take Love For Granted

I think the first four Graham Parker albums are first rate. He made two monumental R+B elpees with the great Rumour, and Squeezing Out Sparks is tuff New Wave when that had to be the choice (if you wanted be heard).

The Real Macaw was the point of my departure. Not because the songs aren’t strong, but at some point a songwriter’s best stuff is used up.

But listening to this all these years later, this is an ambitiously universal song about love and how those you love will fuck you over. And you have to be brave if you want to have anything. Too long, for sure, but it eclipses all sorts of shorter tunes that ask much less of us.

I like it, but all I want to say is listen to Heat Treatment and Howlin’ Wind. Turn it up loud. It is rarely better.

Song of the Week – I Love You, People

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

“I Love You” was a great British Invasion influenced song by the San Jose based group, People. This song gets filed in my “restored” category. I heard it on the radio recently and said to myself “Damn, I like that song and haven’t heard it for years!” So I present it to you today.

It was written by Chris White, who was the bass player for The Zombies. In fact, it was originally released by The Zombies in 1965 as the B-side to “Whenever You’re Ready.” Coincidentally, the cover version by People was also intended as the B-side to their single “Somebody Tell Me My Name.” But the DJs, audience and record buyers felt differently about it and pushed the B-side onto the charts.

“I Love You” reached #14 in the US in mid-1968. Wow, 50 years ago!

Larry Norman, often credited as a pioneer in the genre of Christian Rock, was a lead singer in People.

Hopefully you have the reaction as I when you hear this song.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Street Fighting Man, Rolling Stones; Peace Frog, The Doors; Peace Dog, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Did anyone watch the four-part series on CNN called 1968 – The Year that Changed America? It was very good and highlighted the turmoil that gripped the country the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy as well as marches against the Viet Nam War, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention and the civil rights protests by American athletes at the Summer Olympics.

And the strife wasn’t confined within the borders of the US. Events that took place in the summer of ’68 converged in rock music.

“Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones was written about Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political activist, after he marched on the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.

Keith Richards guitar part on “Street Fighting Man” was famously recorded using an acoustic guitar overloaded onto a cassette tape. No electric guitars are on the cut.

It took another 18 months for the Doors to weigh in, but they contributed “Peace Frog” from their Morrison Hotel album.

Wikipedia says the “lyrics were adapted from a couple of Morrison’s poems, one being entitled “Abortion Stories”. Guitarist Robby Krieger has told the story of writing (and then recording) the music for “Peace Frog,” and then working with Morrison to look through his notebooks of poetry until the lyrics came to the song.”

But many listeners interpreted the song as a response to the Chicago Convention protests or to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven for lewd behavior onstage. (He does refer to New Haven in the lyrics.)

I’m all in on the Chicago Convention theory because the first and last verse say:

There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles (She came)
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee (She came)
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago (She came)
Blood on the rise, it’s following me
Think about the break of day
She came and then she drove away
Sunlight in her hair

We could use more of this 50 years later, in 2018!

I don’t really know if The Cult’s “Peace Dog” has anything to do with The Doors recording but the stylistic and title similarities will forever connect these two songs in my mind. So I’ll throw that one in here too, for good measure

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Avenging Annie, Andy Pratt

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Debbie Doherty. Debbie has been a lover of rock music since her childhood and has extensive knowledge of the subject. She’s always been partial to men that have some connection to the music world – though she’s no groupie. And not only does she know how to properly handle a vinyl album, she’s my wife!

“Stairway to Heaven,” “Jungleland,” “Free Bird.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” all epic rock songs for the ages. In my humble opinion, “Avenging Annie” by Andy Pratt should have achieved status in this elevated playlist.

Written in ’72 by Pratt, a recent Harvard graduate and a skilled studio engineer, “Avenging Annie” combines passionate piano with a strong bass line throughout. A colorful ballad loosely based on a “Pretty Boy Floyd” story line. Pratt’s alternating falsetto and tenor voices provide a strong female narrative in the telling of Annie’s love for Floyd, “the avenger from Oklahoma,” her decision to join up with her outlaw, and the terrible consequences that lay ahead. You feel Annie’s emotions and passion thru Pratt’s in-character voice.

I’m not a musician so I can’t speak to how the song was created. You do hear a mix of very intricate play, a western flavor, lots of complicated piano, not unlike similar sounds by ELP and Rick Derringer from that time period.

In 1973 I was a sophomore at a Catholic high school – we listened to WGTR a small, kilowatt, daytime station in Natick, Massachusetts. “Avenging Annie” was recorded in part, in nearby Southboro. Maybe they dropped a copy off at the station? All I know is that when I heard this song I thought it rocked and I loved the emotional roller coaster it took me on. It initially became popular when a bootleg copy was aired on WBRU at Brown University. Columbia records got wind of the song and signed Pratt. “Avenging Annie” only made it to #78 on The Billboard 100 but it did reach #1 in Providence and New Orleans.

Fun fact, guess what appeared on the B side of “Avenging Annie” on a 1973 Columbia promo disc? “Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen. Anyone have a copy of that? Ten minutes of music bliss.

Enjoy… until next week.