One of the books I read on my summer vacation was Big Day Coming, a biography of the Hoboken, NJ based band Yo La Tengo. But the book is much more than the band’s bio – in fact it is subtitled Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock. If you’re interested in the subject the book is a very good read, chock full of interesting facts and colorful stories.
What interested me from the standpoint of the SotW was all of the cool songs the band curated into their repertoire – not only when they were beginning as a cover band playing at parties for friends, but sprinkled into their live performances throughout their career. They even released the obligatory (mostly) covers album in 1990 called Fakebook.
Here’s an excerpt from the book describing some of the hip, deep cuts they included in one of their early sets.
In addition to the hundred plus songs rolling through their recent memories, A Worrying Thing (a pre Yo La Tengo band name) continued to practice covers. Ira (Kaplan) and Tony (Blow, an early band member) attempted harmonies on the Kinks’ “This Man He Weeps Tonight.” Tony did the Dils’ “Sound of the Rain,” and they took on a batch of ‘60s pop obscurities, including Love’s “A House Is Not a Motel,” the Monkees’ “The Door into Summer,” the Rascals’ “Find Somebody,” (an early SotW) Syd Barrett’s “No Man’s Land,” and Everything Is Everything’s “Witchi Tai To.” There was also Parliament’s “One Nation Under a Groove,” soul songwriters Gamble and Huff’s “Drowning in the Sea of Love,” and a recent Waves B-side, “Hey, War Pig!” There was likewise a pair of songs popularized by the Weavers, Ira’s Hudson Valley neighbors: a funkified run at “Darling Corey,” and a similarly tarted up version of the left-wing anthem “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays.
Now that’s a pretty cool list of songs! So let’s listen to a few.
“This Man He Weeps Tonight” is one of a relatively few Kinks’ songs penned and sung by Dave Davies. As such, it isn’t very well known to most people, even those that consider themselves Kinks fans. It was originally included on the band’s album of rarities called The Great Lost Kinks Album (itself the subject of another early SotW).
Next is Love’s “A House is Not a Motel” from the band’s important album Forever Changes and was the b-side to the album’s first single release “Alone Again Or.” This psych classic presages the Viet Nam era alienation some would feel in cities like L.A. after the Summer of Love. The guitar duets set the mood perfectly.
Lastly is “The Door Into Summer” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Michael Nesmith takes the lead on the type of protest song the band fought for the right to record. It showcases Peter Tork’s underrated keyboard prowess.
These are all terrific recordings. Thanks, Yo La Tengo, for inspiring me to check them out again.
Enjoy… until next week.