Randy Newman’s first three albums are full of good songs. Songs that were hits for others, like Mama Told Me Not to Come, and songs that made his reputation as a song craftsman and satirist. But it was his fourth album, Good Old Boys, that I think is his masterpiece. Here the satire is scathing, and then the sentiment is true, and in a song like Birmingham, the two come together seamlessly.
Thinking about Alabama tonight, and thinking how in the 43 years since this great album came out, the same problems persist. Maybe things are worse.
If Roy Moore wins in the Alabama race for the Senate seat tonight (Ed. Note: He didn’t.), we should probably all sing Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s Alabama Song, something of a hit for the Doors back in the day, (Show me the way to the next whisky bar, oh don’t ask why, oh don’t ask way. Show me the way to the next little girl, oh don’t ask why, oh don’t ask why.), but in the meantime, these three songs from Good Old Boys will get you started:
Johnny Hallyday was a giant rock star in France, and would show up in all sorts of French films I’ve seen over the years. Whether the movie be commercial cheese or popular entertainment, Hallyday’s presence was always electric. This guy was a real rock star.
Not that I ever listened to his albums. Like Elvis Presley, I got the sense he had some great songs, but he also recorded a lot of shlock, all the more so for the movies. So, incredible aura, but very little consideration as an artist. And this seems to be the case all over the English speaking world.
But in France? He died this week and they threw him a rock star’s funeral. Dig all the pictures here.
A few songs:
Nice NY Times story about denizenz of the Max’s and CB’s scenes now playing out around town like time never stopped. Their apparent motto: “If I’d have broken big maybe I’d be dead now.”
Biggest play goes to the Rousers, who have a pretty great sound.
Wayne Cochrane wrote and performed the song Last Kiss in 1961. It wasn’t a great hit. But it had legs. Here’s the original recording.
Cochrane is a character in John Capouya’s new book about Florida Soul, which is how I came upon the song.
The funny thing for me is that the original version of the song is catchy, but doesn’t get at the real moral position the young man is in as the Pearl Jam version, even though Cochrane was a preacher (a Florida preacher, but still). What Pearl Jam version?
I liked this song back in the day, partly because of the Bobby Thompson quotes, but it’s also smart and sounds great and has a bit more oomph than many of the 80s power pop tunes did. He went to the same high school as Nils Lofgren, made many records, had no hits and a part of the world mourns his death yesterday.
You know how you’re going from place to place on the internet, and then you end up someplace and you have no idea how you got there? Tonight that happened to me, when I landed at clubdevo.com.
Devo would seem to be an internet savvy band, all techno and futuristic, even if that represents the devolution of humankind. But clubdevo.com is a wasteland. Only the Twitter feed is alive with content. You can check in here: http://www.clubdevo.com/
But better to check this:
I bought the Basement 5 album 1965-1980 unheard. Cool logo, promise of reggae-punk fusion, and I’m not sure what else. Did I know the drummer was in the Blockheads? I don’t think so, but maybe I did. Don Letts sang with the band at some point, but they weren’t Clash or PiL associated that I remember at the time. But who knows, it was a long time ago.
I stumbled across the artwork yesterday, remembered I owned the disk, then found that the elpee had been rereleased recently on vinyl by Rough Trade. And then I stumbled upon this Peel Session recording from 1980, which sounds a whole lot better than the album did. Or does.
I was talking about this at dinner last night at a friend’s house, the song immediately appears on our host’s Spotify over Sonos magnificent sound system from the elpee, and it sounds terrible.
Peel Session sounds great. Last White Christmas is a keeper. My attention has wavered on and off after that one. But for an obscure one-off from a long time ago, having one song worth listening to is pretty darn good.
There is good playing here, and a minimum of offensive show biz (while there is plenty of show biz). It feels amazing that this clip is from a Grammy Awards show, but who knows? The last time I watched one of those might have been in 1986. This is fun, musically, and larded with a ton of contextual social stuff that someone else might like to unpack.
For me, it is the playing and seeing these big stars live (on tape).
My daughter went to elementary school with a boy whose father writes for the Please Kill Me web site. I’ve only met Todd a couple of times, in passing, so he’s not my friend, but he wrote this weirdly cool history of Dave Alexander, who played bass on the first two Stooges albums and was then kicked out and died.
What I like about Todd’s treatment is he reports what people said or wrote about Dave. He goes easy on the dramatic build up and is beautifully empathic to the storytelling of Alexander’s peers by using their quotes. Plus he includes some choice descriptions of behavior by various Rolling Stones. This is classic rock storytelling, for sure, but easy going the way rock should be.
You can read, should read, Todd’s piece here.
You’ll get the chance to play the video of Down On the Street while you read the piece, but you might also play it now.
One last thought. How different is Down on the Street from some Doors songs? Especially live? Which provokes the question: When it comes to classifying rock, do we maybe distinguish too much between hitmakers and their edgier cooler peers? The Stooges are punk pioneers on Elektra records, sounding here like the Doors, who made many hits on Electra records at roughly the same time. That’s a sonic fact, but not a complete one. But what is the real story of sound, aesthetics, ambition and commercial viability? Every one thing changes all the others.
This is a reason to read Greil Marcus’s Doors book, which goes deep into the band’s non-hit life as a live band, how they sounded different than the hits, and darker than the public image.
At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, in my neck of the woods.