Song of the Week – Mr. Wendal, Arrested Development

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President Trump was in California for fundraising this week, and couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the state’s homeless situation.  USA Today covered the story with the headline:

Blaming shelters and street sleeping, Donald Trump blasts California for homeless crisis

Now, I live in the San Francisco Bay area, so I’m well aware we have become the homeless capital of the world.  But we do our best to come up with effective policies to deal with this challenging situation; and treat the homeless population with dignity and respect.

This reminded me of the Arrested Development song “Mr. Wendal.”

This song was written in 1992 about the homeless condition but looks at it from an interesting perspective.  It calls on us to see the homeless as people we can learn from – that there is wisdom in choosing a lifestyle that isn’t concerned with materialistic trappings.

Mr. Wendal has freedom
A free that you and I think is dumb
Free to be without the worries of a quick to diss society
For Mr. Wendal’s a bum

Yeah, I know, that POV may be a tad naïve and oversimplified, but it comes from a genuine sense of kindness and understanding.  And those are things we can use a little more of today.

Arrested Development was one of the first rap groups to make it their mission to record music with positive messages.

Musically, the song uses a couple of cool samples to great effect.  The most obvious one comes from Steely Dan’s “Peg.”  The other is a vocal sample from “Sing a Simple Song” by Sly and the Family Stone.  Dig it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What a Man, Linda Lyndell

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Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Mark Vincent. Mark is a multi instrumental musician (guitar, bass and recently drums) with The Occasionalists – Brooklyn, NY’s premiere live karaoke band. When he’s not playing with the band, he makes music of a different kind for the patients of his chiropractic practice in Manhattan.

In 1993 the rap group Salt n Pepa teamed with En Vogue for a massive hit with a version of “What a Man,” a Stax single that had reached #50 on Billboard in 1968.  Although they added new provocative lyrics to the verses; the chorus, main guitar riff and general vibe of the song were lifted directly from the original.  I had only been familiar with the original from an Oxford compilation CD someone had burned for me, so I never had access to the artist or any credits.  It was only when my band decided to cover it, that I discovered the origins — which turned out to have an interesting backstory.

Linda Lyndell was a white gospel singer in Gainesville, FL.  She began singing with RnB groups as a teenager and after singing back up for James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, she recorded with Stax producers Issac Hayes and David Porter in 1967 and 1968.  The second of these sessions produced “What a Man.”

Between the funky R&B sound and references to James Brown in the lyrics, the song caught the unwanted attention of the KKK and other white supremacist groups, who did not approve of a white girl singing in such a manner.  After getting death threats from the KKK, she retreated from the music business, living in seclusion back in Gainesville for the next 25 years. She only learned about the Salt n Pepa cover after she received her first royalty check in the mail.  Inspired by the success of the remake, she began performing again and sang “What a Man” in public for the first time in 2003 at the opening of the Stax Museum.

No disrespect to Salt n Pepa, but Lyndell’s version has a warmer, more soulful feel to it and is musically more interesting.   The guitars, piano, and horns are all more expansive and the song moves around more despite being only half the length.  At the risk of being racially inappropriate, I played that song for 15 years without the slightest notion I was listening to a 22-year old white girl from FL.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Thing We Said Today, Dwight Yoakam

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Those of you that know me personally are aware that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, The Beatles.  I’ve collected all their official releases and dozens of bootlegs that contain outtakes, alternate takes, and demos.

I have an iTunes playlist of Beatles covers that has thousands of versions of their songs.  My playlist is totally indiscriminate.  Some of the cuts are awesome – some pathetic.  But I’ve collected them all – straight covers, and lots of variations including soul, country, classical, easy listening, big band, jazz, and bluegrass.  I even have some Polka versions!

I really enjoy when an artist takes a Beatles tune and makes it their own.  Especially if it is well played and well sung.  Today’s SotW is an example of such – “Things We Said Today” by Dwight Yoakam.

Yoakam is a country artist, but his style is much closer to rock influenced honky-tonk than traditional Nashville country.  At least that was true when he began his recording career in the mid ‘80s.  (Today it seems like all the top country acts really play rock music with a twang.)  Believe it or not, Yoakam actually shared a bill with the punk band Hüsker Dü in 1986!  On his 2012 album 3 Pears, Yoakam enlisted the help of Beck to provide handclaps on “A Heart Like Mine.”

His cover of “Things We Said Today” is a terrific example of his melding of rock and country.  The song has an inventive recurring riff that sets the tone for what’s to come.  It’s heavier than the Beatles original.  And it ends with a searing guitar solo.

On a side note, I have an interesting story about seeing Yoakam live.  Back in the mid ‘80s, my wife was working for an ad agency in Boston when she was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of WBOS’s format change to country music.  I was her guest.  The party included live performances by some of the rising country artists of the day, including Reba McEntire… and Yoakam.

Boston wasn’t a hotbed for country music fans back then (and probably still isn’t) so the audience of radio and ad executives were more interested in the hors d’oeuvres and drinks than the music.  But being the music nerd that I am, I walked (alone) up to the front of the stage and watched both artists perform.  Even though I couldn’t claim to be a country music fan, I could tell that these were top quality musicians and deserved to be heard.  It was a great experience that is seared into my memory.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Wishing Well, Terence Trent D’Arby

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Back in 1987, Terence Trent D’Arby released an album of organic, neo-soul tracks that stood out from the other R&B of the day due to its lack of artificial sounding instruments and his warm vocal style that reminded listeners of classic soul voices like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.

The album – Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby – was a huge commercial success internationally and in the US.  It was an exceptional album that touched on soul, funk and even a little rock, but it was also hampered by D’Arby’s hubris and conceit.  In interviews he called himself a genius (though not a stable genius) and claimed his album was the most important record since The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The album contained “Wishing Well” that went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as their Soul Singles chart, and is today’s SotW.

When I was a club DJ in Boston in the mid/late ‘80s, I always enjoyed spinning this number.  It was a sure fire crowd pleaser, guaranteed to fill the dance floor… and something the DJ could also appreciate.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Gold, John Stewart

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I’m writing to you today from southern California, so I thought I’d feature a recording that conveys the SoCal vibe.

I’ve selected “Gold” by John Stewart.

Stewart was born and died in San Diego.  In between, he was a key member of the Kingston Trio – replacing original member Dave Guard.  Stewart was hired by the group to write songs, sing, and play banjo and guitar.

After six years with the Kingston Trio, he wrote “Daydream Believer” which became a #1 hit for the Monkees in 1967.

Next, he began a career with his singing partner, Buffy Ford, who became his wife in 1975.  They remained together for the rest of his life.  After one album together he was off on a solo career, launched with the release of his critically acclaimed album, California Bloodlines (1969).

Stewart continued to record at a pace of about an album a year, but most of them languished in obscurity – until the release of 1979’s Bombs Away Dream Babies. Bombs Away… was co-produced by Lindsey Buckingham, who was hot off the success of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumours.  Buckingham also sang and played guitar on the recording; Stevie Nicks sang too.

Bombs Away… featured “Gold;” the song that anchored the disc and reached #5 on the pop charts.  The cut has a mysteriously dark feel.  The bass gallops along, punctuated with electric piano, guitar and, sparse drumming.

The lyrics tell the cynical, satirical tale of an LA musician trying to make it in “the Biz.”  The refrain “Drivin’ over Kanan, singin’ to my soul / There’s people out there turnin’ music into gold” captures the desperation of the singer.

Stewart deserved more commercial success than he attained.  He had many influential and more successful friends in the music industry that held him in very high regard.  For instance, his 1970 album, Willard, featured James Taylor on guitar and Carole King contributed vocals and keys.  This was at the height of their success leading the early ‘70s singer/songwriter movement.

Roseanne Cash thought of Stewart as a mentor and recorded his “Runaway Train” on her 1988 album King’s Record Shop.  It was a #1 hit on the country charts.

So today I salute John Stewart and his contributions to the musical history of southern California.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Trying to Stay Live, Leon Russell & Marc Benno

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One of my favorite, obscure albums is Asylum Choir II, by Leon Russell and Marc Benno.  The duo released their first album, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, in 1968.  Russell and Benno played essentially all the instruments on the songs.  That album was released on the Smash record label that didn’t have the marketing heft to get it played or heard, despite decent reviews by rock critics.

For Asylum Choir II, Russell and Benno recruited added help from some great session musicians – Jesse Ed Davis (guitars), Carl Radle (bass) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass).  II was recorded as an immediate follow up to Look Inside but didn’t see the light of day until 1971!  This time the disc was released on Shelter Records, another bad choice (though this time Leon could only blame himself since Shelter was a company he co-founded with Denny Cordell).

My choice for SotW is “Trying to Stay Live.”

The lyrics may be a little dated; how’s a guy supposed to make a living if he wants to be a musician “and keep his sideburns too?”

Many of the other songs on the record are period pieces.  “Down on the Base” and “Ballad of a Soldier” are anti-Viet Nam war songs and “Sweet Home Chicago” refers to the riots there at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Another track, “Hello, Little Friend,” became pretty well known in a version by Joe Cocker on his second album, Joe Cocker!.  (That album also had Cocker’s outstanding take on Russell’s “Delta Lady.”)

But don’t let the time capsule aspect of Asylum Choir II steer you away from listening to the whole thing.  The music and arrangements are tremendous!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Monkey, Dave Bartholomew; Monkey to Man, Elvis Costello & The Smartest Monkeys, XYC

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The great New Orleans R&B artist, songwriter and record producer, Dave Bartholomew, died on June 23rd.  I’m totally embarrassed that I missed it but that was right around the time that I was in Sonoma for 3 days and on the east coast for the following 10.

Even if you don’t know him by name, I’m certain that you’ve heard his work.  He wrote or co-wrote many Fats Domino hits, like “The Fat Man”, I’m Walkin’”, “Blue Monday”, and  “Ain’t That a Shame” – a pop #1 in 1955.  And there’s more — “I Hear You Knocking” (Smiley Lewis) and “My Ding-a-Ling” (Chuck Berry).

He produced Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” that was an R&B #1 in 1952, and Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.”

Today’s first SotW is Bartholomew’s own “The Monkey.”

“The Monkey” is a social commentary about the way humans have descended from “the monkey” but doesn’t always behave like the superior species.  (Unfortunately, a very apropos sentiment in today’s divisive political climate.)

Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do
Go out on a night and get all in a stew
Or use a gun or a club or a knife
And take another monkey’s life
Yes, man descended, the worthless bum
But, brothers, from us he did not come

In 2004, Elvis Costello released a song called “Monkey to Man.”

The opening lyric is “A long time ago, our point of view as broadcast by Mr. Bartholomew.”  I would venture to say the significance of that reference was missed on all but a few.  (Now you’re in the know!)  There’s a YouTube video of Costello and Bartholomew doing a live performance of “The Monkey” together with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Costello’s song picks up where Bartholomew’s left off.

And now the world is full of sorrow and pain
And it’s time for us to speak up again
You’re slack and sorry, such an arrogant brood
The only purpose you serve is to bring us our food
Sit here staring at your pomp and pout
Outside the bars we use for keeping you out
You’ve taken everything that you wanted
Broke it up and plundered it and hunted
Ever since we said it you went and took the credit
It’s been headed this way since the world began
When a vicious creature took the jump from monkey to man

XTC also recorded a track with another variation on the theme.

“The Smartest Monkeys” was on their 1992 album, Nonsuch and tackles the subject of homelessness.

Well man created the cardboard box to sleep in it
And man converted the newspaper to a blanket
Well you have to admit that he’s come a long way
Since swinging about in the trees
We’re the smartest monkeys

Thank you, Dave Bartholomew, for the legacy you left us and the inspiration you paid forward.  RIP.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Nadie Como Yo & Juan Saltarin, Los Yaki

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Today’s SotW is another installment of the rare record series.  I scored this copy of the 50-year-old Muchachita (1969), by Los Yaki in a thrift store for a buck!

Los Yaki was a Mexican rock band of the mid to late 60s that recorded a mix of originals and British invasion influenced covers.  One thing that made them stand out against some of their competitors was that they sang the songs in Spanish translations.

I’m not sure what Yaki means but I’d guess it is an intentional misspelling of Yaqui – an indigenous people of Mexico.  The band was made up of:

BENITO RAUL “Benny” IBARRA (Vocalist) 
JOSE LUIS GAZCON (Guitar and 2nd Voice) 
MANUEL “Meme” GAZCON (Bass) 
LUIS ALFONSO ASCENCIO (Keys) 
MIGUEL ANGEL IBARRA (Drums)

This album has a cover of The Human Beinz “Nobody but Me,” retitled in Spanish as Nadie Como Yo.”

The disc also has a pretty cool version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – “Juan Saltarin.”

The record also has covers of Gary Puckett and The Union Gap’s two biggest hits, “Woman, Woman” (“Sylvia”) and “Young Girl” (“Muchachita” the album title song).  I can’t help but wonder if these choices were partly influenced by the San Diego based Union Gap’s proximity to the Mexican border.

My disc is only in VG condition; the cover grades even lower.  The last time I looked, two copies were for sale on Discogs.  A near mint copy demanded $155; the VG+ was going for $85.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Cannonball, The Breeders

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A few weeks ago, I was with friends that asked the question “What was the best concert you ever saw?”  I’ve seen some very good ones; classic rock like Springsteen, The Kinks, Allman Brothers, and Zappa, through to the acts of this millennium including White Stripes, Arcade Fire, Real Estate, War on Drugs, Arctic Monkeys, and New Pornographers.  But one of my all-time favorite concerts was seeing Pixies at San Diego’s Street Scene in 2005.  Although it was the “reunited” Pixies, the band included all of the original members – even bassist Kim Deal.  They were a powerful group!

Today’s SotW is “Cannonball,” from The Breeders album Last Splash.

Why not something by Pixies?  Because I posted about “Debaser” in April 2018.  And “Gigantic,” written by Kim, was posted by Peter in 2013.  Besides, “Cannonball” is a very cool song and The Breeders are Deal’s other band.

Deal formed The Breeders when internal conflict with Pixies frontman Frank Black became untenable.  The first iteration of The Breeders included Tonya Donelly of Throwing Muses and Belly, Josephine Wiggs, and later, Deal’s twin sister Kelley.  By the time of Last Splash, Donelly was out and Jim Macpherson was in on drums.

Now, back to “Cannonball.”

“Cannonball” was chosen as #12 on Rollin­­g Stone’s 50 Best Songs of the 90s and was a substantial hit on modern rock radio.  It even reached #44 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  But it was one of the strangest, most unlikely hits to achieve that success.

It opens with Deal making a soundcheck (“Check check check, one-two, one-two”).  The next thing you know there’s a chant that sounds like the guards at the Wicked Witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz.  A drum click track sets the rhythm for a bass line to start the song in earnest after stepping up in key.  The guitars join in and then there’s this weird screeching sound like an old fashioned, dial-up cable modem.  (You probably have to be at least 30+ years old to know what that means.)  The track utilizes the soft/loud dynamic that was a trademark of Pixies and there’s a false ending.  Then it throws us off by actually ending abruptly.

The lyrics are totally incomprehensible (at least to me) so I won’t even attempt to quote or interpret them.

Although Last Splash was The Breeders’ most successful album – it also included the terrific “Drivin on 9” – this configuration of the band had broken up before they could record a followup.  However, they are back together again and were touring earlier this summer.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Man in the Moon, Village

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the first time a man walked on the moon.  If you were alive at the time, you remember it like you remember where you were and what you were doing when America was attacked on 9/11.

I was totally into the space program.  I knew the names of all the rockets and loved to build and launch Estes model rockets.  I even built the Estes model of the Saturn V – The booster that launched the Apollo XI mission.

As you may predict, I need to find a song that is a proper tribute to the occasion.  There are hundreds (thousands?) of songs that make reference to the moon and I love many of them.  Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” immediately comes to mind, as does Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”  There are more obscure candidates like Television’s “Marquee Moon” or “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but I’m still not there.

This being the song of the week, I need to go even more Obscure.  My pick is “Man in the Moon” by Village.  I’ll bet you never heard it!

One of the reasons I picked this song is because it is of its time.  It was released in 1969, the year of the moon landing, and has the psychedelic sound of its day.  The “Man in the Moon” single was even released on a label called Head!

The blog site Anorak Thing describes the track as follows:

“Man In The Moon” starts out with some ethereal organ and then gets a bit heavy with some great bottom end bass.  What I love about this record is it’s from 1969 and despite the organ work it’s not overly heavy like some of the plodding/wanky Deep Purple stuff of the period.  Halfway through it gets a bit “improvisational” but never too “way out” either.  It reminds me of early Atomic Rooster if they were a bit more “lysergic”.

Village was led by British R&B musician Peter Bardens and included Bill Porter on drums and bassist Peter Thomas, who would later to be in Elvis Costello’s Attractions.  Before Village, Bardens was in Them with Van Morrison (1965).  After Village, he would go on to found the progressive rock band Camel.

“That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

Enjoy… until next week.