Good Old Boys

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:

Songs that immediately clicked

That’s what Lawr posted about. I’m with him on Locomotion. Here’s his post about songs that grabbed him immediately. That’s a great idea, and I’m with him on Complete Control, maybe the greatest of the great Clash’s cuts.

I think he’s out of his mind on the Peter Gabriel, but that isn’t my call. What is my call is this is No. 1, without a doubt. Changed my life. Really.

But the Beatles were huger.

 

Buck Owens, Waitin’ On Your Welfare Line

I tried to write about this song as politics, because clearly Buck’s perspective on the benefits and costs of welfare in 1966 were courtly and open-armed. At least until he got a hug in and a kiss. But clearly Buck’s metaphor is romantic, not political, and it better serves this funny novelty to remind us that there was a time, say 1966, when the basic idea of government services providing a safety net and a leg up were not seen as some sort of political litmus test. Even if he’s driving a Cadillac.

I don’t think the general population disagrees with this any more than they did back then, but the schism is much more sharp today.

In any case, back in those simpler times a crazy extended metaphor could spend ten weeks at No. 1, and Big Government looked a lot like busted love.

Most Pompous, Overblown Record Review Ever?

Remember Sheer Mag? They’re a more-than-just-punk band from Philly who have lots of folks excited. Up until now, they’ve only put out vinyl or download EPs. Since I’m the only CD man left on earth, I have nothing and am very much looking forward to getting their first full album (on CD, of course) this month. (Also new Queens this month and new Ruby The Hatchet this month – musical life is good.)

But here’s the “Editorial Review” from Amazon. Can you get further than two sentences in before quitting? Give me a break:

Vinyl LP pressing. A tear in the firmament. Beyond the noxious haze of our national nightmare – as structures of social justice and global progress topple in our midst – there lies a faint but undeniable glow in the distance. What is it? Like so many before us we are drawn to the beacon. But only by the bootstraps of our indignation do we go so boldly into the dark to find it. And so Sheer Mag has let the sparks fly since their outset, with an axe to grind against all that clouds the way. A caustic war cry, seething in solidarity with all those who suffer the brunt of ignorance and injustice in an imbalanced system. Both brazen and discrete, loud yet precise, familiar but never quite like this, Sheer Mag crept up from Philadelphia cloaked in bold insignia to channel our social and political moment with grit and groove. Cautious but full of purpose. What is it? By making a music both painfully urgent and spiritually timeworn, Sheer Mag speaks to a modern pain: to a people who too feel their flame on the verge of being extinguished, yet choose to burn a bit brighter in spite of that threat. With their debut LP, the cloak has been lifted. It is time to reclaim what has been taken from us. Here the band rolls up their sleeves, takes to the streets, and demands recompense for a tradition of inequity that’s poisoned our world. However, it is in our ability to love-our primal human right to give and receive love -that the damage of such toxicity is newly explored. Love is a choice we make. We ought not obscure, neglect, or deny that choice. Through the tumult and the pain, the camaraderie and the cause, the band continues to burn a path into that great beyond. But where are we headed? On Need To Feel Your Love, they make their first full-length declaration of light seen just beyond our darkness. Spoken plainly, without shame: it is love.

Ella Fitzgerald Was Born 100 Years Ago

The centenary is a big one, and Ella’s is coming up next week. She’s perhaps the greatest of jazz singers, without a doubt in that conversation and most likely on top of the heap, but rooting around in her discography yesterday I came up with a record called Sunshine of Your Love, which was recorded in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel in 1968.

It isn’t a rock album, but it takes it’s title from Cream’s classic rock song.

I find the cover of Hey Jude, which precedes this on the elpee, to be the worst of rock-jazz fusions, but this is different and pretty hot. Not Cream, but rockin’. I can just imagine the hep cats in their Nehru jackets at the Venetian Room, waving their cigarettes over their Scotch on the rocks as they listen in time.

Oddly, thinking about jazz and rock and what can work across the genres got me thinking about Anything Goes, an old Cole Porter chestnut that happened to be a hit single for a band called Harpers Bazaar in 1967. Ella covered it in 1956, and unlike the willful nostalgia of the insipid Harpers Bazaar version, and other cute stage versions of the tune, her version is absolutely adult and knowing. An acknowledgement of the ways and passions of the grown ups in the room.

This doesn’t make the music rock, the song is an 80-year-old show tune, but it connects the tune to the emotional directness and honesty that grew out of jazz and soul and r&b in the 50s into much of the best rock songwriting of the 60s and 70s. The singer does that, with the help of a crack band.

Happy birthday, Ella!

Rock’n’Roll Is More Than Three Chords

Before I retired, I was a pretty high level Project Manager at ATT, a gig I worked my last eight years with the company.

Of course at work we all have our own styles, and my boss decided to audit a meeting I was holding one day. This was fine: I liked my boss a lot, and was good at my gig and always got good reviews and such.

And, with my job, I usually ran between 4-6 meetings a day. As it happened, during one of the agenda items the day my boss listened in, a couple of team members got tasks accomplished that should have taken at least another month and I blurted out, “you guys so rock it.”

The only comment Yolanda made about handling my duties was suggesting maybe another word than “rock” was appropriate. But, after another year, she retracted since my clients mostly loved my work and style telling me, “Just keep doing what you are doing and be yourself. That seems to work quite well.”

It was a big moment, for being told professionally to be yourself, was not something I have ever been used to hearing in any environ.

I have thought about that incidentt in concert with the stupid and incessant discussions (nee arguments) on this site about what RockRemnants is about.

It is clear to me that in Steve’s view, we should only be writing around Rock’n’Roll for as he points out, that is in the name of the site.

But, aside from that being boring, not to mention smacking the face of Aristotle, our first literary critic, who said writing should “teach and delight,” Steve’s provincial view of the term as it applies is just a bunch of crap.

For one thing, we all have views and the site is for fun, so suggesting some category of music or art shouldn’t be included is specious. If all he wants to write about is the Germs, fine. Boring, yeah, but again, if that is what he likes, who am I to call him “an idiot” or suggest he “ramble incoherently?”

But, to me, as I have stated repeatedly, Rock’n’Roll is about attitude and the music is simply a subset of that mindset, irrespective of whether Allan Freed named the shit before he saw Elvis swing his hips or not.

For sure Rock’n’Roll is in the first licks of Johnny B. Goode, but it also lies within the words of Howard Beale (Peter Finch in Network) when he screams “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” Rock’n’Roll is in the soul of any teenager who ever sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night to meet a lover in secret, or see a forbidden band, or ride fast in cars with one’s mates. And, like it or not, it is within Johnny Paychecks words when he said “take this job and shove it.”

So, for fun, here are some things that define Rock’n’Roll as far as I see it.

  • Muhammed Ali’s poetry and left hook.
  • James Dean’s smile.
  • Johnny Rotten’s sneer.
  • The Doors saying fuck you to Ed Sullivan with Jim Morrison screaming “girl we couldn’t get much higher” rather than the “much better” Sullivan insisted upon.
  • Mick and Keith’s on-stage interplay.
  • Joni Mitchell refusing to sell her song rights for commercial use.
  • Prince refusing to allow Itunes and Spotify stream his songs.
  • Marilyn Monroe’s voice.
  • Raj Davis’s homer to tie the 2016 World Series, and Ben Zobrist’s tenth inning double to tie it back up.
  • The wings at Virgil’s.

I could list more, but I think I make my point, and well, this is how I will continue writing and supporting the site because to me, Rock’n’Roll is indeed a music genre, but it is also part of a musical bigger whole, and music is one of the arts–like movies and painting and writing and all the other slices of imagination–the Muses ruled over.

To make one more point, if by having the name RockRemnants we are supposed to be limited to just Steve’s definition of the words and art form, then I suppose “all men are created equal” should only be applied to rich white landowning men, right?

And, if this song by Gabby Pahinui doesn’t kill you and tell you Rock is in everything, well, I feel sorry for your parochial existence.

 

 

 

Thinking about Jesse Dayton, and universal streaming, and what we think on our first listen

As I’ve noted here a few times, I’m on Bob Lefsetz’s mailing list. Lefsetz is an older (as old as me) recorded music professional. I don’t know his bio, but I like his posts because they’re passionate and informed about a wide range of issues, and he loves the classic rock music (far more than me, but he really loves it).

I didn’t read his original post, but tonight he posted a letter from a musician named Jesse Dayton, who responded to a Lefsetz post by describing who he is:

Hey Bob. Dig your blog. Here’s the skinny. Old Texas family. Recorded w/ Waylon, Cash, Willie & slew others playing guitar after 10,000 hrs of moving the needle on Jerry Reed vinyl. Did hillbilly music for 3 Rob Zombie films which did good enough for me to buy a house in Austin which is now worth quite a few shekels. Just filled in for Billy Zoom while he was getting cancer treatment on 40 show tour w/ Doe, Exene & DJ in X which reintroduced me to a national audience. Wrote/directed a Cormanesque B-movie creature feature w/ Malcolm McDowell that sold & I made $ on & is now a cult thing. Just released new record The Revealer w/ a batch of songs that I didn’t just write, but opened a vein & let them bleed out of my insane childhood & all the desperate characters I was subjected too along the way. It’s all there…civil rights issues, conned hillbillies not voting their interest, being unworthy of real love…you name it. Right now I’m in the middle of nowhere living by my wits w/ 3 piece band on a never ending tour in a motor home. Thx for the shout out amigo. Onward JD

Now, I’m not a big Rob Zombie fan, but Corman, Malcolm McDowell, and Jerry Reed stroke my strings. I’m into open veins pouring, too, if it isn’t suicide.

The great thing about the modern world, a really great thing and I don’t think we’ve absorbed how this has changed us, is that after I read this email note I could immediately listen to Dayton’s record (on YouTubeRed, in this case). And I could judge.

And I judge, meh. Here’s a song I like more than others.

 

Very Jerry Lee Lewis, and that’s not bad. But as it goes on this guy seems to more marketing to me about his deep roots than actually rocking. The rock feels too organized for someone truly crazed by that wacked out background he describes. In fact the whole idea of the Holy Ghost Rock ‘n’ Roller seems, by the end of the song a pretty fail marketing ploy.

Dayton touches all the bases of apostasy, but starting with the album image and ticking through the tunes, the hi jinx of rural religion is used to denote authenticity. And the music of rock ‘n’ roll is used to denote authenticity.

And the music? Fun, if you’re will to suspend your belief in legitimacy.

I recommend listening to all of Dayton’s tunes. This isn’t bad music and is mostly not bad thinking, but from the album image to the calculated lyrics, this seems more intellectualized than rocked.

Bottom line, I can’t keep listening to it. If I want to hear this music I listen to Joe Ely, to Hank Williams III, to Steve Earle.  If I don’t want so much testosterone I listen to Lucinda Williams and, on the sweet side, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins.

But I am going search out that Malcolm McDowell movie.

As I go to bed, some truly bleak HW III:

 

Pierre Kwenders at Lincoln Center

pierrekwendersatlincolncenterI went with some friends to see Pierre Kwenders at a small room off Broadway called the David Rubenstein Atrium last night. They regularly program free shows in the atrium, and this was the first I’ve gone to.

Kwenders is from Kinshasa, Congo, and now lives in Montreal. His band, three young Quebecois, play guitar and keyboards, various drums, and dj. It’s this last that was a little problematic. Being able to fire samples of strings and horns and chants distorts the small band vibe. Not that this world music wasn’t lush and gorgeous, it was, but when all that recording came to fore things started to sound more like a Peter Gabriel record than a four-piece band on a small stage playing for a couple hundred people. Live became qualified.

The best songs were popping and angular, with a little space between beats. Kwenders is a crooked and crafty dancer, a strong vocal presence in three languages (French, English and, maybe, Lingala–the predominant Kinshasa language), and a charming host. This was his first show ever in the US, and he got the decidedly mixed crowd (all ages, all colors, many nationalities) on their feet and singing and clapping along. The song that got us to the show was Mardi Gras, on record a Francophone hip hop hipster melange, but lacking the rap parts live seemed more a cajun lament.

Another good one was a raucous reggea-ish tribute to the Rumble in the Jungle called Ali Bomaye! This is a much sparer version than what the band played last night, but in a way the spareness is a tonic, an open window into Kwender’s lovely voice and lyrical songwriting.

Darlingside, “Terrible Things”

I went with my daughter to see these four young men called Darlingside last night at the excellent Rockwood Music Hall in lower Manhattan. It’s a clever but lousy name. Darlingside, I mean. Rockwood is a clever and excellent name. We were there at the invitation of the author, John Seabrook, who is writing about the band for the New Yorker, who was there with his son Harry. Lucy and Harry were born two months apart 16 and a half years ago, and have grown up together in many ways. Rockwood is a 21+ venue. Special exceptions were granted. They were the youngest people in the room, surely, just as John and I were probably, statistically at least, the tallest. And maybe the oldest, now that I think about it.

John knew about Darlingside because his wife’s niece went to college with them recently at Williams. They’re very cute and apparently the kids at Williams thought they were great. These two things aren’t unrelated, but cuteness doesn’t diminish their skills. They are talented multi instrumentalists and harmonizers. Their first album came out yesterday and the show we saw was their first on their record-release tour. All of which is supposed to suggest that I didn’t know much about them until I listened to the album yesterday. It is full of very smart lyrics, and soft but engaging arrangements and vocals. In other words, it is not rock.

But watching their lovely show, which was thoroughly enjoyable and displayed a sense of humor the earnest songs on the album don’t, it was kind of easy to project back a few years to a band that was perhaps a little edgier, a lot less interested in being lovely and a lot more interested in telling it like it is. With drums.

Today my daughter found this old (from 2012) music video from Darlingside. It’s not hard rock by any stretch, but it’s a strong song with a rock beat and a sharp video that came way too late to hit the indie boom. But the harmonies are still front and center, and delightful, as is the dark storyline with a happy ending. This, I think, is Darlingside.