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:

Cooking with Little Willie John

I was making dinner tonight. Sauteed green beans and broccoli rabe with a creamy lime dressing, and some shrimps. For some reason I put on Little Willie John, who I see has been referenced on the site only once. His biggest hit, a John Cooley/Otis Blackwell tune called Fever, is no remnant. But I think we’ve been neglecting a great singer who sang great songs.

Mr. John, as the Times would say (no they wouldn’t), was a hit making machine for a while, and like many hit making abusers of alcohol, he died in jail.

His brother wrote this song.

This is a terrific song. This is the version I hear when I think of the song.

This is great.

So is this. This is the blues.

Charming interview with LWJ’s sons and biographer. A story of Detroit.

The Clash, Armagideon Time

After hearing this Clash cover and profound remix I bought the Willie Williams version. Williams has all the parts, but doesn’t have the whatever it is that makes the Clash version epic.

The Clash version is also not religious. And while the whole Clash excursion into the Third World is culturally suspect. To their credit, they seemed to know that. At least a little bit.

If pressed, I’d call this my favorite (most powerful) Clash song.

The Selecter, Everyday

I found myself quoting this song to my internet service provider today. Bye bye Spectrum.

Which reminds me that this is a cover. The Pioneers version is great, but a little different. Maybe that’s the change of islands.

On YouTube there are also versions of the song by George Acard and George Dekkard that seem to be the Pioneers version. Can’t have too much of a good thing.

And little enough of crappy Spectrum internet.

Ps. The Selecter version of the tune is credited to Petty Harding, and is called Everyday, while the Pioneers much earlier version is called Time Hard.

Is it coincidence that Petty Hardin are the songwriters of Buddy Holly’s much different classic tune Everyday?

What is weird is that in the Wikipedia page’s exhaustive list of Pioneers singles, Time Hard isn’t listed.

But in a footnote the Selecter are credited with covering Time Hard as Everyday.

All Music credits the song to Composed by George Agard / Jackie Robinson / Sydney Crooks

In the UK the song was credited to George Dekker, the band’s lead singer.

What a mess. I suspect some royalties are owed somewhere. Or everywhere.

Are We Not Men? Pick Your Favorite Song from Devo’s Debut.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about Devo lately. Not in any profound way, just thinking about listening when I got a chance. I got a chance today while making dinner. On goes Are We Not Men? We are Devo, which starts with the brilliant Uncontrollable Urge, moves onto (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, which I owned on 7″ long before the elpee came out, and then goes all over the freaking place. And I do mean freaking.

Remembering, at the time, I grouped the band with the Talking Heads, who had a similar angular geeky-ness, and the Tubes, who had an over the top theatricality. When I listen now I hear mostly classic rock moves, filtered through a novel lens, a lens which made it both surprising the band existed and that they then made hits with mainstream success and surprising that we didn’t see just how inevitable that was on first listen.

I think what I mean is, we knew weird. We loved Zappa, dug Alice Cooper, admired Captain Beefheart, but each of those personalities carved out his own space on the edges of taste and sensibility. They had some pop exposure, but they were happy to exist as novelties.

Devo carved out that space, then tried to bring the whole dang world into it. They were weird, uncompromising, and ambitiously popular, not content to reside on the sidelines with the other freaks. That was cool.

So, while listening to their first elpee tonight, I was struck by how strong the songs are. How little there is that is thrown away. Maybe none of it. And as I went from song to song I said to myself, That’s a great tune. Then, Oh, that’s a good one. Oooh, love it. Which got me thinking that maybe we all have different favorite songs from Are We Not Men? We Are Devo.

I’m laying claim to Mongoloid. It was the first Devo song I heard, it is the one I know all the words to and compulsively sing along to, but I’m pretty sure there are strong cases for others. What’s your favorite song on Devo’s first album?

 

The first two Cure albums

The career arcs of bands are not always controlled by the players. Or they spin out beyond local expectations.

The Cure became an international pop sensation, and in many ways deservedly so. I have no idea if that is what they aspired to, but they got it.

But all we ever listened to were their first two elpees, which are wonderfully clear and direct and poetic. Not unpopular, but pure art in a way.

If you’re at all studious about life in our modern world, you should read Albert Camus’s The Stranger, and listen to this song by the Cure. Obviously not the whole story, but a bit of perspective.

Part of the brilliance is you don’t need to know the book to love this song, and wonder about it.