Good Songs, Bad Songs (You Know I’ve Had My Share)

My buddy Les Ogilby, who plays a fantastic blues harp–on occasion with the Biletones–and is as much of a music junkie as the rest of us (Les has contributed to the site, in fact) gave me a great disc with a bunch of cool less than widely known tunes, and one of the songs on it was this fantastic cover of Louie Louie by the Flamin’ Groovies (note the drummer has a real Boris Karloff look to him, and the bassist is on a Hofner!).

As I was listening and thinking about how simple this song is, the thought brought me back to Spirit in the Sky, another simple song that was a hit, but that is flat out weak compared to Louie Louie.

One reason we know the superiority is Louie Louie I believe is the most recorded pop tune, while anyone covering Greenbaum has been crucified.

Some of what works are the words, for one thing that drives me nuts about Greenbaum’s song is the “couplet:”

“When I die and they lay me to rest,

I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best.”

To say that is third grade poetry is an insult to eight-year olds everywhere. I mean that second line could have been “I love god it’s in him I invest” or “I’ll sleep with a heavenly crest” or “I’ll be denied because of incest” or something slightly more sophisticated. Not that Louie Louie has complex words, but part of the charm is like a good rock tune, the words are garbled and subject to urban myth and conjecture providing part of the essence of how Aristotle defined what poetry should do: teach and delight.

But, then I was streaming some New Wave stuff and on came a fantastic Johnny Thunders cover of the Shangri Las Give Him a Great Big Kiss, another tune that could easily be so tawdry and awful in the Honey/Teen Angel kind of sense, but somehow the song kills both in the hands of the Shangri Las and Thunders.

Anyway, I am not sure exactly where this is going. For sure I dig both these covers and was looking for an excuse to write about them, but, again, Kiss is such a simple song (two chords for the verse, two more for the chorus) and like Louie Louie it all works so well.

Maybe someone can explain that fine line to me between genius and stupid? I do know Einstein said “the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.” True words for these times.

Stranger In My Own Home Town

Some years ago I stumbled across a great album called Poet of the Blues, by a songwriter/singer named Percy Mayfield.

Mayfield should be most famous as the writer of the massive Ray Charles hit song, “Hit the Road Jack,” but that song isn’t on Poet of the Blues. Charles signed him to Tangerine Records, where he wrote other hits for Ray, and this song, which was made a hit by Elvis Presley in 1970, on his Back in Memphis elpee.

I didn’t know about this song until today, since it also is not on Poet of the Blues, and I have to say that if I’d only heard the Presley version I would probably wouldn’t have wondered about who wrote the song. It sounds like one of those big star blues jams, fun and all, but without a signature.

But signature is what Percy Mayfield had, always, and especially when he sang. Here’s his version of Stranger in My Own Home Town, which is deeply satisfying, but makes me want to hear Jerry Lee Lewis’s version, too.

 

 

 

Ms Conception

Patti_Smith_in_Rosengrten_1978Patti Smith did an interview with Alan Light back in 2007, when she was promoting her album of covers, Twelve. For whatever reason (he wrote a news piece, not an interview at the time) the interview got filed, and has now emerged on Medium’s Cuepoint. It offers a quick  and insightful overview by Smith of her career, which is worth reading, and it ends with this, which is excellent:

Alan Light: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

Patti Smith: The thing that bothered me the most was when I had to return to the public eye in ’95 or ’96 when my husband died. We lived a very simple lifestyle in a more reclusive way in which he was king of our domain. I don’t drive, I didn’t have much of an income, and without him, I had to find a way of making a living. Besides working in a bookstore, the only thing I knew how to do was to make records—or to write poetry, which isn’t going to help put your kids through school. But when I started doing interviews, people kept saying “Well, you didn’t do anything in the 80s,” and I just want to get Elvis Presley’s gun out and shoot the television out of their soul. How could you say that? The conceit of people, to think that if they’re not reading about you in a newspaper or magazine, then you’re not doing anything.

I’m not a celebrity, I’m a worker. I’ve always worked. I was working before people read anything about me, and the day they stopped reading about me, I was doing even more work. And the idea that if you’re a mother, you’re not doing anything—it’s the hardest job there is, being a mother or father requires great sacrifice, discipline, selflessness, and to think that we weren’t doing anything while we were raising a son or daughter is appalling. It makes me understand why some human beings question their worth if they’re not making a huge amount of money or aren’t famous, and that’s not right.

My mother worked at a soda fountain. She made the food and was a waitress and she was a really hard worker and a devoted worker. And her potato salad became famous! She wouldn’t get potato salad from the deli, she would get up at five o’clock in the morning and make it herself, and people would come from Camden or Philly to this little soda fountain in South Jersey because she had famous potato salad. She was proud of that, and when she would come home at night, completely wiped out and throwing her tip money on the table and counting it, one of her great prides was that people would come from far and wide for her potato salad. People would say, “Well, what did your mother do? She was a waitress?” She served the people, and she served in the way that she knew best.

Night Music: Allen Ginsberg and the Clash, “Capital Air”

Anticipating Apple’s naming scheme, the Clash invite Allen Ginsberg on stage at Bonds in 1981 for a punk poetry session.

I found this on the pleasekillme.com website, an analog to the excellent Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain oral history of punk.

I think Allen’s pretty much right about it all.