Hit Single

This song helped soften up America for punk. It was a juke box smash at Bumpers, a college bar I frequented in the late 70’s. It reached #47 on the American Billboard chart, higher maybe than any other punk single until the 1990’s. It almost became the actual hit it was in Britain (#8) and especially in the French-speaking countries. The Beach Boys meet Chuck Berry at a construction site. I am the king of the divan.

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

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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.

New Releases: Peter Laughner Box Set

Laughner was a member of Rocket From the Tomb and Pere Ubu, influential, more heard of than heard bands from Cleveland. He said he wanted to be to Cleveland what Brian Wilson was to LA and Lou Reed was to New York, but instead died in 1977 at age 26 mission unfulfilled. A record company called Smog Veil has just released a five-LP box set of all known Laughner recordings, mostly self recorded in the late night by himself. The NY Times has a story about the release today. While you read it, here’s Ain’t It Fun! Laughner’s hit, which was later covered by Pere Ubu (if that’s a cover), the Dead Boys and Guns and Roses.

Rockin Band

I posted a song of The Waldos here before and everyone liked it. Here they are live at the Continental Divide, the NYC club that was where the rocker wing of the CBGB crowd repaired to in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Waldos and The Senders and in general the spawn of Johnny Thunders played there a lot. I think it’s ballsy to even attempt Stand By Me and Tony Coiro nails it. I consider their album Rent Party to be one of the best albums of the 90’s. In this video, Walter Lure had broken a string and the band started without him. I like that. They couldn’t wait.

The Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

I loved Martin Scorcese’s Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. It seemed unusually synced to Dylan’s creative spirit, a major statement about where his talent came from. And also about where, more generally, talent comes from. Scorcese’s new Dylan movie is a weirder thing. Alan Light wrote a good piece in the NY Times about its provenance. I was new to New York when Dylan started prowling the clubs in 1976, playing impromptu shows at the Bitter End that featured a cast of new characters playing Dylan’s music on random nights. I had friends who went, though I never did. I suspect money was an issue, but whatever. This was also the time when Patti Smith and the Heartbreakers and the Ramones and Television and Talking Heads were playing in the East Village, and Steve Forbert and the Roches were playing at Kenny’s Castaways, just over from the Bitter End. Plus Max’s. We didn’t lack for music in those days. So what’s striking about the new movie is the intensity of Dylan’s performances all the way through. This was true in No Direction Home as well, in the film/video it is impossible to miss the intention and direction he brings to every action he takes, every nuance he conveys, even while professing he wants to run a circus. His intensity isn’t his only talent, but the intensity he brings to these performances is the talent that raises him above most. Obviously this isn’t a story of remnants, but it is a story of a superstar and his band playing at being remnants, playing small halls, disregarding commercial considerations, and making a rock ‘n’ roll tour into a work of art. Highly recommended. On Netflix. The version of Hattie Carroll in the movie is fantastic, equally Dylan and Joan Baez, who shines singing harmonies, and so is more exuberant and vivid than this also excellent version that lacks Baez, but is still an amazing song.

Song of the Week – Goin’ Back & Wasn’t Born to Follow, The Byrds

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Carole King and Gerry Goffin were one of the most successful songwriting teams of the early 60s.  As part of the Brill Building songwriting stable, they worked alongside the teams of Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil and Ellie Greenwich-Jeff Barry, and solo songwriters like Neil Diamond and Shadow Morton.

You already know most of the hits written by Goffin-King, but I’ll list a few anyway:

Chains – Cookies (covered by The Beatles)

Go Away Little Girl – Steve Lawrence

I’m Into Something Good – Herman’s Hermits

Locomotion – Little Eva

One Fine Day — Chiffons

Up On the Roof – Drifters

Take Good Care of My Baby – Bobby Vee

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – Shirelles

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin

But by the mid-‘60s the times had changed and pop/rock music had moved on from teen pop written by specialist songwriters to self-contained bands that wrote their own music with more adult themed lyrics.

By 1967, the duo reacted to these trends and embraced some of the trappings of the hippie culture.  They rejected suburban life and wrote “Pleasant Valley Sunday” to express their new values.

Around this time they also wrote two of my favorite recordings by The Byrds – “Goin’ Back” and “Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

Both songs were on the outstanding album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968).  The drama during the recording of The Notorious Byrd Brothers may match the well-documented soap opera that surrounded the production of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

David Crosby and Michael Clarke quit the band during the album sessions, leaving only Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman in the band.  (The recently deceased session drummer Hal Blaine replaced Clarke on some of the tracks.)  When Crosby left, McGuinn rehired one of the original, founding Byrds – Gene Clark – to come back on board, but that lasted for only a matter of weeks.

Still, the album stands up today and so do “Goin’ Back” and “Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

“Goin Back” reflects on the theme of exchanging adult responsibilities for the innocence of childhood.

Let everyone debate the true reality,
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s all we’re lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back

In his review of “Wasn’t Born to Follow” on AllMusic, Thomas Ward writes:

Sung by Roger McGuinn, the song is a lovely moment in The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and it reflects the group’s more rural influence which has dated far less than their more psychedelic leanings. The lyrics are tremendous, commenting on the need for escape and independence.

By 1969 Goffin and King were divorced, but the legacy of their songwriting partnership will never be broken.

Enjoy… until next week.