Lawr Michaels, Rest in Peace

On first meeting I remember his red Cons. Lawr looked at me and smiled like “Who are you, nice to meet you.” I said “You must like The Ramones.” That was that, we were friends, and we stayed friends for 20 years. I’ll take that to my own grave, and you will too if he was your friend. 

We also lost Steve Moyer this year. These two deaths brought home a lesson to me and I want to share it. As it happens, a few years ago Steve and Lawr had a falling out. They were both highly opinionated human beings and not shy about letting you know those opinions. Steve and Lawr disagreed on a lot and went at it often. At one point one of them crossed the line – actually since I heard both sides of the story I’d say they both crossed the line – and they stopped speaking. They were each royally pissed at the other and I’m sure I’m not the only one who got an earful from both of them. But the story has a happy ending: they reconciled and died as friends.

Bury the hatchet. Forgive each other, for we all need to be forgiven. Gonna miss you, brother Lawr.

Song of the Week – Haunter of the Darkness, Zuider Zee

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Once upon a time (the early ‘70s) there was a power pop band that should have been huge, but few know about them.  They were called Zuider Zee.  Although the Memphis based band (via Louisiana) was signed to Columbia, they received little to no promotional support from the company so their only album release (there were no singles) attracted zero radio play and sank into obscurity.

But this year indie record label Light in the Attic rescued a dozen previously unreleased gems by the band and issued it under the title Zeenith.

Today’s SotW is “Haunter of the Darkness.”

The easy comparisons are to the Raspberries and Badfinger.  But I hear a strong influence to Big Star and Emmitt Rhodes (and the Merry Go Round).  In any case, those bands form a club any band would (should) be happy to join!

This recording still sounds fresh today.  Great playing by the guitars and keys, hooks that instantly grab you, and harmonies that soar.  Isn’t that what power pop is all about?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Picture Book, The Kinks

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

1967 was the year of psychedelic music – Pink Floyd’s The Piper…, Surrealistic Pillow, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix, and of course, Sgt Pepper.  But soon a change was comin’.  In late December 1967 Bob Dylan signaled a new direction with his release of the country influenced John Wesley Harding.  A couple of the best albums released at the beginning of ‘68 included The Band’s Music from Big Pink and The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – both very early examples of what would eventually come to be called Americana.

Even the superstars of rock, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, would take heed with The Beatles (The White Album) and Beggars Banquet, released within two weeks of one another in late 1968.  Both turned away from the psychedelic stylings of their predecessors for a more organic, back-to-basics approach.  And songs from both of those classic albums have already been featured as Songs of the Week.

Another great album from that golden anniversary year of 1968 was The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society – released the SAME DAY as The Beatles.  That was one helluva trio of record releases to end the year!

The Kinks, never a group to follow fashion (they mocked it!), put their own very nostalgic, British twist on “Americana,” including today’s SotW, “Picture Book.”

Some of the lyrics seem especially prescient in these days when every moment of our lives seems to be snapped in a photo and posted to social media.

Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago. 

Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old Uncle Charlie out cruising with their friends.

Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend. 

Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago. 

Head Kink Ray Davies said of the cut  “The whole magic of that track is that 12-string guitar and the snare drum with the snare off.”

You Millennials may remember this song from a really cool commercial for HP digital photo products that came out in 2004.

Enjoy… until next week.

Pete Shelley is Dead.

One of the best records I ever bought was Singles Going Steady, the Buzzcock’s compilation of their 45s. On the other hand, I realized today that I played that one over and over and didn’t hear them all. Which is too bad.

This one is up third on the original SGS vinyl. I don’t mind. Great songs, great band.

Song of the Week – Helter Skelter & Dear Prudence, The Beatles

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

The Beatles (more commonly known as the White Album) was released 50 years ago.  In celebration, a new, boxed set has just come out with remixes of the songs by Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ long time producer, George Martin.  The box includes the Esher demos – primitive recorded sketches of the songs, mostly written on the band’s trip to India, intended for learning them prior to entering the recording studio.  It also has previously unreleased outtakes and alternate versions.

The Beatles has long been admired and excoriated for the range of styles it explores.  Its 30 songs cover a broad spectrum of styles – some more successfully than others.  This has led to a decades long debate among Beatles’ scholars about whether or not the album should have been edited down to a single album instead of a double, and which songs should have made the cut.

The breadth of the album also provided an opportunity for John and Paul to break out of their stereotyped songwriting roles.  Paul was known for his sentimental ballads (“Yesterday,” Michelle,” “Here, There and Anywhere”) and John for writing caustic rockers (“Day Tripper,” “Help,” “Run for Your Life”).  Not that the White Album didn’t hold true to those labels — i.e. Paul’s “I Will” and “Mother Nature’s Son,” and John’s “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” — but they also did a role reversal.

Paul’s “Helter Skelter” stands among the Beatles’ recordings with the hardest edge.

Who would have thought this track would evolve from the blues dirge heard on Take 2 (available on the Anthology series) into the up-tempo rocker we know from the White Album?

“Helter Skelter” was ruined for many people by its association with Charles Manson and his “family” of murderers.  I like the intro Bono made when U2 covered the song in concert – “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles.
We’re stealing it back.”  Hopefully we have all stolen it back now that Manson is dead and gone.

John contributed two beautifully sentimental cuts to The Beatles.  “Julia” is a tribute to his mother that abandoned him in his early childhood but came back into his life as a teenager only to be killed shortly afterward in a car accident.  The other was “Dear Prudence,” which was one of his finest compositions – not just for the White Album, but in his entire repertoire.

“Prudence” was written for Prudence Farrow (Mia’s sister) who was on the India meditation trip with them.  She became so focused on her practice that she locked herself in her room to meditate all day.  John tried to persuade her through song to “come out and play.”  At the end of the Esher demo John explains “Who was to know that [suppressed giggle] sooner or later she was to go completely berserk in the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  All the people around were very worried about the girl, because she was going insane.  So we sang to her.” 

Although The Beatles has been criticized for being bloated with non-essential cuts (“Don’t Pass Me By,” “Wild Honey Pie,” “Revolution #9”) it still holds up after 50 years.  In my opinion, it is the diversity, risk taking, and wide range of musical genres that account for its enduring charm.  There’s something for everyone.

Enjoy… until next week.