Song of the Week – What a Bringdown, Cream

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Last Sunday, October 6th, the world said goodbye to drummer Ginger Baker.  To learn more about him, read the New York Times obituary or watch the Beware of Mr. Baker documentary.

The SotW MUST pay tribute to such an influential and wacky rock star.  My first thought was to select a song that featured one of Baker’s famous drum solos.  Maybe the live version of “Toad” from Cream’s Wheels of Fire, with its 13 minute blast of drums.  Nope, that’s a bit too much.  Maybe another long jam, Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like.”  This is another tour de force of stick work.  But, nah, that’s not it either (though I suggest you listen to both on your own).

Then it hit me!  Today’s SotW should be one of my favorite Cream deep cuts – “What a Bringdown”, written by Baker.

“… Bringdown” is a wild, psychedelic ride that uses unusual time signatures (5/4 to 3/4?) and has ‘60s style, surreally lysergic lyrics.  It also has some interesting and innovative sonics.  Felix Pappalardi (the “4th Cream member”) plays a violin bass.  Jack Bruce, who was ordinarily on bass, moves to keys.  Clapton layers guitars, including a spacey, high pitched wah-wah solo after the bridge and on the fade out.  Baker pounds away at his kit and also plays tubular bells (listen carefully at the end).  This all adds up to a recording that sounds more like early Jethro Tull than Cream.

“…Bringdown” was the last song on Cream’s last album – Goodbye (1969), making it an apropos way to acknowledge Baker’s passing.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Flash, Coloured Balls & Some Mutts, Amyl and the Sniffers

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In the decade from the mid-‘60s to mid-‘70s, there was a thriving youth subculture in Melbourne Australia called the Sharpies.  The Sharpies were a gang of hooligans whose culture was centered around raw guitar music and their own style in dance (sharp elbows), dress (chisel toed shoes, jeans, tight-fitting cardigans) and haircuts – let’s say they were punks with mullets.  But if a picture is worth a thousand words, watch this and you’ll get it.

Perhaps the most important band to the Sharpies was Coloured Balls, led by guitarist Lobby Loyde.  Coloured Balls were known for playing the loud and aggressive music that was favored by the Sharpies.

Coloured Balls were influenced by the MC5 and Flamin’ Groovies but you can also draw a straight line to their influence on AC/DC.

A contemporary band out of Australia is Amyl and the Sniffers.  Led by singer Amy Louise (Amyl) Taylor, they have full adopted the Sharpie aesthetic.

So if you enjoy your music loud, fast and snotty, these bands are for you!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Motel Blues, Loudon Wainwright III & Sitting in My Hotel, The Kinks

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There are dozens of songs written by rock bands about life on the road.  To name a few…

“Load Out”                              Jackson Browne

“Torn and Frayed”                   Rolling Stones

“Movin’ On”                             Bad Company

“Travelin’ Band”                      Creedence Clearwater Revival

“We’re an American Band”      Grand Funk

I’m familiar with a couple of relatively obscure “road” songs that chronicle life on the road with a different tone.  They are more emotionally impactful and depressing – and that’s what I like about them.

The first is “Motel Blues” by Loudon Wainwright III.

In this town television shuts off at two
What can a lonely rock and roller do?
The bed’s so big and the sheets are clean
Your girlfriend said that you were 19
The styrofoam ice bucket’s full of ice
Come up to my motel room, treat me nice

And ends…

There’s a Bible in the drawer don’t be afraid
I’ll put up the sign to warn the cleanup maid
There’s lots of soap and lots of towels
Never mind those desk clerk’s scowls
I’ll buy you breakfast, they’ll think you’re my wife
Come up to my motel room, save my life

Another is “Sitting in My Hotel” by the Kinks.

If my friends could see me now, driving round just like a film star,
In a chauffeur driven jam jar, they would laugh.
They would all be saying that it’s not really me,
They would all be asking who I’m trying to be.
If my friends could see me now,
Looking out my hotel window,
Dressed in satin strides and two-tone daisy roots,
If my friends could see me now I know they would smile.

Sitting in my hotel, hiding from the dramas of this great big world,
Seven stories high, looking at the world go by-y.
Sitting in my hotel room, thinking about the countryside and sunny days in June.
Trying to hide the gloom, sitting in my hotel room.

For those of you not up on your British slang, daisy roots are boots.

Apparently, life on the road isn’t all fun and games and often result in loneliness and isolation.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Mr. Wendal, Arrested Development

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President Trump was in California for fundraising this week, and couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the state’s homeless situation.  USA Today covered the story with the headline:

Blaming shelters and street sleeping, Donald Trump blasts California for homeless crisis

Now, I live in the San Francisco Bay area, so I’m well aware we have become the homeless capital of the world.  But we do our best to come up with effective policies to deal with this challenging situation; and treat the homeless population with dignity and respect.

This reminded me of the Arrested Development song “Mr. Wendal.”

This song was written in 1992 about the homeless condition but looks at it from an interesting perspective.  It calls on us to see the homeless as people we can learn from – that there is wisdom in choosing a lifestyle that isn’t concerned with materialistic trappings.

Mr. Wendal has freedom
A free that you and I think is dumb
Free to be without the worries of a quick to diss society
For Mr. Wendal’s a bum

Yeah, I know, that POV may be a tad naïve and oversimplified, but it comes from a genuine sense of kindness and understanding.  And those are things we can use a little more of today.

Arrested Development was one of the first rap groups to make it their mission to record music with positive messages.

Musically, the song uses a couple of cool samples to great effect.  The most obvious one comes from Steely Dan’s “Peg.”  The other is a vocal sample from “Sing a Simple Song” by Sly and the Family Stone.  Dig it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What a Man, Linda Lyndell

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Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Mark Vincent. Mark is a multi instrumental musician (guitar, bass and recently drums) with The Occasionalists – Brooklyn, NY’s premiere live karaoke band. When he’s not playing with the band, he makes music of a different kind for the patients of his chiropractic practice in Manhattan.

In 1993 the rap group Salt n Pepa teamed with En Vogue for a massive hit with a version of “What a Man,” a Stax single that had reached #50 on Billboard in 1968.  Although they added new provocative lyrics to the verses; the chorus, main guitar riff and general vibe of the song were lifted directly from the original.  I had only been familiar with the original from an Oxford compilation CD someone had burned for me, so I never had access to the artist or any credits.  It was only when my band decided to cover it, that I discovered the origins — which turned out to have an interesting backstory.

Linda Lyndell was a white gospel singer in Gainesville, FL.  She began singing with RnB groups as a teenager and after singing back up for James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, she recorded with Stax producers Issac Hayes and David Porter in 1967 and 1968.  The second of these sessions produced “What a Man.”

Between the funky R&B sound and references to James Brown in the lyrics, the song caught the unwanted attention of the KKK and other white supremacist groups, who did not approve of a white girl singing in such a manner.  After getting death threats from the KKK, she retreated from the music business, living in seclusion back in Gainesville for the next 25 years. She only learned about the Salt n Pepa cover after she received her first royalty check in the mail.  Inspired by the success of the remake, she began performing again and sang “What a Man” in public for the first time in 2003 at the opening of the Stax Museum.

No disrespect to Salt n Pepa, but Lyndell’s version has a warmer, more soulful feel to it and is musically more interesting.   The guitars, piano, and horns are all more expansive and the song moves around more despite being only half the length.  At the risk of being racially inappropriate, I played that song for 15 years without the slightest notion I was listening to a 22-year old white girl from FL.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Thing We Said Today, Dwight Yoakam

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Those of you that know me personally are aware that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, The Beatles.  I’ve collected all their official releases and dozens of bootlegs that contain outtakes, alternate takes, and demos.

I have an iTunes playlist of Beatles covers that has thousands of versions of their songs.  My playlist is totally indiscriminate.  Some of the cuts are awesome – some pathetic.  But I’ve collected them all – straight covers, and lots of variations including soul, country, classical, easy listening, big band, jazz, and bluegrass.  I even have some Polka versions!

I really enjoy when an artist takes a Beatles tune and makes it their own.  Especially if it is well played and well sung.  Today’s SotW is an example of such – “Things We Said Today” by Dwight Yoakam.

Yoakam is a country artist, but his style is much closer to rock influenced honky-tonk than traditional Nashville country.  At least that was true when he began his recording career in the mid ‘80s.  (Today it seems like all the top country acts really play rock music with a twang.)  Believe it or not, Yoakam actually shared a bill with the punk band Hüsker Dü in 1986!  On his 2012 album 3 Pears, Yoakam enlisted the help of Beck to provide handclaps on “A Heart Like Mine.”

His cover of “Things We Said Today” is a terrific example of his melding of rock and country.  The song has an inventive recurring riff that sets the tone for what’s to come.  It’s heavier than the Beatles original.  And it ends with a searing guitar solo.

On a side note, I have an interesting story about seeing Yoakam live.  Back in the mid ‘80s, my wife was working for an ad agency in Boston when she was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of WBOS’s format change to country music.  I was her guest.  The party included live performances by some of the rising country artists of the day, including Reba McEntire… and Yoakam.

Boston wasn’t a hotbed for country music fans back then (and probably still isn’t) so the audience of radio and ad executives were more interested in the hors d’oeuvres and drinks than the music.  But being the music nerd that I am, I walked (alone) up to the front of the stage and watched both artists perform.  Even though I couldn’t claim to be a country music fan, I could tell that these were top quality musicians and deserved to be heard.  It was a great experience that is seared into my memory.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Wishing Well, Terence Trent D’Arby

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Back in 1987, Terence Trent D’Arby released an album of organic, neo-soul tracks that stood out from the other R&B of the day due to its lack of artificial sounding instruments and his warm vocal style that reminded listeners of classic soul voices like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.

The album – Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby – was a huge commercial success internationally and in the US.  It was an exceptional album that touched on soul, funk and even a little rock, but it was also hampered by D’Arby’s hubris and conceit.  In interviews he called himself a genius (though not a stable genius) and claimed his album was the most important record since The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The album contained “Wishing Well” that went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as their Soul Singles chart, and is today’s SotW.

When I was a club DJ in Boston in the mid/late ‘80s, I always enjoyed spinning this number.  It was a sure fire crowd pleaser, guaranteed to fill the dance floor… and something the DJ could also appreciate.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Gold, John Stewart

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I’m writing to you today from southern California, so I thought I’d feature a recording that conveys the SoCal vibe.

I’ve selected “Gold” by John Stewart.

Stewart was born and died in San Diego.  In between, he was a key member of the Kingston Trio – replacing original member Dave Guard.  Stewart was hired by the group to write songs, sing, and play banjo and guitar.

After six years with the Kingston Trio, he wrote “Daydream Believer” which became a #1 hit for the Monkees in 1967.

Next, he began a career with his singing partner, Buffy Ford, who became his wife in 1975.  They remained together for the rest of his life.  After one album together he was off on a solo career, launched with the release of his critically acclaimed album, California Bloodlines (1969).

Stewart continued to record at a pace of about an album a year, but most of them languished in obscurity – until the release of 1979’s Bombs Away Dream Babies. Bombs Away… was co-produced by Lindsey Buckingham, who was hot off the success of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumours.  Buckingham also sang and played guitar on the recording; Stevie Nicks sang too.

Bombs Away… featured “Gold;” the song that anchored the disc and reached #5 on the pop charts.  The cut has a mysteriously dark feel.  The bass gallops along, punctuated with electric piano, guitar and, sparse drumming.

The lyrics tell the cynical, satirical tale of an LA musician trying to make it in “the Biz.”  The refrain “Drivin’ over Kanan, singin’ to my soul / There’s people out there turnin’ music into gold” captures the desperation of the singer.

Stewart deserved more commercial success than he attained.  He had many influential and more successful friends in the music industry that held him in very high regard.  For instance, his 1970 album, Willard, featured James Taylor on guitar and Carole King contributed vocals and keys.  This was at the height of their success leading the early ‘70s singer/songwriter movement.

Roseanne Cash thought of Stewart as a mentor and recorded his “Runaway Train” on her 1988 album King’s Record Shop.  It was a #1 hit on the country charts.

So today I salute John Stewart and his contributions to the musical history of southern California.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Monkey, Dave Bartholomew; Monkey to Man, Elvis Costello & The Smartest Monkeys, XYC

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The great New Orleans R&B artist, songwriter and record producer, Dave Bartholomew, died on June 23rd.  I’m totally embarrassed that I missed it but that was right around the time that I was in Sonoma for 3 days and on the east coast for the following 10.

Even if you don’t know him by name, I’m certain that you’ve heard his work.  He wrote or co-wrote many Fats Domino hits, like “The Fat Man”, I’m Walkin’”, “Blue Monday”, and  “Ain’t That a Shame” – a pop #1 in 1955.  And there’s more — “I Hear You Knocking” (Smiley Lewis) and “My Ding-a-Ling” (Chuck Berry).

He produced Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” that was an R&B #1 in 1952, and Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.”

Today’s first SotW is Bartholomew’s own “The Monkey.”

“The Monkey” is a social commentary about the way humans have descended from “the monkey” but doesn’t always behave like the superior species.  (Unfortunately, a very apropos sentiment in today’s divisive political climate.)

Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do
Go out on a night and get all in a stew
Or use a gun or a club or a knife
And take another monkey’s life
Yes, man descended, the worthless bum
But, brothers, from us he did not come

In 2004, Elvis Costello released a song called “Monkey to Man.”

The opening lyric is “A long time ago, our point of view as broadcast by Mr. Bartholomew.”  I would venture to say the significance of that reference was missed on all but a few.  (Now you’re in the know!)  There’s a YouTube video of Costello and Bartholomew doing a live performance of “The Monkey” together with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Costello’s song picks up where Bartholomew’s left off.

And now the world is full of sorrow and pain
And it’s time for us to speak up again
You’re slack and sorry, such an arrogant brood
The only purpose you serve is to bring us our food
Sit here staring at your pomp and pout
Outside the bars we use for keeping you out
You’ve taken everything that you wanted
Broke it up and plundered it and hunted
Ever since we said it you went and took the credit
It’s been headed this way since the world began
When a vicious creature took the jump from monkey to man

XTC also recorded a track with another variation on the theme.

“The Smartest Monkeys” was on their 1992 album, Nonsuch and tackles the subject of homelessness.

Well man created the cardboard box to sleep in it
And man converted the newspaper to a blanket
Well you have to admit that he’s come a long way
Since swinging about in the trees
We’re the smartest monkeys

Thank you, Dave Bartholomew, for the legacy you left us and the inspiration you paid forward.  RIP.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Nadie Como Yo & Juan Saltarin, Los Yaki

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Today’s SotW is another installment of the rare record series.  I scored this copy of the 50-year-old Muchachita (1969), by Los Yaki in a thrift store for a buck!

Los Yaki was a Mexican rock band of the mid to late 60s that recorded a mix of originals and British invasion influenced covers.  One thing that made them stand out against some of their competitors was that they sang the songs in Spanish translations.

I’m not sure what Yaki means but I’d guess it is an intentional misspelling of Yaqui – an indigenous people of Mexico.  The band was made up of:

BENITO RAUL “Benny” IBARRA (Vocalist) 
JOSE LUIS GAZCON (Guitar and 2nd Voice) 
MANUEL “Meme” GAZCON (Bass) 
LUIS ALFONSO ASCENCIO (Keys) 
MIGUEL ANGEL IBARRA (Drums)

This album has a cover of The Human Beinz “Nobody but Me,” retitled in Spanish as Nadie Como Yo.”

The disc also has a pretty cool version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – “Juan Saltarin.”

The record also has covers of Gary Puckett and The Union Gap’s two biggest hits, “Woman, Woman” (“Sylvia”) and “Young Girl” (“Muchachita” the album title song).  I can’t help but wonder if these choices were partly influenced by the San Diego based Union Gap’s proximity to the Mexican border.

My disc is only in VG condition; the cover grades even lower.  The last time I looked, two copies were for sale on Discogs.  A near mint copy demanded $155; the VG+ was going for $85.

Enjoy… until next week.