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.

Song of the Week – Cannonball, The Breeders

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A few weeks ago, I was with friends that asked the question “What was the best concert you ever saw?”  I’ve seen some very good ones; classic rock like Springsteen, The Kinks, Allman Brothers, and Zappa, through to the acts of this millennium including White Stripes, Arcade Fire, Real Estate, War on Drugs, Arctic Monkeys, and New Pornographers.  But one of my all-time favorite concerts was seeing Pixies at San Diego’s Street Scene in 2005.  Although it was the “reunited” Pixies, the band included all of the original members – even bassist Kim Deal.  They were a powerful group!

Today’s SotW is “Cannonball,” from The Breeders album Last Splash.

Why not something by Pixies?  Because I posted about “Debaser” in April 2018.  And “Gigantic,” written by Kim, was posted by Peter in 2013.  Besides, “Cannonball” is a very cool song and The Breeders are Deal’s other band.

Deal formed The Breeders when internal conflict with Pixies frontman Frank Black became untenable.  The first iteration of The Breeders included Tonya Donelly of Throwing Muses and Belly, Josephine Wiggs, and later, Deal’s twin sister Kelley.  By the time of Last Splash, Donelly was out and Jim Macpherson was in on drums.

Now, back to “Cannonball.”

“Cannonball” was chosen as #12 on Rollin­­g Stone’s 50 Best Songs of the 90s and was a substantial hit on modern rock radio.  It even reached #44 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  But it was one of the strangest, most unlikely hits to achieve that success.

It opens with Deal making a soundcheck (“Check check check, one-two, one-two”).  The next thing you know there’s a chant that sounds like the guards at the Wicked Witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz.  A drum click track sets the rhythm for a bass line to start the song in earnest after stepping up in key.  The guitars join in and then there’s this weird screeching sound like an old fashioned, dial-up cable modem.  (You probably have to be at least 30+ years old to know what that means.)  The track utilizes the soft/loud dynamic that was a trademark of Pixies and there’s a false ending.  Then it throws us off by actually ending abruptly.

The lyrics are totally incomprehensible (at least to me) so I won’t even attempt to quote or interpret them.

Although Last Splash was The Breeders’ most successful album – it also included the terrific “Drivin on 9” – this configuration of the band had broken up before they could record a followup.  However, they are back together again and were touring earlier this summer.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Man in the Moon, Village

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the first time a man walked on the moon.  If you were alive at the time, you remember it like you remember where you were and what you were doing when America was attacked on 9/11.

I was totally into the space program.  I knew the names of all the rockets and loved to build and launch Estes model rockets.  I even built the Estes model of the Saturn V – The booster that launched the Apollo XI mission.

As you may predict, I need to find a song that is a proper tribute to the occasion.  There are hundreds (thousands?) of songs that make reference to the moon and I love many of them.  Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” immediately comes to mind, as does Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”  There are more obscure candidates like Television’s “Marquee Moon” or “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but I’m still not there.

This being the song of the week, I need to go even more Obscure.  My pick is “Man in the Moon” by Village.  I’ll bet you never heard it!

One of the reasons I picked this song is because it is of its time.  It was released in 1969, the year of the moon landing, and has the psychedelic sound of its day.  The “Man in the Moon” single was even released on a label called Head!

The blog site Anorak Thing describes the track as follows:

“Man In The Moon” starts out with some ethereal organ and then gets a bit heavy with some great bottom end bass.  What I love about this record is it’s from 1969 and despite the organ work it’s not overly heavy like some of the plodding/wanky Deep Purple stuff of the period.  Halfway through it gets a bit “improvisational” but never too “way out” either.  It reminds me of early Atomic Rooster if they were a bit more “lysergic”.

Village was led by British R&B musician Peter Bardens and included Bill Porter on drums and bassist Peter Thomas, who would later to be in Elvis Costello’s Attractions.  Before Village, Bardens was in Them with Van Morrison (1965).  After Village, he would go on to found the progressive rock band Camel.

“That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Good Times, Chic

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Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the (in)famous “disco sucks” night at Comiskey Park in Chicago.  The event was officially called the Disco Demolition.

A local radio DJ, Steve Dahl, lost his job when his station went to an all disco format in response to the trend of the day.  I did a little research and was surprised to see that most of the hits that held the #1 spot on the Billboard singles chart in 1979 were disco (OK, maybe some were R&B) tracks.  This week in 1979, Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” was #1, “Hot Stuff” was #3 and Chic’s “Good Times” was at #13 – with a bullet.

When Dahl landed at another rock station, he decided to seek revenge and would “explode” disco records on the air.

“Back in the day when we had turntables, I would drag the needle across the record and blow it up with a sound effect, and people liked that.”

He decided to take this a step further and stage an actual demolition of disco records at Comiskey.  He persuaded the White Sox to co-sponsor a promotion that would allow fans to attend a twi-night double header against the Detroit Tigers for less than $1 if they would bring a disco record to be demolished in a center field explosion between games.

About 50,000 people showed up, way more than the typical 16k that attended most games.  The park’s security at the event wasn’t up to the task of crowd control.  Thousands of fans poured onto the field in a riot.  They stole the bases and tore up the field, forcing the second game to be postponed.

Here’s a short ESPN documentary about the event.

Ya know, at the time I was one of those “disco sucks” rockers.   But today, I kind of like to hear the best of those songs.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Things That I Used to Do, Guitar Slim

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Guitar Slim cut a record for the Specialty label in 1953 that would play a significant role in the history of rock & roll – not only for the singular performance but also for the impact it would have on future artists.  The track was produced by a then 23-year-old Ray Charles!

Slim applied his trademark distortion on “The Things That I Used to Do,” an effect that influenced guitarist legends.  You can connect his sound to guitarists from bluesmen Buddy Guy and Albert Collins to iconoclast Frank Zappa.  Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded versions of Slim’s standard as did Elvin Bishop, Ike & Tina Turner, and countless others.

This Hendrix recording was released on the 2018 album Both Sides of the Sky.  It was cut at a session that featured Winter joining Hendrix on a second guitar, Billy Cox on bass and Dallas Taylor (who was playing with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the time) on drums.

“The Things That I Used to Do” was voted as one of the 500 that shaped the rock genre by former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator, James Henke.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Tom Robinson Band

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This weekend marks the end of LGBT Pride Month.  June was selected as Pride Month to recognize the landmark Stonewall riot, 50 years ago yesterday, on June 28th, 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York.  This incident is often cited as one of the most significant events that triggered the modern gay rights movement in the US.

Today’s SotW celebrates gay lib in song – “2-4-6-8 Motorway” by the Tom Robinson Band.

“2-4-6-8 Motorway” was released in 1977 and reached #5 on the UK charts.  Though it didn’t make the pop charts in the US, it did receive significant airplay on FM Rock radio.

The song has two sides to it.  On the one hand, it is about driving a “lorry” through the night to the early morning.

And it’s two four six eight, never too late
Me and my radio trucking on through the night
Three five seven nine, on a little white line
Motorway sun coming up with the morning light.

The tie into the gay liberation movement comes to those enlightened with a familiarity of the popular gay lib chant “2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight… 3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine”.

Robinson also recorded the much more obvious “Glad to be Gay” that was included on his 1978 album, Rising Free.

We’ve come a long way since Stonewall and Robinson’s anthems, but we have further to go to ensure the rights of the LGBT community – especially for transgender individuals.  That’s why Pride Month remains relevant today.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What I Am, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

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In 1988 Edie Brickell & New Bohemians released their debut album, Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars.  The album received a lot of airplay on “modern rock” radio stations, at least in Boston, and grabbed my attention.  There were two songs in particular that stuck to me  — “Circle” and today’s SotW, “What I Am.”

In 2006, Brickell described her inspiration for the song to the San Francisco Bay Times.

In a world religion class, everyone was complicating life and existence by over-thinking.  I had this sense it’s right here, right now.  It’s who we are and what we feel.  It’s not this tangled web of psychology and philosophy.  I was driving to band practice and started singing that song.  I wanted to be real, not adopt some philosophy or role.  Instinct is our driving force.

So she wrote:

I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know if you know what I mean
Philosophy is a talk on a cereal box Religion is a smile on a dog

Besides the beguiling lyric, I was also drawn to the lead guitar work of Kenny Withrow who co-wrote “What I Am” with Brickell.  He uses an auto-wah/envelope filter on his leads that reproduces the sound of a Jerry Garcia solo (think “Estimated Prophet” or “Shakedown Street”).

On a side note, Brickell met Paul Simon on the set of Saturday Night Live when she was the guest musical artist on November 5, 1988.  About a half year later they were married and remain so today!

Her dad was a pro bowler that played for the Dallas Broncos.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Battle of Who Could Care Less, Ben Folds Five

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How do you feel about Ben Folds?  I first heard of him when he released his second album as the Ben Folds Five (there were only 3 people in the band), Whatever and Ever Amen (1997) – that’s the one with one of his most well-known songs, Brick.”

I kind of liked his sense of humor and self-deprecation.  At the time he described the groups sound as “punk rock for sissies.”

The band’s guitarless lineup of piano (Folds), bass (Robert Sledge) and drums (Darren Jessee) made them stand out against other popular groups of the day.  I often thought they sounded a bit like Todd Rundgren on some of his more poppy, piano-based hits, like “Hello It’s Me.”

Take a listen to the SotW, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less,” from Whatever… to see if you hear the similarity.

“Battle…” exemplifies the previously mentioned self-deprecating humor.  The song is about a guy who’s competing to prove his “coolness” by being aloof and indifferent.

Do you not hear me anymore?
I know it’s not your thing to care
I know it’s cool to be so bored
It sucks me in when you’re aloof
It sucks me in, it sucks, it works
I guess it’s cool to be alone

This should cheer you up for sure
See, I’ve got your old I.D.
And you’re all dressed up like the Cure

Will you never rest
Fighting the battle of who could care less
Unearned unhappiness
You’re my hero, I confess

Pretty funny stuff!

Folds indie cred was burnished through his work as the producer of the first solo album by the provocative performance artist, Amanda Palmer (formerly of The Dresden Dolls).

But somehow, I hold it against him that he was a judge on a TV singing show – the a capella contest The Sing Off, that was on NBC for five years.  That’s not very hip in my book.  Then again, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith agreed to judge American Idol for two seasons.  So who knows?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – So It Goes, Let Me Kiss Ya & I Live on a Battlefield, Nick Lowe

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I was listening to a Spotify Daily Mix a few days ago that was feeding me a healthy dose of Nick Lowe songs… and I was digging it.

Lowe began his musical career in the Pub Rock scene in early ‘70s London.  By the mid/late ‘70s he was working with Stiff Records as a producer and recording artist – vaguely associated with “punk” rock, but not really.

His first solo album was called Jesus of Cool (1978) in the UK but was given the less offensive title Pure Pop for Now People in the US (with a reprogrammed song order).  It contained Lowe’s first single release for Stiff, “So It Goes.”

Pure pop, indeed!  The song ended up on the soundtrack of The Ramones film Rock ‘n Roll High School.

Lowe’s next album, Labour of Lust (1979), contained one of his most popular hits, “Cruel to Be Kind.”

Lowe’s third solo LP, Nick the Nife (1982), gave us the power pop classic “Let Me Kiss Ya.”

This song is so innocent and sweet it could give you a cavity.

Lowe continued to write and record terrific songs.  In 1994, Lowe released one of my favorites in his catalog – “I Live on a Battlefield” (co-written by Paul Carrack) – from The Impossible Bird album.

An irony of his career is that he’s become a wealthy man from a song he wrote that was made more famous by Elvis Costello — “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”  But the big bucks came from the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack to the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film The Bodyguard (1992) and it wasn’t even Costello’s version!  The massive sales success of that album generated royalties to Lowe estimated to exceed $2.5 million.  Not bad!!!

Lowe was married to Carlene Carter for 11 years.  That made him Johnny Cash’s stepson-in-law.  He played in “supergroup” Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner.  He is also one of a relatively small collection of artists that have performed at least 5 times at the free, San Francisco music festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  All of these connections put him in damn good company!

No wonder I was digging that Spotify playlist.  Nick Lowe is a treasure.

Enjoy… until next week.