Song of the Week – Onion, Shannon and the Clams

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Shannon and the Clams is a band based out of Oakland, CA that played the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last night.  Next, they’re off to Europe.

The band is shaped around songwriters Shannon Shaw (bass/vocals) and Cody Blanchard (guitar/vocals), and supported by Nate Mahan (drums) and Will Sprott (keyboards), 

Their latest album, Onion, was released last February.  I’ve been listening to it a lot.  If you think you would enjoy a modern take on ‘60s girl group music, you need to check them out.

Onion was partially inspired by the December 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in their hometown that took the lives of 36 people.  This touched the group deeply because the Ghost Ship was a haven for local artists and musicians – and was a place that Shannon and the Clams had performed.

It was hard to decide which cut to feature as today’s SotW, but I settled on the title track.

“Onion” contains all of the elements that make me a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ music.  It’s part Del Shannon, part garage rock (fuzzed guitar), part soul, with a power pop twist.  It straddles the space between the campiness of The Cramps and the oldies covers recorded by Blondie (“Denis Denis” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too”).

The lyrics to “Onion” are simple, but interesting – dealing with the “layers” of personality of those afflicted with mental illness.

Well I’m working on it
Holy shit I avoid so many problems
Holy shit this isn’t it
No one told me I was just an onion
I’m just a kid oh so I thought
Please doc, make it stop
Let me go home
I’ll keep working on it
But I’ll be gone before I peel this old onion

But the music keeps the tragic lyrics from becoming depressing.  You may still want to dance to it.

Onion was produced by the omnipresent Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), at his Nashville headquarters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Street Fighting Man, Rolling Stones; Peace Frog, The Doors; Peace Dog, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Did anyone watch the four-part series on CNN called 1968 – The Year that Changed America? It was very good and highlighted the turmoil that gripped the country the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy as well as marches against the Viet Nam War, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention and the civil rights protests by American athletes at the Summer Olympics.

And the strife wasn’t confined within the borders of the US. Events that took place in the summer of ’68 converged in rock music.

“Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones was written about Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political activist, after he marched on the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.

Keith Richards guitar part on “Street Fighting Man” was famously recorded using an acoustic guitar overloaded onto a cassette tape. No electric guitars are on the cut.

It took another 18 months for the Doors to weigh in, but they contributed “Peace Frog” from their Morrison Hotel album.

Wikipedia says the “lyrics were adapted from a couple of Morrison’s poems, one being entitled “Abortion Stories”. Guitarist Robby Krieger has told the story of writing (and then recording) the music for “Peace Frog,” and then working with Morrison to look through his notebooks of poetry until the lyrics came to the song.”

But many listeners interpreted the song as a response to the Chicago Convention protests or to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven for lewd behavior onstage. (He does refer to New Haven in the lyrics.)

I’m all in on the Chicago Convention theory because the first and last verse say:

There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles (She came)
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee (She came)
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago (She came)
Blood on the rise, it’s following me
Think about the break of day
She came and then she drove away
Sunlight in her hair

We could use more of this 50 years later, in 2018!

I don’t really know if The Cult’s “Peace Dog” has anything to do with The Doors recording but the stylistic and title similarities will forever connect these two songs in my mind. So I’ll throw that one in here too, for good measure

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Avenging Annie, Andy Pratt

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Debbie Doherty. Debbie has been a lover of rock music since her childhood and has extensive knowledge of the subject. She’s always been partial to men that have some connection to the music world – though she’s no groupie. And not only does she know how to properly handle a vinyl album, she’s my wife!

“Stairway to Heaven,” “Jungleland,” “Free Bird.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” all epic rock songs for the ages. In my humble opinion, “Avenging Annie” by Andy Pratt should have achieved status in this elevated playlist.

Written in ’72 by Pratt, a recent Harvard graduate and a skilled studio engineer, “Avenging Annie” combines passionate piano with a strong bass line throughout. A colorful ballad loosely based on a “Pretty Boy Floyd” story line. Pratt’s alternating falsetto and tenor voices provide a strong female narrative in the telling of Annie’s love for Floyd, “the avenger from Oklahoma,” her decision to join up with her outlaw, and the terrible consequences that lay ahead. You feel Annie’s emotions and passion thru Pratt’s in-character voice.

I’m not a musician so I can’t speak to how the song was created. You do hear a mix of very intricate play, a western flavor, lots of complicated piano, not unlike similar sounds by ELP and Rick Derringer from that time period.

In 1973 I was a sophomore at a Catholic high school – we listened to WGTR a small, kilowatt, daytime station in Natick, Massachusetts. “Avenging Annie” was recorded in part, in nearby Southboro. Maybe they dropped a copy off at the station? All I know is that when I heard this song I thought it rocked and I loved the emotional roller coaster it took me on. It initially became popular when a bootleg copy was aired on WBRU at Brown University. Columbia records got wind of the song and signed Pratt. “Avenging Annie” only made it to #78 on The Billboard 100 but it did reach #1 in Providence and New Orleans.

Fun fact, guess what appeared on the B side of “Avenging Annie” on a 1973 Columbia promo disc? “Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen. Anyone have a copy of that? Ten minutes of music bliss.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Good Times, The Jay-Bees

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

In late 1964 the Rolling Stones released their second album in the US, 12 x 5. It included a couple of their early hits — “Time Is on My Side” and “It’s All Over Now,” both covers of American R&B songs. But by this time Jagger and Richards were already dipping their toes into the songwriting waters.

One of the originals on 12 x 5 was “Good Times, Bad Times.” It’s a decent slow, country blues. It may remind you of their version of Fred McDowell and Gary Davis’ “You Gotta Move” from Sticky Fingers.

In 1968 a garage band from West Virginia called the Jay-Bees took the song, converted it to a minor key and created a proto punk classic. (They also shortened the title to “Good Times.”)

The creepy laugh that continues throughout the song adds to the haunted house effect of the cut.

Why this track never made it onto one of the Nuggets compilations is a mystery to me. Someone needs to contact archivist Lenny Kaye to try to get the answer.

But no matter… I’d guess the Stones — the original punks — would approve of the Jay-Bees treatment.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Cult is a band out of the UK that was led by lead singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy. Although they formed the group in 1983, I hadn’t caught wind of them until they released “She Sells Sanctuary” in 1985.

I can’t remember where I was the first time I heard this song but I recall that it grabbed me immediately. How could it not? It launches with a captivating intro. It starts with the sound of a buzzing bee, then distant, distorted guitar for 4 bars that gives way to the full band backing a locomotive riff.

Duffy told the story of how he came up with the intro in an interview with Johnny DeMarco:

It sounds like a silly old story, but we were recording “She Sells Sanctuary” in a studio in London called Olympic, where Zeppelin and Free used to record… I was in there during “She Sells Sanctuary,” and I found a violin bow, and I started to play the guitar with the bow like Jimmie Page. I did it to amuse Astbury, who was in the control room, and in order to make it sound weirder, I just hit every pedal I had on the pedal board. Then once I stopped banging the strings and doing all that, I played the middle section of the song, which was kind of a pick thing with all the BOSS pedals on, and that sound just leaped out. The producer went, “Hold it, hold it, that’s great!” And we decided to start the song with that mystical sound.

When Astbury comes in on vocals, you might think Jim Morrison was reincarnated. Clearly I’m not the only one that hears the similarity of their vocal timbers. Astbury covered two songs (“Touch Me” and “Wild Child”) on the Doors tribute album – Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors.

Then he went on to actually become a member of the Doors! Well, at least performing under the name Doors of the 21st Century (or D21c) with original group members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger.

The title of the song never makes it into the lyrics. But the clue to its meaning come in the line:

And the fire in your eyes keeps me alive
Inside her you’ll find sanctuary

The singer finds sanctuary in his relationship with the woman that has “the fire in your eyes.”

The version of “She Sells Sanctuary” that I first heard (and featured here as the SotW) was the one released on the Cult’s 1985, second album, Love. But “SSS” was released on a 7” single before the album came out (and without the iconic intro).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Believe in You, Don Williams

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

If you’re a regular reader of my weekly posts, you know that I don’t often use my soapbox to deliver political messages but today is an exception.

The Trump policy to separate children from their parents as they seek refugee status at the southern border of the US is cruel and inhumane. It does not represent who we, as American people, are. There has to be a more kind and generous way to protect our borders.

So what has that got to do with the SotW?

I was reminded of the lyrics to a song called “I Believe in You” by the country music star Don Williams.

I don’t believe in superstars, organic food and foreign cars
I don’t believe the price of gold, the certainty of growing old
That right is right and left is wrong, that north and south can’t get along
That east is east and west is west and being first is always best
But I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad, and I believe in you

The lyrics to this 1980, #1 hit on the country charts are particularly appropriate because they seem to address the political divide in our country. But the last line ties it into the news of the day – “I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad.”

For me (and probably you if you’re reading this) another line hits home:

But I believe in love, I believe in music, I believe in magic and I believe in you

Yes, I really do believe in the magic of music to heal and bring people together.

So there you have it. I’ve said my piece. Music without politics next time.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Black and White, Flash

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

At the height of the prog rock era in the early ‘70s was a British group called Flash that was a poor man’s Yes. Not only did Flash imitate Yes style arrangements and Jon Anderson’s high register vocals, but they also featured former Yes musicians Tony Kaye (keyboards) and Peter Banks (guitar).

Flash released three albums in 1972-73, but bad vibes between Banks and the rest of the band led to a break up by the end of ’73.

Today’s SotW is “Black and White” from their middle album – In the Can.

“Black and White” is a showcase for Banks’ stellar guitar work. At 12 minutes, the cut risks becoming boring – but that never happens. The playing, singing and thematic changes keep it interesting throughout.

Keith Gordon posted this description of the song on his blog — That Devil Music: classic rock & blues remembered… – in 2013:

A wildcat reading of “Black And White,” from Flash’s sophomore effort In The Can, opens with Hough’s spry drumbeats atop which Banks layers on swirling, prog-psych guitar textures. A twelve-minute opus, the song is the perfect showcase for both the band’s individual talents and immense chemistry. The odd man out may be vocalist Colin Carter, who is too frequently (and unfairly) compared to Jon Anderson of Yes when, in fact, he has his own distinctive style. “Black And White” is as much a display of Carter’s impressive vocal gymnastics as it is for the guitar or percussion and, at nearly a quarter-hour of playing time, there’s a lot of virtuoso sounds emanating from the grooves.

Flash also produced a couple of noteworthy LP covers that would not fly today given the current sensitivity to the #MeToo movement. One showed a woman’s panties and another displayed hair falling over a shoulder, barely concealing a naked breast. (Both were far more provocative when the gatefold was opened!)

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Somebody Help Me, Jackie Edwards, Spencer Davis Group, Everly Brothers

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW is another installment of the “Evolution Series.” The subject song is “Somebody Help Me.” It was written by Jackie Edwards, a Jamaican ska artist that was popular in the early ‘60s. He was an early “discovery” of Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.

Edwards’ release of “Somebody Help Me” was on a 1966, UK album called By Demand. It has a big band sound, complete with a strong horn arrangement.

Blackwell signed The Spencer Davis Group to Island in 1964 and introduced them to Edwards’ songs. They released “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me,” both #1 hits in the UK. In the US, “Somebody Help Me” only reached #47 in mid ‘67. But it shoulda been a bigger hit here too!

This take is more rock oriented and features guitar, organ, and percussion to emphasize the rhythm.

The Everly Brothers picked up on the cut and released their own take on their album Two Yanks in England (1966). This one also relies on power chords from the guitars but also highlights the Brothers trademark close harmony.

All three versions maintain the spirit of the song, yet each also highlights the unique personality of its recording artists.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pale Blue Eyes, Velvet Underground

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

It’s coming up on 5 years since Lou Reed passed away. When he died, many of my readers were asking me to pay him a tribute with a SotW selection. At the time, Reed received so much press that I didn’t feel like I had anything new or worthwhile to add to the coverage.

With the distance of time, I’m ready to weigh in by sharing my passion for a beautiful song that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground’s third, self-titled album (1969) – “Pale Blue Eyes.”

The song has a very sparse arrangement – an organ lingers on long notes, simple bass figures, an electric guitar strums simple chords (and bends a few strings) and a tambourine keeps time with single shakes on the 2 and 4.

The delicate music is a perfect complement to the lyric about a passionate relationship that sounds like it’s ending. But the kicker comes in the last verse where Reed reveals the person he loves and wants to keep so badly is married.

It was good what we did yesterday
And I’d do it once again
The fact that you are married
Only proves you’re my best friend
But it’s truly, truly a sin

The influence of “Pale Blue Eyes” is justified through many great bands that have covered it. R.E.M. gave us a version on their 1987 rarities album, Dead Letter Office. (DLO also had 2 other VU songs on it – “There She Goes Again” and “Femme Fatale.”) A diverse group of other artists has performed the song live, including Patti Smith, Hole, Alejandro Escovedo, The Killers, and Crowded House(!).

“Linger on…”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Moon Germs, Billy Cobham

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The great jazz fusion drummer, Billy Cobham, has recently ended a short tour as the Crosswinds Project, paying tribute to his own 1974 renowned album Crosswinds. His band included Paul Hanson (bassoon, saxophone), the brother of one of my bandmates in Rockridge Station.

I was unable to make it to the shows at the famous Yoshi’s in Oakland; but my friends that did, raved about the quality of the performances. That was the catalyst for me to dig out my Cobham discs and revisit the music.

The Cobham album I’ve been most familiar with is Total Eclipse, also from 1974. (I remember buying that record from the cut-out bins at NE Music City in Boston’s Kenmore Square.) When I returned to Total Eclipse I was blown away by a track I’d almost forgotten, “Moon Germs,” so I selected it as today’s SotW.

This funky number rocks! It has a big, dense arrangement, with a strong bass line (Alex Blake) and more horns than a stampede of rhinos (both Brecker brothers and Glenn Ferris). The guitar work by John Abercrombie is powerful. Check out the way the sax and guitar exchange solos halfway through. Remarkable!

It’s no wonder “Moon Germs” has become a staple in Cobham’s repertoire.

Enjoy… until next week.