Song of the Week – I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep & The Red & The Black, Blue Oyster Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW is by the heavy riffing, Long Island band Blue Öyster Cult and comes in two versions.

“I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” was on BÖC’s 1972 eponymous debut.

The song was reworked and given a new title – “The Red & The Black” – for their second release, 1973’s Tyranny and Mutation.

“The Red & The Black” opens with what sounds like a song “ending” and then kicks right into a blast furnace, fast tempo rocker. After two rounds of verse/chorus comes a blistering guitar solo by Buck Dharma. At about 3 minutes in the bass takes a short solo but continues to propel the song forward all the way through to the end.

The song is a tribute to the Canadian Mounted Police and has become a staple of the band’s live shows in “The Red & The Black” format.

It is a prototypical hard rock performance in the genre that was popularized by bands like Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and Hawkwind.

BÖC was also the first band to utilize the umlaut in their name. This went on to become a heavy metal trademark, copied by other bans such as Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Queensrÿche and most effectively by the parody group Spın̈al Tap.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Fish Walk, Harvey Mandel

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Harvey Mandel is a guitarist that languishes in relative obscurity when he really should be a household name.

His career began in the mid-60s playing blues guitar with luminaries such as Charlie Musselwhite, Barry Goldberg, Elvin Bishop and Graham Bond. He was invited to join Canned Heat when lead guitarist Henry Vestine quit in 1969. Mandel’s third gig with the band was at Woodstock!

Next he joined John Mayall for two albums – the now classics, USA Union and Back to the Roots. The musicians he connected with through Mayall led to a short lived band called Pure Food and Drug Act. Their only album was critically acclaimed but never troubled the charts.

In 1975, the Rolling Stones auditioned him to replace Mick Taylor – the job that Ron Wood won. Mandel played on two songs (“Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel”) on the Stones “audition” album Black and Blue that also featured Woody and Wayne Perkins on other cuts.

But if Mandel is famous for anything, it is for developing the two-handed fretboard tapping technique that was later broadly popularized by Eddie Van Halen. (Mandel acknowledges picking up the technique, in a more rudimentary form, from fellow PFaDA bandmate Randy Resnick.) He introduced it on his 1973 solo album Shangrenade on songs such as “Fish Walk.”

Shangrenade was ahead of its time. If you’re a fan of Jeff Beck’s jazz/rock fusion instrumentals on Blow by Blow (1975), you will love Shangrenade as it explores much of the same landscape.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Living in the City, Hurray for the Riff Raff

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

This past week marked the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album considered by many to be among the first “concept” albums of the Rock era. The album was intended to be seen as a performance by the fictional band that bore the name of the album.

Today it is often lamented by baby boomers that due to the most popular, current music consumption vehicles – streaming and to a lesser degree iTunes libraries – the industry has become a hits only market. Conventional wisdom says that musicians don’t record “statements” and consumers aren’t interested in listening to a whole album by a single artist.

While that may be true in general, it is not without exception. One of my favorite albums of the “aughts” is Separation Sunday (2005) by The Hold Steady. It is a concept album that explored themes of conflict between Christianity and pimps, prostitutes, skinheads and drug addicts.

In March, Hurray for the Riff Raff released their 6th album called The Navigator, itself a concept album. HFTRR is a band led by Alynda Segarra, a woman with a very interesting backstory. (More about that in a bit.)

The Navigator unfolds in two acts and follows Segarra’s alter ego, Navita, who feels the need to escape the city. She visits a bruja (witch) who she asks to put her under a spell for 40 years. Act two begins when she wakes from the spell and discovers the city she once knew is now gone. (It has been gentrified.)

Somewhat autobiographical, it explores the urban territory that has long been the playground for Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Jim Carroll. (This is a departure from earlier HFTRR albums that leaned more toward the Americana of Dylan and The Band.)

Segarra was raised in a Puerto Rican neighborhood of New York. By the age of 17 she was steeped in the writings of the Beat generation and left home see America riding the rails. Caught illegally freight hopping in Ashville, NC, she was facing a month in jail when she was bailed out by friends. She moved on to New Orleans in 2004, found a connection to that city, and stayed there for 10 years. It was there that she started to write songs and sing. In 2014 she moved to Nashville but felt out of place being a city born Puerto Rican – not a southerner. Feeling like an outsider, Segarra began to reconnect to her ethnic roots and returned to New York.

Today’s SotW is “Living in the City” from The Navigator.

“Living in the City” tells the story of the young Navi (Segarra), living in the projects and observing the characters (Big Danny, Mariposa, Gypsy) and behaviors that led her to want to escape. Lyrically “Living in the City” reminds me of Born to Run era Springsteen — like “Meeting Across the River” and “Jungleland.”

Musically the song harkens back to Reed’s “Sweet Jane.”

Overall, The Navigator is a terrific record and proves the concept album is not dead. I strongly recommend you check it out on Spotify or YouTube.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Name For You, The Shins

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The first time I ever heard (or heard of) The Shins was on the soundtrack for Garden State. The 2004 rom-com’s soundtrack included 2 songs by The Shins but the one that made an immediate impact on me was the memorable “New Slang.” I had a little catching up to do.

By the time their third album — Wincing the Night Away – was released in 2007, I was a solid fan.

This year the Portland, OR based outfit (basically James Mercer and some sidemen) has released its 5th album, Heartworms, its first in 5 years. And it is pretty damned good.

Today’s SotW is the album’s opener, “Name For You.”

In an age where “grabbing pussy” has been normalized by our commander-in-chief and celebrities from Bill Cosby to Bill O’Reilly are accused of serial sexual assaults, it’s about time that we have a song (written by a man) that addresses women’s empowerment. In a recent Mojo interview, Mercer said of the song he was inspired to write because he has three daughters:

“I don’t want women in general to have to put up with frat-boy bullshit. I think I’m more sensitive to the issues because of my family life, but douche-baggery has always pissed me off. I think everyone should own their own sexuality and not be reliant on the society around them for some sort of approval.”

The serious nature of the song is offset by the catchy melody (a Mercer trademark) over a reggae-ish rhythm and effervescent guitars and keyboards.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Follow Me, lyme & cybelle; Outside Chance, The Turtles; He Quit Me, Leslie Miller

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

In the past I’ve written posts on the early, pre-fame songwriting of Cat Stevens and Elton John. Today’s post continues that theme, this time examining the initial work of Warren Zevon.

In the mid-60s Zevon teamed up with Violet Santangelo to write, record, and perform as the folk/rock duo lyme & cybelle (sic). The group recorded for the White Whale label and had moderate success with their single “Follow Me” – produced by Bones Howe who is most well-known for his work with The Association (“Windy”) and the 5th Dimension (“Up, Up and Away”) and later with Tom Waits.

“Follow Me” (co-written with Santangelo) is sometimes cited as one of the earliest psychedelic rock records, an elevated status that allowed it to be included in the Nuggets boxed set.

The connection to White Whale and Howe led to the opportunity for Zevon to present some songs for consideration to label mates The Turtles. “Outside Chance” (also co-written with Santangelo) was released in 1966 but didn’t dent the charts despite the opening guitar riff that borrowed from the Beatles’ “Taxman.”

Another Zevon song, “Like the Seasons”, was the b-side to the Turtles biggest hit, “Happy Together”, that booted the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” out of the #1 chart position in the spring of 1967.

Zevon’s “She Quit Me” was included on the soundtrack to the 1969 Academy Award winning film Midnight Cowboy. It was given a gender switch since it was sung by Leslie (sometimes spelled Lesley) Miller.

Miller was married to MGM record producer Alan Lorber who was partially responsible for the promotion of the “Bosstown Sound” that featured Orpheus and the Ultimate Spinach (yes, that was a real band’s name!) and released several singles on that label.

Zevon put out a full album of his own material in 1969 — Wanted Dead or Alive — that was produced by impresario Kim Fowley. The album went nowhere so Zevon did a career pivot and spent the next 5 years writing songs while working as the band leader for the Everly Brothers touring band and, when he tired of that, moved to Spain and entertained at a bar called The Dubliner.

By the end of ’75 he was back in LA, making friends with the singer/songwriters in David Geffen’s Asylum stable (Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Eagles) and the rest is history.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Lazarus, David Bowie; You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen; Jesus Alone, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

My mind has been unnaturally fixated on mortality lately. Today marks the 39th year anniversary of my father’s passing. A few weeks ago I lost a very dear friend of mine at the far too young age of 61 after a short but very nasty battle with cancer. I was fortunate to have a long conversation with her in February when it appeared that her late 2016 surgery had bought her more time. Sadly, she took a terrible turn for the worse shortly afterward.

2016 was an especially hard year for rock deaths. A number of very important artists died during the year – Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Paul Kantner, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Greg Lake and George Michael to name a few.

Bowie was first, on January 10th, just 2 days after the release of Blackstar. He was struggling with cancer but chose to keep his illness private and focused on his work. An example to all of us, he worked right up until has passing and left us with one of the best albums of his storied career – yes, even compared to his iconic 70s and 80s classics.

The song “Lazarus”, released as the second single from the album, has often been cited for lyrics that hinted at the artist’s struggle to deal with his illness and impending mortality:

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

In an eerily similar circumstance, Leonard Cohen released his last album – You Want It Darker – on his 82nd birthday, less than two months before his death from complications after a fall.

In an article in the February 2017 issue of Mojo, referring to the title track, Sylvie Simmons wrote:

In his final album, he sang himself back home. “Hineni,” he sang. “I am ready”’, accompanied by the cantor and choir of Congregational Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, the synagogue his great grandfather founded, and in whose cemetery he would be buried on November 10, in a private ceremony, next to his parents.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds also released a superb album in 2016 called Skeleton Tree. The album was initiated in late 2014 but took a much different turn after the death of Cave’s 15 year old, twin son Arthur who fell from a cliff in England in July, 2015. The tragedy initially debilitated Cave but eventually he channeled his grief into a very moving work, the making of which he had documented for a film called One More Time With Feeling.

The album’s opener is “Jesus Alone.”

It includes a line “You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field…” that could only be described as a premonition since it was written before Arthur’s demise.

At least when we have to deal with such sadness, we have exceptional art to help us to process our emotions and feel community with others that have suffered similar experiences.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Erica’s Word, Game Theory

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

One of the buried treasures of the power pop genre is The Big Shot Chronicles by the California based Game Theory. The band was another in the long list of groups that garnered significant critical acclaim but never achieved more than a cult following with the public. That’s exactly the type of artist we strive to expose through the SotW.

My favorite song on The Big Shot Chronicles and today’s SotW is “Erica’s Word”, written by bandleader Scott Miller.

“Erica’s Word” has all the hallmarks of great power pop – a solid beat, chiming guitars, a strong melody and, of course, a killer singalong chorus. All of this is expertly produced and mixed by the talented Mitch Easter, best known for his work with R.E.M.

Game Theory’s (Miller’s) lyrics are noted for their sophistication and cleverness. One of the often cited lines from “Erica’s Word” is the nerdy “Erica’s gone shy, some unknown X behind the why, All is soulless today, Mass not conserving in the old way” — where math and physics collide.

Stewart Mason relates another beautiful detail in the song in his AllMusic review, writing “The moment in the final verse where Miller sweetly sings “Girl, I hope it comes through for you in the clutch” and adds a teasing extra bar before spitting out a snotty “But I won’t bet much!” and swinging into the final chorus is one of those perfect little moments power pop fans savor like truffles.”

Sadly, Miller ended his own life at the tender age of 53, four years ago this month.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Stay Free, The Clash

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Clash’s eponymous debut was released in the UK in 40 years ago, in April 1977. But it wasn’t released in the US until July 1979 – and that was in a modified version that replaced 5 of the original cuts with 6 different ones.

As a result, many here in the US (me included) heard their second album – Give ‘Em Enough Rope, released in November 1978 – before the more critically acclaimed The Clash. But as is often the case, the first album we are exposed to by a band becomes our lifelong favorite. Often criticized for its “sanitized” production by American Sandy Pearlman who had previously worked with Blue Oyster Cult, GEER sounded good to me then and still does today.

Today’s SotW is “Stay Free.”

When I first hear “Stay Free” back in ’78 I thought it might be a song about the childhood relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon. That was way off base, but you can’t blame me for heading in that direction since “Stay Free” is the Clash’s most Beatle-y song.

It turns out this Mick Jones song is actually about his childhood schoolmate, Robin Banks. They became lifelong friends after getting sent to the headmaster after having an argument in class over who was better, Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. The headmaster was so spitting mad that his jacket lapel ended up with gob on it. That hilarious situation and their mutual disdain for authority figures bonded their friendship.

Mick wrote the tribute to his old buddy when Robin was locked up for bank robbery.

He covers their childhood:

We met when we were in school
Never took no shit from no one, we weren’t fools
The teacher says we’re dumb
We’re only having fun
We piss on everyone
In the classroom

The bank robbery and related incarceration:

I practiced daily in my room
You were down the crown planning your next move
Go on a nicking spree
Hit the wrong guy
Each of you get three
Years in Brixton

It ends with a poignant love letter:

‘Cause years have passed and things have changed
And I move anyway I want to go
I’ll never forget the feeling I got
When I heard that you’d got home
An’ I’ll never forget the smile on my face
‘Cause I knew where you would be
An’ if you’re in the crown tonight
Have a drink on me
But go easy…step lightly…stay free

Then Jones rips into a guitar solo that captures the spirit of the young boys’ wilder days. It’s a beautiful thing!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Don’t You Grieve, Roy Harper

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Roy Harper has been a successful performer and recording artist for over 50 years but he is not nearly as well known to Americans as he is to his fellow countrymen in the UK. For instance, he earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC and Hero Award from MOJO magazine.

His extensive discography contains plenty of terrific albums including one bona fide classic – Stormcock. If you haven’t heard it, you should. (Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page plays on it under the pseudonym S. Flavius Mercurius.)

Today’s SotW comes from his 1970 album Flat Baroque and Berserk. “Don’t You Grieve” is timely during this Easter weekend as it has Harper getting into the head of Judas Iscariot and justifying the kiss that locked his place in history for all time. After all, it was something he had to do.

I was the master’s best friend
He was the only man I knew
It’s been a tall harvest
And he turned us all on two
But my lips are sealed by history
And my tale I cannot tell
My name is Judas Iscariot
My home address is Hell

So baby don’t you grieve after me
No no no, don’t you grieve after me
So baby don’t you grieve after me
No no no, don’t you grieve after me

Baby you don’t grieve for me when I’m here
Don’t grieve for me when I’m gone

It was two hours gone midnight
When he called me to his side
He said, hey Jude, I need you boy
I need you to take a ride
I want you to tell those guys down town
My time’s almost due. But wait a minute
Jude don’t stick around
‘Cos no body’s gonna love you

Now you’ve got all the silver
But no forgiveness in your heart
And I’ve got 20 feet of rope
To end just where?
Your guessing game starts
I’ve got endless books to write you
But my tale I cannot tell
The only way you’re living is
If you’re living in the same Hell

The song is played and sung in a style reminiscent of very early Dylan – just guitar and nasally voice. Perhaps Dylan is the link back to Woody Guthrie, who’s “Sally Don’t You Grieve” must have influenced Harper.

Other trivia related to Harper? That’s him taking the vocals on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” from Wish You Were Here. Led Zeppelin III has a song called “Hat’s off to (Roy) Harper”, a tribute to their old friend and musical influence.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Gonzo & On the Sunny Side of the Street, James Booker

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

If you’re a regular reader of the SotW you know that I consume a significant amount of print space exposing my readers to the buried treasures of rock music. I spend a considerable amount of my free time reading books and magazines and listening to music in order to uncover underappreciated artists and acts.

Now and then I’m blown away by someone that I’m unfamiliar with and can’t quite grasp how they eluded my consciousness for so long. That happened to me a few weeks ago when I caught a documentary on Netflix called Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker.

As it turns out, Booker was one of the greatest New Orleans style piano players ever to grace our planet. He could play classical (he loved Chopin), jazz, blues, R&B and rock – making it all his own. In MOJO magazine, journalist Jim Scheurich chronicled his diverse talent:

As at home in the church as he was amid New Orleans’ shore-leave Babylon of clubs and bars, the young Booker was also at ease with the classics as he was with R&B and pop. To Booker, it was all grist to the mill of an extraordinary musical mind, freewheeling spirit of playfulness and dazzling digital dexterity.

How in the world did I miss this guy? It just goes to show, “the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know.” (Aristotle)

Booker was a flamboyant character that played with everyone that’s anyone in 50s-70s rock and R&B — Little Richard, Ray Charles, Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin, John Mayall, Dr. John, Ringo Starr, Jerry Garcia, Maria Muldaur, and the Doobie Brothers among others.

Booker even gave piano lessons to a young Harry Connick Jr., as a favor to his district Attorney dad in exchange for legal help he provided.

Booker’s first charted release was the 1960 organ instrumental called “Gonzo.”

Legend has it the song was a favorite of Hunter S. Thompson and was the inspiration for calling his writing style “Gonzo Journalism.” Booker himself picked up the term from the name of the character Felice Orlandi played in the 1960 crime film The Pusher.

The recording that best exhibits Booker’s style is his take on the1930 jazz standard “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”

In the documentary Connick deconstructs the parts that Booker plays to demonstrate how complicated, challenging and creative his version is. An article written by Tim Penn gives this technical description of Booker’s playing style:

In terms of Piano Style, he was classically trained and had an incredible technique, using a lot of filigree decoration in the right hand — not in quite the same ‘ lazy rolling baroque’ N.O. style as Dr. John. However it was his left hand style that sort of set him apart. He used a sort of syncopated stride style a lot — but instead of doing a root note jump to chord, fifth jump, root jump, fifth jump style, he would either:

1) Break the root note octave quite heavily into 2 notes (from the thumb down to the little finger) i.e. ba-doom jump chord ba-doom jump chord — best exemplified on say his version of On the Sunny Side of the Street. A lot of piano players will break the root octaves a bit when doing a stride piano style, mainly out of laziness etc. (it seems to make accuracy a bit easier) — but Booker’s break was really pronounced and heavy.

OR

2) Uses a double bounce on the root and jump chord like so dum-dum (root or fifth) da-da (top chord) dum-dum (root) da-da. (top-chord) (Like doing a stride piano — in a 16ths shuffle rhythm). This style was his real trademark and he used it on his versions of Junco Partner and Goodnight Irene. Of course this style would possibly not transfer very well to a band situation!!

Booker was an unbelievably colorful character. The documentary is filled with anecdotes about how he lost his eye, his bouts with addiction and mental illness, his paranoia, and many others. I don’t want to be a “spoiler” so you have to see the movie for yourself (or research him online).

Sadly, Booker’s life ended at the young age of 43 in 1983. Even his death had an interesting and tragic angle to it. Apparently some unknown person put him in a taxi cab and sent him off to New Orleans’ Charity Hospital. He died, sitting in a wheelchair in the ER, while waiting to be seen.

But don’t let that be the final word. Watch Bayou Maharajah and discover the full story of this obscure genius.

Enjoy… until next week.