Suburban kid

Suburban kid

Jan 022014

I know there must be dozens of examples of Doppelganger Rock – that is, a song by some less well-known (or even utterly obscure) artist that sounds, upon casual listening, just like a more famous one. For the sake of clarity and specificity, I don’t include mere soundalike singers. Rather, it’s more the overall vibe of a band or artist that is evoked by the musical doppelgangers. The singer doesn’t have to be an exact copycat as long as the performance, upon first listen, makes you think immediately of the more famous artist.

OK, actually I can only think of three examples off the top of my head right now. The first and perhaps most obvious one is New Jersey-based early-Beatles copycats the Knickerbockers singing “Lies” in 1965:

It occurs to me that not everyone will agree that a certain performance sounds like another artist, so for my second example, “Sweet Sweet Heart” by pre-Vibrators outfit Despair in 1973, I won’t say who it reminds me of. Whaddayathink?

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Homer Rock

 Posted by
Dec 312013
He was a! (Batwing Syndrome not represented.)

He was a great…man! (Batwing Syndrome not represented.)

I have lived in Ireland for the last 14 years, but I am originally from Chicago. One thing I’ve noticed from living on this small island is the sense of national pride extended over cultural exports that achieve any sort of recognition abroad. U2 is the prime example from the rock world because of its massive commercial success alongside a sense that they were a proper group (unlike more recent boy band exports) doing it their way and earning some critical accolades along the way (from the likes of Rolling Stone, the UK music press, RnR HoF, etc).

More baffling is the elevated status given at home to the late Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) and Rory Gallagher. Personally, I see them both as footnotes in rock history, but in Ireland they are major chapters. To some extent, I get it: there weren’t any Irish rock stars until the late ’60s, and very few in the ’70s, so just the fact that these guys made it to the big time during the “classic” period of rock history is worth recognizing. But it goes much further than that. Gallagher is considered nearly as important as Hendrix, while there is a statue of Phil Lynott on a major street in the center of Dublin.

(To be sure, dying young helps. People are getting sick of U2. Had they died in a 1990s plane crash, there would now be a Lincoln Memorial-esque monument to them in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.)

To borrow from the sports world, this kind of “homerism” does seem natural, but try as I might, I can’t find an analogue when it comes to Chicago or Illinois. There is some sort of Chicago blues museum/foundation there, but rather than being funded by a civic or government organization, it was founded by the daughter of Willie Dixon using funds from her father’s successful legal actions against Led Zeppelin. I don’t think the broad swathe of citizens living in northern Illinois rate Muddy Waters, Smashing Pumpkins, the band Chicago, or Cheap Trick any higher than the rest of the general population does.

Hence the question: Is this musical homerism—overvaluing home-grown artists—in Ireland simply a result of it being such a small country? Or does it exist anywhere (on a local level) in the US or UK?


Dad Rock

 Posted by
Dec 262013


Dad Rock.

“Dad Rock” is a term for all that old ’60s and ’70s music that today’s dads listen to. I’ve seen references to it online, heard my kids mention it, and I’ve even tuned into a radio show called Dad Rock. Understanding the demographic of this site, I think it’s fair to say many of us have Dads that are from the pre-rock era. That’s the case for me, too, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have any rock(ish) records in the family record collection when I was a kid.

My parents were in college when rock and roll emerged, and were graduates when it was only a couple of years old. To them, rock and roll was teen music, utterly beneath them. In the 1950s, the median age for getting married was 20 for women and 23 for men; if you were in your 20s, it’s safe to say you identified as a grown-up.

My dad was an amateur musician and was in charge of entertainment on his army base in Germany, but he never ran into Elvis (who was there at roughly the same time). In 1977, he and my mom were dragged by another couple to go see Elvis on what would be his last tour; they attended ironically and the performance simply confirmed their long-held biases.

But they had been liberal young parents in the ’60s. We had a Pete Seeger record stuck in among the jazz, classical, light opera, and show tunes albums. And they were not completely closed off from the pop culture. Indeed, I think they tried to like rock at some point in the late ’60s or early ’70s, but didn’t get too far.

What rock or pop-rock records did your parents have? Here’s about all we had:

  • Simon and Garfunkel – the one with Mrs. Robinson (Bookends?)
  • The Hair soundtrack
  • Tommy by the Who

I think my dad, despite not really getting rock (I remember one conversation I had with him where he had no clue who Chuck Berry was) respected the Who’s crack at making an opera. He never listened to the album much, but he liked owning it and I believe he went to see the movie version, and possibly the stage show.

Dad turned 80 the other day. We got him tickets to Madame Butterfly.

Feb 082013


This 1973 TV documentary from Canada can be diverting. Rock-A-Bye gets you up close and dirty with shaggy bands and ill-dressed record company people, as a stentorian narrator describes the Business of Rock in very serious and occasionally cynical tones.

It is pretty random. We have clips of the Rolling Stones on stage, an interview with Ronnie Hawkins, an A&R man called John David Churchill Poser, the Canadian dude from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Muddy Waters, Alice Cooper mobbed at the airport by a group of gay guys, lots of obscure Canadian bands, and extremely bad hair.

BTW the fashion in 1973 was to be as ugly as possible.

Hat tip ——–> Voices of East Anglia

More of this fascinating documentary…after the jump!

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Oct 162012

Cheap Trick‘s “Surrender” is the greatest late-’70s pure power pop/new wave song ever. This from someone who also believes it’s possibly the “Secretariat’s 30-length Belmont Stakes victory” relative to any other song in any band’s career. This is a testament to the song’s strength as much as it is my lukewarm appreciation for anything else Cheap Trick has released.

Mr. Mod said this in the recent power pop song argument, which was funny to me, because I’d been thinking about examples of this in my own music appreciation and thought there might be a post in it. Consider this a new RTH Glossary term, which we’ll call One Song Awesome or the Cheap Trick Effect.

Examples, that is, of that one exception to the rule of personal taste. To be clear, I’m not talking about one-hit wonders: artists that really did only have one good or one successful song. I’m talking about substantial groups with a dedicated following who I really don’t like at all – except for one totally awesome track that kills. Everyone’s list would be different, of course. People might even have the same group on their lists, but not the same song (see Cheap Trick, “Surrender” vs. “I Want You to Want Me”).

Here are some of mine:

T. Rex: “20th Century Boy”

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Sep 222012

Rock museums. Just the idea of them is questionable. I mean, I’m resigned to rock’s total acceptance by mainstream culture and acknowledge the plus sides of that as well as the downsides. But even if there is a significant chunk of rock’s history that is now well and truly in the distant past (beyond the memories of most people alive today), rock museums seem to me, just, un-rock. I even approved when the Sex Pistols said fuckyouverymuch to the RNR HOF’s induction ceremony.

That didn’t stop me this year from going on a pilgrimage to Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, and New Orleans, where I paid entrance fees to Halls of Culture to see (and hear) what until recently would have been considered mass culture ephemera by the custodians of such places. Really, I just wanted to go to 706 Union Avenue. That alone would have had meaning for me as a historical place, and it was indeed the highlight of my trip.

I will blurb below about the places I went (with Mrs. Kid), but I’m more interested in your feelings, ideas, and experiences about Rock Museums.

Sun Studios (Memphis, TN) – It is a goldmine for someone, but I didn’t mind the commercial aspect at all. They had exhibits in the old boarding house upstairs showing Phillips’ original recording gear and a presentation including loudly played prime Sun cuts. They have Marion Kiesker’s office as it was, and paid her huge props as an unsung figure in the creation of rock, but the drab studio itself was the best bit. It looks like it has never been changed since it opened. The ugly soundproofing tiles on the wall are the same ones seen in the iconic Million Dollar Quartet photo. They have the original vocal mike set up where Elvis, Johnny, and Wolf stood, the original piano Jerry Lee played. If I were any younger, I would have really felt something, but even in my jaded old age I felt some kind of tremor as they dimmed the lights and played “That’s All Right.”

Graceland (Memphis, TN) – We went because why not? Another highlight. The house and grounds were tremendously more modest than I expected. The décor did not offend me at all – it just reminded me of the ’70s. The many museum exhibits across the road were hit and miss. I’m not a car nerd, but I loved seeing Elvis’s impressive collection, and I also enjoyed boarding the Lisa Marie Convair 880 jet parked outside. Because I allowed for the excessive commercialization upfront, I was able to screen out the vulgarity of the sheer number of gift shops (I bought exactly one postcard) and simply enjoy soaking up the level of Elvisness that I was comfortable with.

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Sep 072012

On second thought...

[Suburban kid suggests we discuss the following topic. Welcome to The Main Stage, my friend. – Mr. Mod.]

I have a lot of these, but off the top of my head I can think of:

The Smiths – I saw them open for The Fall in 1983 and thought they were very boring. Then I had to listen to them as my record store co-workers played them over and over again in 1985-86. I thought Morrissey was a pretentious drip, which prevented me from even trying to like the music. But after an extended period of this immersion technique, I grew to enjoy Moz’s defiance and eccentricity, his vocal ticks and his camp posing. Some of his lyrics were actually quite funny, and the band, if you listened, seemed to play rock and roll sometimes. I decided I quite liked them, but that I probably would have loved them if I were 17 and not a few years older than that.

There are other examples, but what about you?


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