Oct 282012

I came across this 1981 performance of “When She Was My Girl” by The Four Tops, on Fridays, ABC’s failed answer to Saturday Night Live. I’d forgotten this single was released so late, during the period when the romantic grooves made popular by The Sound of Philadelphia and early disco had long turned to Germanic robo-funk and early rap. Someone with a better knowledge of release dates may shoot my thoughts down rightfully, but this song seems like it was released a good 2 or 3 years past its musical style’s expiration date. I would have thought that McFadden and Whitehead‘s 1979 hit “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” for instance, was the last of its kind. Smokey Robinson‘s “Cruisin'” is another 1979 single that I remember fitting in with the last run of mid-’70s soul. By 1981, I recall veteran soul artists moving into smooth jazz, stuff like Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers‘ “Just the Two of Us.” I suspect many of you won’t see the difference between that song and this Four Tops number. Oh well.

Can you think of other “last of its kind” hit songs, not retro-styled songs by a band like The Stray Cats or records by totally out-of-touch and unpopular local bar bands, but contemporary releases that came on the tail end of a certain movement and managed to make a splash on the charts? For instance, there must be a “last new wave song” or a “last hair metal song” or a “last psychedelic song.”

May 092012

I know we’ve discussed this guy before, how he’s an acquired taste for many of us, and for others one of the few examples of a musician who seems to improve with age.

It’s taken me years to develop a real of appreciation of Hitchcock. This is weird, given my love for many eccentric British songwriters. But I think I’m finally on my way, thanks to the most banal reason possible: A very basic, maybe even dumbed-down greatest hits album.

However, I have a request for those of you are already in the pro-Hitchcock camp. Recommend three (3) albums for me: one from the ’80s, one from the ’90s, and one from 2000 onward. I will listen to them on Spotify, and perhaps later purchase them.

Caveats: Don’t recommend any Soft Boys. I’m pretty sure those albums are already in our house somewhere. Also, I already have I Often Dream of Trains, so you can skip that one too. I used to have Jewels for Sophia. I thought it was pretty good.

I look forward to your responses.

Dec 232011

It’s that time of the year when everyone is reviewing their favorite musical releases of 2011, and we at Rock Town Hall should be proud to add to the fray. Although I’ve been thinking about my entries for the last few weeks, I’ve continued to be haunted by themes of Simon ReynoldsRetromania and our discussions about Moving Forward in our consideration of younger musicians and recent bands. We tend to not discuss a lot of new music on this site, and often it is in relation to previous bands or previous styles. However, I am the first admit that when I listen to new music, I’m always reminded of other records. While I hope we don’t only listen to bands because of their aural similarity to those that come before, I think that the experience can be a bridge to enjoying the music to a greater degree. With these hazily-drawn ideas on display, I give you my three favorites and additional honorable mentions from 2011.

  1. Moon DuoMazes: A splinter group from San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo play highly addicting, droney, psychedelic garage rock. While their sound is not particularly new (see Suicide, Spacemen 3), I like that they are a dueling long hair male/female team. I’ve always been a fan of that Farfisa sound, but there’s something about watching a curtain of black hair swinging in time with the music that kicks it up a notch. And the guy’s deadpan voice is additionally mesmerizing.
  2. Real EstateDays: This album got a lot of press which is odd given what an intimate record it is. The somewhat hushed vocals, the chiming guitar: the sound evokes the color green to me. Each song is melodic and a nice mixture of cheerful and wistful. The single, “It’s Real” will stick in your head (in a good way). For fans of Felt and The Go-Betweens.
  3. Stephen Malkmus and the JicksMirror Traffic: Malkmus’s first Jicks album that really sounds like a band. The songs cover a variety of styles, some Pavementesque, others a la Steely Dan, and a couple Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds. But the very pleasant surprise here is Beck Hansen’s production: his understanding of their mutual stream-of-consciousness lyrics style takes this record to greater levels. (Honorable Mentions follow the jump! Continue reading »
Nov 212011

I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed “Worst Beatles Song” before. Who hasn’t? I’m curious to know your selections for Worst of the Best of 3 of your favorite artists (beside The Beatles), that is, THE SINGLE WORST SONG from the “classic” era of 3 of your favorite artists. A few important limitations/guidelines follow.

  • To keep the mission ahead productive and informative, focus on the worst possible songs from the prime years of your artists.
  • To ensure that the outcomes of this survey are even more significant and telling, you must rule out songs from an artists’ prime-era universally acknowledged turd. That means no songs from Elvis Costello & The AttractionsGoodbye Cruel World, released toward (but not at) the tail end of their great run of albums. (If Townsman 2000 Man is wondering, songs from The Rolling StonesTheir Satanic Majesties Request are similarly ineligible, although tracks from Black and Blue are eligible.)
  • Mostly to ensure that the Stones’ 10-minute live filler track “Goin’ Home” is ruled ineligible for consideration as Worst Stones Song, all LIVE tracks are ineligible.
  • Songs written and/or sung by drummers or other third-line contributors are NOT eligible. For instance, the Worst of the Best by my beloved Clash cannot include “Ivan Meets GI Joe” (written, I believe, by Topper) or any of Paul Simonon’s croaked contributions.
  • For purposes of discussion, we will agree that The Kinks‘ prime era ends with Muswell Hillbillies.
  • For purposes of reality checking, Townspeople will reserve the right to call bullshit on another Townsperson’s belief that, say, The Beach Boys‘ Sunflower or Neil Young‘s Landing On Water qualifies as a “prime-era” release. Townsman Hrrundivbakshi, for instance, is expected to draw a reasonable line at the end of ZZ Top‘s prime era.
  • Backwards tracks, reprises, and other clear “F-U!” cuts (eg, The Clash’s “Mensforth Hill,” The Beatles’ “Revolution #9,” The Stooges’ “LA Blues”) are not eligible.
  • Hidden tracks on early CDs are not eligible.

I may be forgetting other limitations I had in mind, but I will reserve the right to make them up as we go along.

Sep 232011

The single stiffed, but…

Every once in a while I get to thinking about songs that everyone knows–or, at least that have achieved huge popularity and recognition–that were not hit singles. My case in point is The Romantics‘ “What I Like About You.” Everybody knows that song. It didn’t make the Top 40, though.

There are various reasons why such a song might take off later rather than sooner: maybe it had poor distribution or bad PR in the first place, maybe later it gets used in a commercial or movie or (now) videogame.

I have a few criteria in mind.

  1. I am talking about songs that were released as singles only–so no “Stairway to Heaven” and what have you. No album tracks. That’s a separate category.
  2. By “not a hit single” I mean it didn’t make the Top 40. I know that the invocation of Top 40 skews the discussion away from modern times when the Top 40 as we knew it has ceased to have any meaning whatsoever. Special pleading is welcome.
  3. Most subjective is “everyone knows it.” Use your judgement. Polling data are not required. A once-obscure song that is later used in a movie or commercial does not necessarily translate into a song that everyone knows. The 13th Floor Elevators‘ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is known by a lot more people because of its use in High Fidelity, but most people don’t know it. We’re looking for major penetration into people’s brains here.
Jul 232011

Sounds of the Hall in roughly 33 1/3 minutes!

This week’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-In seamlessly ties back to the previous week’s topics for discussion. It’s remarkable how Mr. Moderator does it, no?

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/RTH-Saturday-Night-Shut-In-38.mp3|titles=RTH Saturday Night Shut-In, episode 38]

[Note: The Rock Town Hall feed will enable you to easily download Saturday Night Shut-In episodes to your digital music player. In fact, you can even set your iTunes to search for an automatic download of each week’s podcast.]

Jul 212011

The following piece made its way up from the lp-jammed basement of E. Pluribus Gergely.

Once a month or so, I spend about 2 to 3 hours in my basement chopping up cardboard into mailers for my record bidness. Truth be told, that’s when I listen to music. When I’m in the car, it’s usually NPR. Sad but true. Anyway, before the chopping ensues, I head over to the stacks to pick something out to listen to while I chop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up something like Electric Ladyland and said, “Too much work to get to ‘All Along the Watchtower’,” ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ and a few others.” Really, you’ve gotta have a Hitler-like ego to think you can keep the interest of any listener for more than a single serving.

After racking my brain for a good half hour or so, I arrived at the following list of essential double LPs.

  1. Charlie Parker, The Very Best of Bird (all the Dial sides with just a few outtakes). And yeah, I know it’s like a greatest hits thing, but I’m letting this one slide because it’s the best way to hear all that Dial stuff in one shot.
  2. The Beatles, White Album. Yep, it’s all great. “Wild Honey Pie,” “Revolution #9,” “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road”…absolutely necessary. It’s all over the place, and it’s my favorite Beatles album, probably because it’s jam packed with a lot of unexpected weirdness that works extremely well together.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street. Still on my list despite the fact that it dies after “All Down the Line,” the opening track on the fourth side. As I’ve stated before it’s the ultimate statement of “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.” The cover, the 3 decent sides, and the snapshots on the inner sleeves (especially those of Mick and Keef and Jack at the microphone and Keef finishing off a sandwich whilst having a smoke) make it the LP that mom and dad worry most about in your teenage record collection.
  4. The Clash, London Calling. The ultimate statement of life-changing rock. Again, that killer album cover, 4 sides of doozies with only a track or two of filler, and finally…2 inner sleeves jam packed with the lyrics to all the songs. The revelation that Strummer’s M16-like yammering is actually on a ’63–’66 Dylan lyric level is mindblowing. And continues to be so. On a recent trip to Hellerstown to buy a bunch of garage 45s, I revisited London Calling for 456th time and still heard things for the first time.

And that’s it. “What,” you ask, “no Blonde on Blonde?” Hell no. I can honestly say I never need to hear “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” ever again. It goes on and on forever, which is most probably what’s behind the meat of the thing. Dylan most probably wanted the world to know that he was the first to be skillful enough to fill a whole side with a single song. You know what? Nice try, but it doesn’t really work.

“No Freak Out?” Again, forget it. Jam “Trouble Every Day” somewhere on side 1 or 2, leave out the second wax slab of Edgar Varese/noise poop, and you’ve got a real winner. Again, too much ego and not enough good ideas.

“No Beatles Live in Hamburg ’62?” Just between you and me, I wanna add that thing to my list in the worst way, but I absolutely and positively cannot defend 4 sides of monotonous mach schau “Red Sails in the Sunset” sturm and drang. My weakness? Anything “Beatles” remains utterly fascinating. I would read a 600-page tome by George Martin’s tailor should he choose to tell all.

As far as greatest hits releases are concerned, real thought went into The Beatles: 1962–1966, The Beatles 1967–1970, Hot Rocks, More Hot Rocks, and The Kinks Chronicles. To put it bluntly, no filler. Come to think of it, add The Rolling Stones’ Through the Past Darkly (that “stop sign” looking thing) to that mix and you more or less have everything found in Townsman andyr‘s record collection. That’s not an insult. That’s a high five. That’s andyr in a nutshell. No time for bullshit.

Who knows. Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe some of you see Refried Boogie, the 40-minute second LP of Canned Heat‘s Living the Blues, as an argument for the existence of God. Needless to say, your insights are always greatly appreciated.


E. Pluribus


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