Nov 292012
 

While searching for something completely unrelated I stumbled across this Frank Zappa performance of “Dumb All Over,” (sorry, the YouTube poster doesn’t seem to allow embedding) a song I’d not previously known existed. As usual, I can appreciate Zappa’s intelligence and wit, but the song raised a question that gets at the root of why I can never embrace Zappa’s records: Did Frank Zappa actually like music?

By “music,” I mean the musical elements at the root of songs: melody, rhythm, and harmony. At the 4:20 mark he sits down, shuts up, and fires off an excellent guitar solo. Clearly there was a side to Zappa that at least liked the music that could be made on a guitar. The rest of this song, however, displays no appreciation for music itself. He seemed to have a penchant for hiring shit-hot musicians and then punishing them by making them play stuff they could have been playing had they accepted offers to join Loverboy or a second-rate rock-fusion band. Was this Zappa’s twisted way of punishing dedicated musicians?

I look forward to other examples of Zappa’s direct connection with music, points in his songs that indicate that the music itself was more than a vehicle for his stand-up comedy act.

Here’s another video featuring sophomoric humor and dumb rock music.

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Sep 042012
 

What are you laughing at, punk?

True Confession #1: Until last week I never owned The Minutemen‘s legendary Double Nickles on the Dime. For what it’s worth I own another Minutemen album, but it’s not the same. Over the last 5 years I have purchased a few of my favorite tracks from that album, but I’ve always felt guilty about not owning their entire double-album masterpiece. I know, I bought a digital download of a record that was meant to be enjoyed in its vinyl gatefold glory. At least I’m finally digging this album all the way through for its incredibly fluid, aggressive playing and—yes—integrity. I will no longer have to quietly step out of the room whenever a lovefest for the album breaks out among close personal friends such as machinery and hrrundivbakshi.

True Confession #2: I cannot tell a joke to save my life. A traditional joke with a punchline, that is—I don’t want anyone getting the idea that I’m not otherwise incredibly funny. My inability to pick up the traditional joke-telling tradition has affected my ability to enjoy music that is constructed in what I believe is a punchline-based format.

Hearing the music of Frank Zappa was probably my first exposure to this style of song construction. There used to be an advertisement for either the Apostrophe album or a coming Zappa tour on one of Philadelphia’s FM stations that featured that bit about not eating the yellow snow. There was some other excerpt about moving to Montana. Yuck, yuck, for sure, but those sort of lyrics were so far removed from what I’d been listening to! I ended up buying Apostrophe a few years later (actually I stole it, as part of the wild 70-album heist that a college friend’s old high school friend let us pull off in the suburban mall record store he managed), confirming for myself how foreign those snippets of lyrics first sounded on that radio spot. I got Captain Beefheart‘s Trout Mask Replica the same night I acquired the Zappa album. Beefheart pulled that trick as well, but his punchlines were usually completely absurd and delivered in a less self-conscious, ain’t-I-funny tone than what Zappa used. Beefheart and his crew struck me as truly weird.

American punk bands out of the loosely knit “hardcore” scene must have included a lot of Zappa and Mad magazine-loving jokesters. Their songs were loaded with punchlines, where the band would stop playing and the lead singer would utter some sardonic or self-deprecating quip. I’m going to depend on you, readers, to list your favorite punchlines from that scene and others. That stuff is still too foreign and uncomfortable to me to contemplate further than I already have. The practice itself, mind you, is not uncomfortable. My sense of discomfort derives from the shame I harbor over my inability to deliver a punchline.

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Minutemen_Double-Nickels-On-The-Dime_13_Political-Song-For-Michael-Jackson-To-Sing.mp3|titles=The Minutemen “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing”]

The floor is open, should you choose to fill it, with your thoughts on rock ‘n roll punchlines. What are the most memorable ones that come to mind? The best? The flops? What are rock’s earliest examples of this practice of songwriting?

I look forward to your thoughts.

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Aug 062011
 

Townspeeps,

I need to cancel this week’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-In as I drive back from a quick trip to Pittsburgh, where I will get my first look at the Pirates’ supposedly awesome PNC Park and, hopefully, meet one of my childhood idols, Manny Sanguillen, at “his” barbeque stand in the park. To make up for this huge hole in your Saturday night festivities I bring you a Very Special Edition of Dugout Chatter, in which I post songs for your listening pleasure, of course, but more so for your gut comments on the tunes and the associated question I pose regarding each track. Here goes!

For those of you on the “Krappa” side of the divide, does the following make you feel better or worse about Frank Zappa?

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Ruben-And-The-Jets_01_If-I-Could-Only-Be-Your-Love-Again.mp3|titles=Ruben And The Jets, “If I Could Only Be Your Love Again”]

I think I’m almost always disappointed by albums produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry. He strikes me as a more sham than shaman. The few tracks I have from an album by The Congos that he produced, however, are solid. Is this stuff and Junior Murvin‘s “Police and Thieves” the best I’ll ever hear from Perry (excluding The Clash‘s majestic “Complete Control,” that is, for which he probably did little more than roll joints and let engineer Bill Price produce)?

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/The-Congos_01_01_Fisherman.mp3|titles=The Congos, “Fisherman”]

Is this the last great song by David Bowie? I didn’t appreciate it in its time. Now I love it to the point that it might creep into my Top 5 Bowie Songs. Now that I think of it, what are your 5 favorite Bowie songs? 

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/David-Bowie_04_Ashes-To-Ashes-1999-Digital-Remaster.mp3|titles=David Bowie, “Ashes To Ashes”]

Has Lou Reed ever sounded more the way he was meant to sound?

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Various-Artists_17_Peggy-Sue1.mp3|titles=Lou Reed, “Peggy Sue”]

I look forward to your comments.

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Dec 302010
 

Will Your Mystery Date Be a Dream or a Dud?

Thanks to Townspeople who played along with, in my opinion, the biggest dud of a Mystery Date to date, and thanks to Townsman dbuskirk for the album, which I believe he thought sounded like a trial run for Boston. But as someone pointed out, Flower Travellin’ Band‘s “Slowly But Surely” at least unintentionally delivered David St. Hubbins-worthy chuckles. This song was from 1973’s double-live set, Make Up. Don’t worry, as with all Revealed posts we’ll leave you with at least one more track.

The band, first known as Flowers, was founded in the late-’60s by Yuya Uchida, who by this time had become friends with John Lennon after touring with The Beatles in 1966. Inspired by the likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane, the band’s first album was, in fact, nothing but covers of their newfound-favorite psych-blues-rock bands. The album cover, as I learned while composing this piece, would have qualified for an old Last Man Standing/giveaway competition.

Buns!

The Make Up tour, you will be interested to know, what recorded on a tour that, originally, was supposed to have featured the band opening for The Rolling Stones. The Stones had to cancel, however, because Mick Jagger was facing a drug bust. Lucky Mick! There are some other odd facts to be found about the band, including mid-’70s work with Frank Zappa, one guy doing a 1980 album with The Wailers, a 2007 reunion and 2008 reunion album, and a planned 2010 tour, which was canceled when one of the members died.

I know you want to hear more from this album. Why not a long track that showcases all the band’s musical strengths and emotional range?

Flower Travellin’ Band, “Look at My Window”

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Look-at-My-Window.mp3|titles=Flower Travellin’ Band, “Look at My Window”]
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Dec 272010
 

As I shoveled our driveway this morning I came across a patch of yellow snow. That quickly got me thinking about the Frank Zappa song in which he warns listeners not to eat the yellow snow. That quickly got me thinking about why a Southern California kid would have written a song about yellow snow, as if he couldn’t have traveled a bit and at least heard of this thing called snow. Then, complete Zappa NON-fan I am, a seemingly important detail crept into my head: Zappa was born in Baltimore.

That explained it, but what explained my knowing the city of his birth, a city I’ve driven through 50 times but barely spent time in? Considering I’ve never had any interest in Zappa beside wondering what it is people like about his music, I had to check whether this trivial fact was true. It’s true. Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which probably has little to do with his interest in yellow snow but may explain all the more important details that constantly slip from my brain. This is a case of Rock Stuff I Have No Business Knowing.

What rock-related detail that you have no business knowing most likely gets in the way of you remembering something more important?

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Mar 012007
 

Townsman Scott checks in on the elephant in the room.

Before anybody gets upset, let me reassure you: I have no problem with humor in music. My problem is when the humor isn’t funny and/or when it detracts from the overall appeal of the music.

Zappa comes to mind primarily because, more than anyone else, he always made a big deal about the humor he used. And, more often than not, his humor doesn’t do much for me. Let’s face it – the guy was a dork. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make some good music – dorks often do – but his insistence that he was somehow better and smarter than his audience wears on me.

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