Thursday, March 05, 2015

Good Songs XVIII

Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
Suck My Kiss – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Cut Your Hair – Pavement
Crush with Eyeliner – REM
Undone (the Sweater Song) – Weezer
Summer Breeze – Seals and Croft
Here and Now – Letters to Cleo
Rock N’ Roll All Nite – KISS
Down With Disease – Phish
Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
Would? – Alice in Chains
Do You Feel Like We Do – Peter Frampton
Head Like a Hole – Nine Inch Nails
When I Come Around – Green Day
Crazy – Seal
Type – Living Colour
If I Only Had a Brain – MC 900ft Jesus

For some reason, the theme of television, and to a lesser extent movies, weaves its way through this edition of Good Songs. And that makes sense because TV is awesome. 

When I was a kid—and I’m talking really little, like three or four-years-old—I loved television. I love television now, but when I was a kid, I really loved TV*. However there was one problem with television back when I was younger, at around 1:00 am a majority of TV stations would stop broadcasting--especially the UHF stations (which were the only stations that broadcasted cartoons during the week). At the end of the day, there would be an announcement letting watchers know that the TV station was done with its broadcasting for the day, the National Anthem would play and that was it. Sometimes there was static, other times there was a test pattern.

If you’re too young or woke up after 6:00, a test pattern looked like this:

I’d wake up really early (5:00 or 5:30 am) and run into my parents room and demand that they’d turn on the small TV that sat on a little table at the foot of their bed. Chances are I wanted to watch New Zoo Revue or Romper Room or Underdog, but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to watch TV, however there was no TV to watch. The only thing that was on was the test pattern. So I’d watch that for an hour (I thought that the test pattern was a show and I called it “The Wheel”) and wait for real shows to come on. The good thing was that WLVI was kind enough to simulcast an easy-listening AM radio station while their test pattern was running.

* My kids are just as obsessed with TV as I was, to the dismay of my wife. I understand their fascination and I do my best to stop them from watching so much TV, because I guess TV is bad for you (though I don't believe that at all). But it’s almost impossible to change something that is hard-coded into their DNA. Sorry about that Aly, at least they aren’t watching digital paint dry.

While watching The Wheel the one song that I most recall listening to was “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. As a kid I loved this song and I thought that it was programmed specifically to coincide with the early morning when the sun rose. I can vaguely recall sitting at the end of my parents’ bed (they were asleep, or at least they had their eyes closed) staring at the tube and once this song came out, I’d look out the window to see if the sun was rising yet. The way I have it in my head, this song meant cartoons were coming on soon (after a message alerting us that the broadcasting day was beginning, the National Anthem and a daily prayer). But that's probably not 100% true.

This is one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs and I’m sure it has a lot to do about my initial exposure to the tune. I’m 40-years-old and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a half second of excitement that cartoons are going to be on real soon when my brain recognizes that first guitar chord. But it’s not just that, at the same time I’m getting that cartoon anticipation, I also feel a warmth that I don’t get too much any more. The warmth one has when they’re three-years-old and they’re sitting cross-legged at the foot of their sleeping parents’ bed. I hope that my children get that feeling 20 or 30 years from now and they run across an old episode of “My Little Pony” or “Avengers Assemble” and remember watching TV together in mom and dad's bed.

Speaking of obsessions, as I was looking over this play list I noticed that there were three songs from the “Dazed and Confused” movie soundtrack. Like I said in my last entry, I was completely consumed by this movie, so it’s really no surprise that I included this many songs on one tape.

“Rock N’ Roll All Nite” is a defensible entry, I think at this point it’s beat out NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” or Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” as the song that’s been on the most Good Songs tapes. Although the live version is much better (Ace’s guitar solo is so awesome, I can’t believe they didn’t add it to the studio version) the studio version is fun too. I probably have listened to this song over 10,000 in my life and today was the first time I noticed that someone screams “Woo!” at the 1:53 mark. KISS, you always surprise!

When it comes to Peter Frampton, I was influenced by Janeanne Garofolo’s character in “Reality Bites” who said that everyone had that album. Also, it’s a pretty good song. It almost makes me want to see Frampton in concert. Again, defensible entry.

But “Summer Breeze”? I’m not sure what I was thinking here. I could say that I added as a mood changer, slow the tape down, in case I was with a lady and we were staring at my lava lamp and relaxing to some good songs. But that never happened. I could say that, like “Here Comes the Sun”, it harkened back to my days of watching the Wheel. And there’s some truth to that, I suppose. But I guess I really just liked this song, which is kind of embarrassing.

When it comes to finding the “next big thing”, I’m not that great. I was terrible at prospecting baseball cards*, a lot of the TV shows that I jump on early usually get cancelled and bands that I think have the whole package usually are one-hit wonders. Letters to Cleo was one of those bands that I thought were going to be gigantic and they never received any notoriety aside from this single. I remember seeing their video on MTV and just being blown away. 

* For those that don’t know, prospecting baseball cards involve finding a rookie at a low price, buying as many of the same cards as you possibly could and then when the rookie turns into a Hall of Famer, selling that stack of cards for a tidy profit. This never worked out for me and I’m stuck with dozens of Mike Greenwells, Wally Joyners and Todd Benzingers.

My take on LTC was that they had a really pretty vocalist (Kay Hanley) who sang well and looked great on camera, good musicianship and well-written songs. They came from Boston (always a plus in my book) and made a splash on MTV when women were making huge strides in the rock world. I bought their debut “Aurora Gory Alice” and was impressed with what I heard, unfortunately no one else was and they kind of faded into the ether of the 90s.

Hanley is a die-hard Red Sox fan, so she’s fun to follow on Twitter especially during baseball season. She’s a favorite of Peter Gammons and will perform at his annual Hot Stove Cool Music festival in Boston and Hanley writes the music for the kids’ show Doc McStuffins – which is where I hear her the most now. On the TV show “Parks and Recreation” one of the characters (Ben) wore a LTC t-shirt and they regrouped for a special Pawnee concert.

Oh well, like Todd Benzinger, Letters to Cleo had their moments too.

Quick hits:

There’s only one song on this playlist that I don’t particularly like any more and that’s Green Day’s “When I Come Around”. Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’m just sick of Green Day being ubiquitous. I don’t even care that they are “serious artists” now, that’s an inevitability. You can’t be a 40-year-old married dude with a couple of kids and still act like an irresponsible 23-year-old. People would see right through that and it’s a pretty pathetic mask. After the release of “American Idiot”, I needed a Green Day time-out. Ten years later I still do.

Is there a better name than MC 900ft Jesus? I wish that he was more popular. We need more 900ft Jesuses.

“Cut Your Hair” is still my favorite song on this tape—and did ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption ever admit that they stole that show’s opening theme from Pavement? It’s the same damn song and someone (probably Stephen Malkmus) needs reparations! One of my friends was a die-hard Pavement fan from the very beginning. I told him that I wanted to buy “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” because I liked CYH. He told me that I wouldn’t like the tape, everything else was way different. He wasn’t being a jerk about his assessment but I took it the wrong way and it only emboldened me to buy the tape and prove to him that I liked Pavement.

He was right, I didn’t like it that much. It’s weird how when you’re younger innocent remarks like what my friend said could get under your skin and how you need to prove to others that they were wrong. There are a lot of great things about being young, but things like this aren’t one of them. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Good Songs XVII

Would? – Alice in Chains
Sabotage – The Beastie Boys
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – The Beatles
Tones of Home – Blind Melon
Cannonball – The Breeders
Fire Woman – The Cult
Peace Frog – The Doors
Box of Rain – Grateful Dead
Rock N’ Roll All Nite – KISS
Alison’s Starting to Happen – The Lemonheads
My Sister – The Juliana Hatfield Three
Is There Any Love in Your Heart – Lenny Kravitz
LA Medly – Jane’s Addiction
Dazed and Confused – Led Zeppelin
Some Day I Suppose – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Heart Shaped Box – Nirvana
Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town – Pearl Jam
Fee – Phish
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic – The Police
End of the World as We Know It – REM
Rocket – Smashing Pumpkins
Deeper Shade of Soul – Urban Dance Squad
Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes
Fire – Jimi Hendrix

This is a very long (over an hour and a half) Good Songs mix, so I’m starting to write this entry as I’m listening to it. Technically this is a no-no, but since it’s my blog, I’ll allow it.

I recorded this mix in the spring of 1994 and when I was thinking of college-era Good Songs tapes, this is what I was thinking of. A good mix of newer grunge-era stuff, mixed with some older stuff. The good news is that aside from one song, there’s nothing there’s nothing really embarrassing. In fact, a vast majority of these songs appear on upcoming Good Songs, so this is kind of the back bone of the next generation of Good Songs.

That translates into, what I was listening to when I was 20 is basically what I’ve been listening to for the rest of my life. In retrospect, that’s more than a little depressing. The one thing that jumps out at me about this mix is that there is no rap or hip-hop. Another thing that jumps out at me is that the tracks (aside from Hendrix) are listed alphabetically by artist – which answers my question from earlier today, “Why did I start this mix off with Alice in Chains?” I like AIC, a lot actually, but I don’t remember liking them that much that I’d start a Good Songs with them.

Since the track listing is not based on how I was feeling, but the alphabet and these songs repeat in subsequent editions of the Good Song catalong, I’m going write out 24 quick thoughts (FIVE bonus thoughts!) on these 24 songs.

Alice in Chains – if there is a quintessential song that not only sums up the mid 90s and the zeitgeist that surrounds it, AIC’s “Would?” does the trick. AIC was one of the four most popular groups from the Pacific Northwest and this song is featured prominently in Cameron Crowe’s ode to Seattle “Singles”. With its tuned-down guitars and lyrics that are dark, depressing and full of self-involved angst, it perfectly captures the mindset of Generation X. Layne Staley essentially heroined himself to death a few years later, which also captures the mindset of that same generation.

The Beastie Boys – this is my favorite video ever. And there’s nothing even close. But when I think of the group, I think about the two times I saw them live: once at a gym at the University of New Hampshire (with the Rollins Band and Ice Cube’s group Da Lench Mob opening) and once at Lollapalooza. The former site was excellent, the latter was a dystopian hellscape that actually featured the death of a concert goer. In 1994 Lollapalooza was held at the Quonset State Airport in Quonset, RI. It felt like 100 degrees, there was no shade, no water and most of us were completely dehydrated thanks to the amount of alcohol we consumed in the 50-mile traffic jam on the way to the show. The lineup was awesome: A Tribe Called Quest, The Beastie Boys, the Breeders, L7, Smashing Pumpkins and Georgeo Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars. The venue sucked. Hard.

The Beatles – pretty good band from Liverpool. Or so I’m told. This is their first appearance on a Good Songs tape and I’m sure the lads are touched. A real crowning achievement in their careers. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is the greatest psychedelic song ever recorded. Like the B-Boy’s “Sabotage” video, nothing comes close.

Blind Melon – the death of BM’s lead singer, Shannon Hoon disproves the axiom that the death of lead singer increases a band’s popularity. Blind Mellon released another album after this one (this is the one with the Bee Girl song, “No Rain) but it did nothing and people remember this band for their Bee Girl mascot. Hoon also shows up as a background singer in the Guns N’ Roses’ “Don’t Cry” video, so there’s that.

The Breeders -  I still enjoy this song. The bass line is infectious and I like to think that lead singer Kim Deal is singing to an actual cannonball. Or some guy doing a cannonball in a public pool. There’s probably some real interpretation to what the cannonball represents, but there are times where I like the Sigmund Freud version: “Sometimes a cannonball is just a cannonball.” Due to seeing this video (conservative estimate) over a thousand times, I think that even though the drummer in this band is a dude, I have a feeling that he used to get the crapped kicked out of him by the rest of his band mates on a regular basis.

The Cult – I think that the name “The Cult” is among the best names for a band. I don’t know whether it has to do with an extreme form of fandom or whether it harkens to spooky, mind-controlly type guru thing from the 60s, but loving a band is a lot like being in a cult. Especially when you’re young. I remember getting all fired up if someone said they thought the Doors sucked. The Doors! “How could you not like the Doors,” I’d wail. “They’re awesome!” And then I’d make up some bullcrap about how Jim Morrison redefined the role of rock star, was a thinking man’s* front man and how the rest of the band were extremely talented musicians (true). Then I’d start attacking the other person’s favorite band. Get a grip 20-year-old Byron, it’s just a band. Who cares?

* Yes, I actually once said that. God.

The Doors – I mumbled something about the Doors in a previous paragraph.

Grateful Dead – I have a couple of very long and thoughtful paragraphs about a band’s fans and how that can have an adverse reaction to that particular band’s music. But I think that I’m going to save that until I reach the Dave Matthews portion of the Good Songs universe – and that’s coming. But it’s hard to get past Deadheads (especially when you’re in college) and the Grateful Dead. This is a really sweet song that invokes a lot of things that one should be: a sense of community, sharing, helping out a person in need. And it’s not overly preachy too, which is nice. Juxtapose this with the scene in “Freaks and Geeks” where Lindsay is dancing in her room and you feel good about listening to this song. But talk to a Deadhead about this song (or any Dead song) and you’ll be lead down a labyrinth of bootlegs, concerts that occurred before you were born and minutia. Forest for the trees guys, forest for the trees*.

* That’s just not a Huey Lewis and the News song either.

Kiss – you know how I feel about Kiss. I don’t think that I need to restate my thoughts on this band. But I will say this, the only reason this song is included on this tape is because I was going through my incredibly annoying “Dazed and Confused” phase. To say that I was compulsively obsessed with that movie is just scratching the surface. I often wondered where the characters were right then (not the actors, the characters). Did they go to college? Did they leave their town? Did they enjoy the Aerosmith concert? How did the football team do that season? How did the coming of punk influence the incoming freshmen? The first thing I looked up on a search engine wasn’t porn (that would probably be the second), it was “Dazed and Confused”. And while I was thinking about the characters, I did everything I could to warp back to those times: lava lamps, beaded doors, the music, TV shows on Nick at Nite, it’s probably why I was equally obsessed with “Sabotage”. I felt as if I was a man out of my own time.

The Lemonheads – this was the first and only real band that played a concert at our college in the four years I went there. And it was the day after Kurt Cobain shot and killed himself, so there was a rumor that Evan Dando wasn’t going to show up, you know, out of respect for Cobain. I managed to get really wasted, almost fight someone in the mosh pit and spent a lot of time screaming for them to play “Mrs. Robinson” (they did not). Oh yeah, I had a friend, who didn’t go to college at Merrimack, came to visit me and got so incredibly wasted that instead of passing out in my room (like he said that he would) he walked 10 miles to his girlfriend’s house. He did not inform me of this change in plans until I found a note on my desk hours after the show ended – for awhile, I thought he was dead.  It was an eventful night. Years later I made a mix CD for my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. This was the first song on the tape. I’m lucky she thought it was sweet.

Juliana Hatfield – if you were a woman and could play guitar, the early 90s were your salad days. I don’t think that there has ever been a time in popular music where women were so welcome to the show and weren’t treated primarily as sex objects. That being said, I had a big crush on Juliana Hatfield -- especially the image at the top of this entry. Feminism only goes so far, I guess.

Lenny Kravitz – as far as Lenny Kravitz songs goes, this is probably the best one out there. If that’s not damning with faint praise, I don’t know what is. From my understanding Kravitz is a notorious lady killer (I don’t mean that literally). But in this song he takes the point of view of jilted lover. He does a pretty good job of bitching and complaining about all the things she did to him. I bet Lisa Bonet tells people she doesn’t like this song, but really loves it. “Fuck you Lenny. How do you like it? Asshole.”

Jane’s Addiction – around this time, I really got into Jane’s Addiction. And this song was on a rarities album that my friend found in some rare record shop in Boston that cost at least $40 (big money back then). I downloaded it off iTunes for $1.29 a year ago. TECHNOLOGY! The beginning of the song is a cover the Doors’ “LA Woman” (which is still my favorite Doors song) and includes “Nausea” by X and “Lexicon Devil” by the Germs. At the time it married my two favorite bands and I still dig it. 

Led Zeppelin – this isn’t one of my favorite Zep songs, I guarantee I chose it because the movie was named after it. Man.

Mighty, Mighty Bosstones – in 1997 I was working at a job that I despised for a company that I hated. There was no email or internet connection (I worked for a bank and they were afraid we’d smuggle secrets out, I guess, no one knew who the internet worked back then) but we were able to listen to the radio. Most days I listened to Howard Stern in the morning (really low) and in the afternoon WBCN would come on and play music. This summer the MMBs blew up with the song “The Impression That I Get” and one day the DJ came on the air after the song and said, “Years from now when you hear this song, the first thing that pops into your mind will be the Summer of 1997.” And you know what, he’s right. Even when I hear another song by the MMB, that particular time pops into my head. I am so damn suggestible sometimes. I would have made a great cult member.

Nirvana and Pearl Jam – in 1994 if you were to ask someone who the more popular band was; Pearl Jam or Nirvana, I bet more would choose the former. Whether you base on album sales, concert sales or just accessibility, Pearl Jam was the clear winner, this is something that Bill Simmons writes about every so often. Pearl Jam had a friendly second album (“Vs.” over “In Utero”) and they were riding high. Cobain was unreliable, had a horrible wife and released an album meant to alienate fans*. Then Cobain shot himself and instantly became the martyred voice of a generation. Pearl Jam soldiered on, doing what they do and some how got slagged for not having a band member kill himself. It sucked that Cobain killed himself for a number of reasons (and this was always going to happen, I think) but the worst part was that there were a lot of “conversations” about what it meant to be a rock star and what were a rock star’s responsibilities and crap like that. Then OJ Simpson killed his wife and a waiter and everyone forgot about Kurt Cobain.

* I’ve read that In Utero was recorded to be the opposite of the “Nevermind”, in other words less poppy and relatable, because Cobain had grown to despise his new audience. The ones who were singing along to the chorus “Here we are now, entertain us” were the types of kids that beat the crap out of him when he was younger. While I’m sure he appreciated the irony, he knew that the audience were completely unaware.

Phish – I went to school with two guys with the last name Fee. They were both really funny, really cool dudes. I pray that’s the reason why I put this song on this tape because Phish is not my type of band. Though I will say that my skin still crawls when I hear the line, “Sliced him on the nipple” followed by a piece of paper being ripped. That’s just some good production, Vermont hippies.

The Police – I just finished a really good biography of the Clash called “Fashion is the Passion”. One of the things that made me laugh is just how much the Clash hated the Police. One example is when the replacement drummer for Topper Headon (I’m pretty sure it was Pete Howard) was brought on, he was on the bus minding his own business listening to a Police tape. The Clash’s manager bitched him out for a solid two hours, the dude was almost in tears. This is a good song though and I really like the ending parts where Sting is singing “There’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet” over and over like a mantra. That’s some self-loathing any kid can get behind.

REM – in 1995 I saw REM in concert because I thought that everyone in that band was going to be dead within two years. They were not and the concert was actually pretty good and the coolest part was the next day I went on-line to an REM usenet group where I was able to get a bootleg of the concert from some girl in Chicago. That’s when I realized that the Internet was going to be a big thing. The opening act of the REM show was none other than Radiohead. I’m not sure if they played “Creep” but if they didn’t, I was probably pissed.

Smashing Pumpkins – I never knew whether the word “smashing” in Smashing Pumpkins was a verb or an adjective. There is a huge difference. I saw them at Lollapalooza with the Beasties in Rhode Island and they were terrible. Their sound was shitty, they seemed drugged out, they just didn’t care.  Lead singer and Smashing Svengali Billy Corgan made guitarist James Iha tap dance for us, which seemed incredibly demeaning. Until the Pumpkins broke into the collective conscious in 1993, they were always this weird, ethereal, mysterious group. As much as I loved “Siamese Dream”, I kind of liked it that way better.

Urban Dance Squad – when I was in high school I really wanted this tape, but didn’t have a set of wheels. I would bug my friend to drive me to the mall (about a half hour away) and see if Sam Goody or Record Town or Tape World got “Mental Floss for the Globe”. More often than not, they didn’t. One fine day, one of those places did and I will never forget my friend’s words, “I hope that this tape is fucking awful.” Even if it was (it kind of was) I would tell him how great it was. Pretty much every day. I’m a hell of a good friend.

Violent Femmes – this band and especially this song is so college, the Violent Femmes Greatest Hits CD should come with every acceptance letter.

Jimi Hendrix – I’ve written over 2900 words. I can’t write anything about anything any more. Sorry Rover. San Dimas High School Football Rules!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Good Songs XVI

Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin
D’Yer Mak’er – Led Zeppelin
Mistadobalina – Del the Funkee Homosapien
Crumbs on the Table – D-Nice
Call Me D-Nice – D-Nice
Steady Mobbin – Ice Cube
Misty Mountain Hop – Led Zeppelin
Mama Said Knock You Out – LL Cool J
The Jingling Baby – LL Cool J
Jet City Woman – Queensryche
Empire – Queensryche
Silent Lucidity – Queensryche
Bring the Noise – Public Enemy and Anthrax

When I was in high school, one of my best friends, Jamie, drove a  beat upHonda CR-X. At the time, he was the only one of my friends who could drive and we’d pack as many kids into this two-seat death trap as we could. If his girlfriend was along with us that day, the front seat was thus occupied, so it was in the back you went. Since there was no real back seat—it was essentially a hatch back—you considered yourself lucky if you could snag a piece of real estate near the back of the front seats. If you squatted there, there was only a slight chance of getting scoliosis. If you were stuck in the way back, you had a side dish of claustrophobia with your spine curvature.

I created this mix tape in the winter of 1993 but it has a real high school flavor to it. Specifically, the fall of 1990 which was a turning point in my life. My friend had his license, so I kinda had wheels. I was an upper classman, which was fun. Our soccer team finally won a game after literally 75 tries, that was a bonus. The weather seemed unusually warm that year, there seemed to be more parties and I was slightly less invisible to girls. It was a good time to be alive. One of the bigger life changes was being introduced to the music of Led Zeppelin for the first time*.

* Let me amend this statement, I had heard Led Zeppelin before 1990. But I only knew them as the group that sang the song [“Stairway to Heaven”] that closed out every junior high and high school dance. Also at the time, their boxset was constantly being advertised on MTV so I knew snippets of songs, but I was never really into them. 

Jamie’s car had a tape player, which at the time was the height of both wealth and technology and he played  “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “D’yer Mak’er” over and over and over and over again every day on our way to soccer practice. Every single day. I don’t know why, but I never really got sick of either of those songs, though I probably should have. The good thing about the way those two songs were situated on “Houses of the Holy” was that as soon as one song ended, you could flip the tape and hear the other. And Jamie’s stereo was so advanced that you didn’t even have to take the tape out to flip it, you just pressed a button. WHAT A WORLD!

To this day, OtHaFA is my favorite Led Zeppelin song and it’s probably because it reminds me of the fun that I had as a 16-year-old when the sun was always shining, the girls were pretty, the open road was new and my life was ahead of me. And I can guarantee that’s the reason why I lead this mix tape (which I made my freshman year in college) with that particular song.

Today “D’yer Mak’er” probably wouldn’t make my top 50 favorite Zep songs, but like Over the Hills, if I close my eyes and scrunch up into a ball (just for old times sake), I can still recall what it feels like to be 16 again.

There’s no two ways about it, “Mistadobalina” is a tremendous song. Written and rapped by Ice Cube’s cousin*, Del the Funkee Homosapien, it’s one of those tunes that nearly everyone who grew up in this era recalls, but doesn’t know much else about.

* If I was being clever, I would have put “Steady Mobbin’” after this cut. Or if I was being really clever, I would have included Ice Cube’s “Turn Off the Radio” which featured a snippet of Del “calling into” to a radio show to express his displeasure with commercial radio. Del was a member of Ice Cube’s band: Da Lench Mob – which had to change their name from the Lynch Mob because Dokken’s ex-guitarist, George Lynch, was touring with a band with the same name. Del to Dokken, so easy.

The interesting thing about the song’s hook, “Mr. Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobalina” is from Peter Tork. You may remember him from as the goofy guitarist from the Monkees. One day, near the end of their run of thier TV series, the Monkees and Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) decided to drop a crap load of acid, go out to the desert and write a movie that ended up being titled “Head”*. That script was completely bonkers (the first scene had the Monkees escaping the crush of their fans by committing suicide and jumping off a bridge) and didn’t do very well at box office. The first scene alienated their pre-teen fans who didn’t have access to the hard drugs needed to properly see the movie. This was the death knell for the Monkees.

* The Monkees were hoping that “Head” would be so successful that they’d be able to film a sequel. The tagline was already written too: “From the group that gave you ‘Head’!” I bet Mickey Dolenz came up with that, he seemed very bawdy. Or maybe Mike Nesmith wrote it, but not Davy Jones. Even though he’s English, that doesn’t seem to be cheeky enough to create this type of pun.

In one scene Peter Tork just aimlessly walks around reciting the Mr. Dobalina line. Apparently, Del thought that this was just weird enough to loop into a single. And it worked. At least it worked for me, looking at Wikipedia, “Mistadobalina” didn’t chart in the US, but it seemed to kick some serious ass in Scandinavia and central Europe—it was a top ten hit.

If things went different, Del the Funkee Homosapien may have been a hit with the Third Reich.

Queensyrche wasn’t your typical metal band. For one thing, they hailed from Seattle before that was a thing. And for another thing, it seems that most of their albums were concept albums. With the iTunes and downloading music, the flow of an album doesn’t matter much any more. Most folks only buy singles and the days of songs being placed on albums so one seamlessly leads to another is a lost art. That spelled the end of the concept album*, which always seemed to me as a way for a band to show their fans and critics (mostly critics) that they were “smart” and “serious”.

* Kanye West is the only artist today that I could envision creating a concept album. And that’s because he’s nuts and he wants people to think that he’s a smart and talented dude with something to say.

The concept album usually ended up in a mangled mess. Themes that were introduced at the beginning of the album were forgotten by the fifth track. Story lines and plot were nebulous at best. And by the last track, the entire band seemed frustrated, bored and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. It seemed to me that a concept album is like putting together a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle only you have a dozen people trying to tell you where each piece goes.

If you want to experience a terrible concept album created by a band who desperately wanted people to take them seriously, listen to KISS’ “Music from the Elder”. It’s awful and stupid. And to make matters worse, the title is confusing because it insinuates that the Elder was also a movie. In a textbook example of putting the cart before the horse, KISS (as only KISS could do) thought that this album was going to be so big, and people were going to be so blown away by their songwriting abilities, they titled the album because they thought that a film was inevitable. It was not. And their hubris almost completely destroyed the band.

Interestingly enough, Queensryche seemed to have the discipline to decently do a concept album. “Operation: Mindcrime” and “Empire” both were pretty good. And they were able to pull off the trick of releasing good sounding singles that were also integral to the story of the album. The funny thing is that though they were able to do concept albums well, they never reached the popularity or career longevity of KISS.

I guess that begs the question: would you rather be smart and good at your job but severely lacking in the popularity (and money) department or would you rather be dumb and shitty but popular and rich? I guess only Geoff Tate and the rest of Queensyrche knows for sure*.

* I just looked something up on Wikipedia and former Queensryche guitarist Mike Stone was also a member of a band called Criss. That band was helmed by former KISS drummer Peter Criss. 19 Thoughts is all about coming full circle, kids!

I was never a big Queensryche guy. I understood that they were a notch above the musical evolutionary scale of say Motely Crue or Poison, but their fans always seemed a bit too intense for me. They had long hair, were in a band, also were obsessed with the band Dream Theater and spent a lot of time arguing about what each song meant and how it fit into that particular album and Queensryche’s oeuvre as a whole. And yes, they would use the word “oeuvre”. A lot.

They may not have been book smart, but man, they knew their music inside and out. In short, they were a bit intimidating.

Speaking of popularity and the crossroads bands sometime find themselves at, when Public Enemy and Anthrax released “Bring the Noise”, I thought that PE was going to explode. MTV played the hell out of that video in the late summer of 1991. This song along with the PE shirt that Edward Furlong (young John Connor) wore through out the entirety of “Terminator 2” signaled to me that Public Enemy was going to be one of the biggest bands of the 90s.

For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen. Public Enemy was certainly extremely popular and has legions of fans, but I thought that they’d be everywhere, which would instantly validate my fandom of the band*. What I didn’t understand was that Public Enemy was never going to be that type of band. And I don’t think that they ever wanted to be, mainly because you’d have to change your stance on a lot of politics (soften it up) to appeal to the masses.

* For some reason, I was obsessed with my choices being validated and proven “right”. Whether it was music, TV, movies or sports whatever I was in to, I wanted it to be the most popular, most coolest thing around. It didn’t occur to me, until much later, that when niche things start getting really popular, they lose a lot of their shine. Once I learned that being happy with something and not caring about what anyone else thinks is the right way to consume media. Haters gonna hate.

Chuck D and Public Enemy weren’t going to do that, so they just kept soldiering on. Still famous, but also under the radar.

This song also made me think that the rap/rock crossover was going to start a new music revolution where it didn’t matter if you played hip hop or rock, music was music. That didn’t really happen either, it did for awhile I guess, but then Limp Bizkit showed up and brought with them a bunch of really, really crappy groups. That sent rock into a deep tailspin and splintering music into a million different genres.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good Songs XV

Enter Sandman – Metallica
Pass the Mic – Beastie Boys
So Whatcha Want – Beastie Boys
Jump Around – House of Pain
Milky Cereal – LL Cool J
Scenario – A Tribe Called Quest
Humpin’ – College Boyz
Panama – Van Halen
Deep Cover – Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dog
Always Inta Something – NWA
It Ain’t Over (Till It’s Over) – Lenny Kravitz
Baby Got Back – Sir Mix A Lot
Back in Black – AC/DC
Cold Blood – Kix

This was a fun mix to listen to this morning as there were a lot of high-energy, bouncy songs that took me back to when I was in college.

Aside from “One” which was one of the first tracks on Good Songs I, I didn’t put too many Metallica songs on the Good Songs. It’s not that I didn’t like them, but they ubiquitous in the 1990s. They were all over the radio, on MTV, popping up on award shows and late night talkshows, their faces on every music magazine on the newstands. For as anonymous and mysterious* as they were in the 1980s, Metallica was the exact opposite for the last decade of the millennium (or Willennium, as Will Smith once called it).

In other words, I didn’t need new places to listen to Metallica. In fact, I was probably trying to escape them at this point in my life.

* Metallica’s self-titled Black album was released in August of 1991 and “Enter Sandman” was a monster single. It was still a big deal when Metallica released a video (I believe that this was their second video ever) and it was in heavy rotation. Anyway about a month or so later, I was at a high school dance when the DJ played this particular song (don’t ask, it’s typical Amesbury High School) and I was talking to a friend of mine. He said, “I love that Metallica got some kid to say some Satan stuff in the middle of this song. That’s so awesome!” He was referring to the “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer that bisects the song. My friend may have been an idiot or Metallica was so mysterious that no matter what they said, it was considered “dark and spooky”. Maybe this was what it was like to be a Led Zeppelin fan in the 1970s.

For a tape so heavy on hip-hop, this was an interesting song to open with. I know that many “true” Metallica fans malign this CD, but it’s still excellent. And there are certain parts in this song that still hit like a truck smashing a little boy’s bed. That’s not too bad for a tune that will be celebrating its 24th anniversary in August.

There are some songs you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard them. One of those songs for me was “Jump Around” by House of Pain. The August before I left for college, my mom and dad decided that the whole family needed a day out. For one reason or another, we rarely did this. I’m not sure whether it was because my brother and I were involved with sports or what, but the last trip that I could remember the entire family going on was our disastrous trek to Cape Cod in 1987. So this particular day stood out.

It was a really burning hot day and my folks decided to take us to Fanuiel Hall in Boston. We hadn’t been there in awhile and the thought was that we’d have a good time. My brother and I were sullen teenagers – and in truth we were probably very nervous about our new schools (he: AHS and me: Merrimack College) – so Jay and I broke off from our parents for a couple of minutes to check out the record store. We nosed around our favorite sections when I heard it, the now familiar “BAH! Bah, bah, bahhhhhhh!” followed by a bunch of squealing horns. I looked around and a bunch of the city kids just started pogoing—or jumping around.

Jay looked at me, I looked at him and we just shrugged. My brother walked out of there with a copy of House of Pain’s CD, which we listened to. A lot.

I can’t blame those kids for dancing, the beat is infectious. It makes you want to get out of your seat and jump around. And it wasn’t just Boston city kids doing it, this was one of THE songs of 1992/93. Like the four faces of Metallica, it was everywhere that year. It was played at house parties, bars, dances; anywhere drunk kids were, that song wasn’t far from being loaded into a CD player. The song was good then and it’s still good now.

I wonder if Everlast still talks to Ice-T and asks him if there are any parts for him on Law and Order? Everlast was a member of Ice-T's crew, "The Rhyme Syndicate". I wonder if any of Ice-T's old crew asks that question? I probably would. 

One last thing about House of Pain, the group combined with Bart's nerdy friend has given me the only name I use in fantasy sports: Millhouse of Pain. Thank you Everlast, I appreciate the set up of a good pun.  

Speaking of great, fun songs; “Panama” is the only Van Halen song on any Good Songs tapes. And that’s okay because this is prime Van Halen. The guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen, the harmonies of Michael Anthony and the boozy, over confident vocals of David Lee Roth make it (for my money) the best VH song around*.  

* Alex Van Halen’s drumming is pretty good too, but it doesn’t shine here like it does in other songs.

Whether you like the band or not, “Panama” is one of those tunes that captures your attention every time it comes on the radio. Even if you’ve heard the opening riff a thousand times, you’re still intrigued to see where it’s going to take you. And by the time DLR yells, “JUMP BACK! What’s that sound?” you’re hooked. This song makes me want to line up a bunch of glass bottles on an old fence, pull out a .44 and start firing away. It makes me want to steal a Camaro and drive it through Fotomat (even though those things don’t exist any more). Basically the crap that Seth Rogan, Bill Hader and McLovin did in the movie “Superbad” is the stuff that I want to do when I hear this song.

And I wanted to do that stuff while I listened to this song BEFORE I saw the movie. That’s the mark of a great song.

If you’ve been reading the Good Songs entries of “19 Thoughts”, you know that I kinda like NWA. To me, Dr. Dre was the bassist of the group in that his beats and samples were the backbone of the group, yet he didn’t say too much. Every once in awhile, you’d hear him rap but I felt that the rest of the group was throwing him a bone like the way The Who or Led Zeppelin would let John Entwistle or John Paul Jones do something on an album that didn’t involve plucking bass strings*.

* When I was younger, my understanding of what these two guys did for their bands was feeble at best.

So when I heard that Dre was going to providing the lyrics for a song off the “Deep Cover” soundtrack, I was intrigued. Back then, depending on how you felt about MC Ren, Dre was probably the fourth most interesting member of the group. I had higher expectations for Ren’s new CD (“Kiss My Black Azz” – I love that title) because he rapped way more than Dre and had a better flow.

But then I heard this smoky, dark, foreboding song and I was shocked. This is Dr. Dre? Where the hell was he on “Efil4zaggin” when NWA needed help to offset the loss of Ice Cube? And who was this raspy-voiced, lithe dude? Snoop Doggy Dog? He’s named after Snoopy? I know that Charlie Brown was a dude from Leaders of the New School, but this was something way different.

Turns out that Dre wasn’t that bad of a rapper and Snoop Dog was even better. This was their first song and it was a harbinger of things to come. Dre and Snoop ruled over mid and late 90s hip hop and influenced not only a generation of MCs, but also a generation of DJs. Listening to this track now is like finding YouTube clips of Pedro Martinez striking out 82 batters in 77 innings for the Single-A Great Falls Dodgers.

Watching those clips now, you know Pedro was going to be great but you didn’t know how high his star would ascend. And that’s the same thing you get when you listen to the “Deep Cover” cut now. It’s a great tune but Dre and Snoop would eclipse it many times over in the coming years.

Some quickies:

Milky Cereal – LL Cool J has a well deserved reputation for being a ladies man and being the first “romantic” hip hop artist, but the guy could also be funny and turn a phrase. This was never more evident than in “Milky Cereal” where he talks about women, sexing women and fighting off their pissed-off parents as part of a balanced and nutritious breakfast. We all grew up watching cereal commercials on Saturday, and LL was just singing about the next thing.

Humpin – It took me awhile to find this song because it’s a forgettable jam by a forgettable band. But I guess that when I taped this mix, I really liked it. Listening to it now, it’s actually pretty graphic. I’m not offended but for a New Jack Swing type of group that the College Boyz (seem) to be, this was new ground. Like most NJS groups, it didn’t get them very far. Also the line, “College Boyz here to hump you!” might literally be the worst opening line ever.

Baby Got Back – I’m not made of stone. This Sir Mix A Lot tune was everywhere in 1992, why shouldn’t it be on a Good Songs mix? The other day I happened to be watching a Saturday Night Live marathon on VH1 Classic with a skit from the early 90s called “Delta, Delta, Delta” that starred Melanie Hutsell, Siobhan Fallon and Beth Cahill that made fun of sorority girls. Since I watched SNL religiously back in the day, I vaguely remember it but I don’t remember it being huge. I think Sir Mix A Lot is trying to glom on to the “popularity” of this sketch with the two girls at the beginning of this song. Or maybe he’s making fun of how white people talk. I have no idea. In any event, it’s pretty cool no matter what was going through his head.

And that’s why he was knighted by the Queen of England and you weren’t. 

Cold Blood – Ugh. Kix. What was I thinking?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Good Songs XIV

Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
Crazy – Seal
Down Boys – Warrant
Love Song – Tesla
Gonna Make You Sweat – C+C Music Factory
Photograph – Def Leppard
Scared – Dangerous Toys
Fuck Tha Police – NWA
Boys of Summer – Don Henley
3AM Eternal – The KLF
Never Enough – LA Guns
Fly to the Angels – Slaughter
Jackin’ for Beats – Ice Cube

Hoo boy. This is a weird one to listen to again.

What I mean by that is, for a tape that was crafted (ha, crafted – so pretentious) in 1993, this has a feeling of a cassette that was made three years prior. As I was listening to it earlier today, I was trying to figure out exactly what message I was trying to convey.

And I think that message was simple, “I wish I was back in high school.” And this is a strange message because I was very happy with Merrimack College and while I enjoyed my time at Amesbury High School, I didn’t want to go back at all. So maybe that wasn’t it. Perhaps I just wanted a tape of all the crappy music I enjoyed when my primary address was my parents’ house.

In either case, I couldn’t have picked better songs to elicit tones of home.

Seal’s “Crazy” is still a terrific tune. When it came out, I remember being absolutely blown away. It was psychedelic and creepy with lyrics suggesting something bigger was going on behind the scenes. It was as if Seal was taking the listener on a chill, yet paranoid acid trip wondering who are the gun-toting “yellow people that walk through his head”?

Like many of the descriptors that I use to explain my fascination with certain songs, it all begins with that hypnotic beat that lures the listener into this weird audial world. It’s dreamy and ethereal and things seem to flow along those lines until the drum hits and it begins to pick up speed. It reminds me of the boat ride in the original “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” where the kids think that they’re in for a nice float down a chocolate river, but ends up being a psychedelic hell ride of chickens without heads and giant visages of Slugworth.

Seal doesn’t quite go that far, but the dreamy world of the song’s beginning runs in sharp contrast as to the pointed nightmares that make up the remainder of the tune. I had high hopes for Seal after this song as I thought that he was going to release weird, trippy songs for the rest of his career* but he ended up cutting off his dreads, releasing adult-oriented pop, getting married to Heidi Klum and becoming insanely rich. I guess him not making weird songs kind of worked for him.

* After he release “Let Love Rule”, I also had the same thoughts about Lenny Kravitz too. But he didn’t do it either. In fact, he cut off his dreads, made (less-than-original) adult-oriented pop, married Lisa Bonet and became insanely rich. I somehow dislike Kravitz more than Seal though I’m not sure exactly why. There’s a lot of Kravitz coming up soon, I’m sure I’ll get into it more.

There are times when you add a song to a mix because you want to set the mood. If you’re lifting weights, you add Rage Against the Machine or Dangerous Toys. If you’re trying to woo a young lady, first off you don’t say you’re “Wooing her” and second, you add a little Jeff Buckley or Tesla to the mix. I don’t know what the hell I was trying to do when I added C+C Music Factory*.

* Or if you’re into puns and from Amesbury, MA: C+C Pizza Factory. God, I hate myself sometimes.

There is no excuse for this song anytime, anywhere. And I apologize for introducing this earworm to your brain right now. It wasn’t cool and I deeply regret it.

Like most dance tracks, this song is forgettable. The one thing that I remember is the CONTOVERSY! that this video created when it was aired regularly on MTV. Much like Velvet Underground, C+C Music Factory had a supermodel who hung around with them and “sang” with them. Her name was Zelma Davis and because she was draw-droppingly attractive, she had a lot of face time in the video.

Also around this time, it was found that Milli Vanilli did not sing any of their vocals on their record. For some reason this was a big deal back then. I mean, a really, Really, REALLY big deal. Milli Vanilli were pariahs and never worked again, then one of them killed himself. Like I said, people went a bit bonkers about this at the time. During the same time, it came out that Zelma Davis did not really sing. Most of the hooks were sung by former WeatherGirl (who sang “It’s Raining Men”*) and big-boned female Martha Wash.

Unfortunately, Ms. Wash did not have the aesthetics that a group as serious as C+C Music Factory was going for, so they had her sing the songs and told the world that that was Zelma Davis’ pipes. Not wanting to become a running joke like Milli Vanilli or deprive the world of music inspired by the Arsenio Hall bits, C+C came out and admitted to what happened.

* Everytime I hear “It’s Raining Men” (which is A LOT!) I am reminded of that classic Simpsons scene where Moe kicks Homer out of the bar and removes his favorite song from the jukebox.

Home: “It’s Raining Men”?
Moe: Not no more it ain’t!

Of course it lands in Smithers’ car.
Remember when MTV ran videos and in the bottom left-hand corner was that box that told you all the information you need? Band name, song name, album name, label name and the name of the video director. C+C Music Factory’s information looked as if it was written by Dostoyevsky. I’m trying to do this by memory but I remember it reading “Artist name: C+C Music Factory, vocals by Marth Wash, visualized by Zelma Davis”.

Now that I look at it, the name doesn’t seem long, but trust me it looked like a lot of words when you 16, drunk and staring at a TV for hours.

Speaking of videos, the video for the KLF’s “3 AM Eternal” was bizarre. It was a bunch of people in blue robes in a post-apocalyptical world jamming to something called “Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” and singing into hilariously outdated cell phones. I loved it. I loved every damn thing about that song – mostly because I knew nothing about that group (this was pre-Wikipedia and the internet) so my ideas of who these people were, what they were signing about and what they were attempting to do were Seal-level crazy.

For some reason I thought that they were from the Netherlands (actually from England) and I thought that they were singing about something really big. They were not. They were just a band with a prefab mythology that was meant to be mysterious. But I didn’t know that yet.

I was such a naïve kid, I am surprised that I never joined a cult.

Don Henley. Ugh, I hate Don Henley. But almost everyone hates Don Henley, so it’s not like I’m in some special club. But I don’t hate “Boys of Summer”. If you’ve never heard it before, it has nothing to do with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodogers or the Donald Kahn’s book about the 1955 Dodgers.

It’s about a baby-boomer reflecting on his days as a kid. And while baby boomers and their love of their own selves and generation are ranked just a tick below my feelings for Don Henley, nostalgia is nostalgia. And I’m a suck for that crap. Especially when you’re as self-absorbed as I am. Oh no. I am Don Henley, I’ve become what I’ve hated the most. But in some ways, aren’t we all a bit like Don Henley? By hating Don Henley, we really hate ourselves!

Or maybe Don Henley is a pretentious douche who thinks that he’s a little better than everyone, when in reality he’s the third most talented member of a thoroughly mediocre and absolutely boring rock band.

Yeah. That’s more like it.

I’ve mentioned it before, but if there’s one thing that I really like (aside from the untimely death of Don Henley) it’s team-ups and cross-overs. Whether it’s in the movies, or on TV, or in comics; if you stick a character that I like in another medium that I like, I’m there.

Ice Cube’s “Jackin’ for Beats” is the perfect audio team-up, except Cube is a bit of a dick about it. He takes a bunch of beats that have been made popular by other artists of the day (Public Enemy, Digital Underground, D-Nice, among others) and brags about how he’s taking their beats and making them his own.

I’ve never rapped nor do I run in hip hop circles, but I think that taking a beat that is completely identifiable with another rapper or group is like taking that person’s property*. I remember hearing that song for the first time and being shocked that Ice Cube was so brazen in his theft.

* Which is strange because, let’s face it, rappers grab beats that were identified with other musicians and make those songs their own. I’m not going to get into a debate about whether it’s right or wrong, as Bill Belichick is fond of saying, “It is what it is” but do you associate the funk of “Superfreak” with Rick James or MC Hammer?

Brazen or not, it’s a lot of fun to hear Ice Cube rap over these beats and that’s what makes it a great song, even now. And the little shot at the end against NWA? Ice Cube really knows how to twist that knife, doesn’t he.

Speaking of NWA, I really liked “Fuck tha Police” a lot, didn’t I? It’s on just about every Good Songs tape. Enough already, 1993 Byron. You’ve made your point.