Saturday, December 27, 2008

Trees Talking Heads, 1979-82

If you consider solo and side projects of a particular band, you can trace their lineage much like a family tree.  

For example, take the Beatles:
Being the Beatles, you can assume the family tree is going to be strong.

The Beatles > George Harris' Son > Ringo Starski > Polio McCartney > Chum Lemon > Traveling Wilburys (ugh) > Wings > Plastic Ono Band > etc.

You could argue the case that further branches would spring off for everyone involved with the Wilburys and Plastic Ono Band, but for the sake of brevity (haha!), I did not bother.

(L-R) Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison (with Residents shirt!)  

One of the strongest of music family trees would be Talking Heads. The sheer quality of output amongst band members and offshoots - especially during their peak period of 1979-82, rivals that of anything put against it.  

1979s dark and paranoid Fear of Music, Talking Heads' third long player, shifted the band's path towards sheer brilliance.  Produced by Brian Eno, the album would feature Robert Fripp's guitar work on the opening track, 'I Zimbra'.  Interestingly enough, the same track - in addition to 'Life During Wartime', highlights both Ari Up of The Slits and actor Gene Wilder on congas.

That's right!  Gene Wilder.

The Beatles never had Wily Wonka on congas, now - did they?   

Note: I am focusing on the '79-82 period of the band because it was not until 1979 that Talking Heads progressed beyond sounding like New York legends, Come On.  

Everyone knows that.

First live performance with Jerry Harrison (far left) - CBGBs, New York City

Eno would once again take the helm for the Talking Heads' fourth and arguably greatest album, 1980's polyrhythmic masterpiece Remain in Light. The album would include former Frank Zappa and David Bowie guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew, former Labelle powerhouse Nona Hendryx on backing vocals, and future Power Station frontman Robert Palmer on percussion. 

To realize the complexity of the music for the supporting tour, the band would expand its line-up to include Belew, Hendryx, former Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, bassist Busta Jones, backing singer Dolette McDonald, and percussionist Steve Scales - all very highly skilled musicians in their own right.    

This line-up, as well as the early 4-piece band, was featured on 1982's double live album, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.  Like all of the Talking Heads discography, the album did not chart well.  It did, however, receive stunning accolades - many hailing it as the greatest 'official' live album ever produced.  

(L-R) Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth

During the layoff between 1980's Remain in Light and 1983's Speaking in Tongues studio albums, each of these musicians - in addition to tragically forgotten R&B drummer and session hero Yogi Horton, would strongly contribute to the various Talking Heads' solo material:  

* David Byrne would score Twyla Tharp's avant-dance production, The Catherine Wheel (Byrne, Worrell, Belew, Frantz, Eno, Harrison, Scales, McDonald, Horton).  He would then partner with Eno for the brilliant My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Byrne, Eno, Frantz, Jones, Scales).  Both stunningly good albums.  

* Jerry Harrison would release the terribly underrated The Red and The Black (Harrison, Belew, Worrell, Scales, Hendryx, McDonald, Horton).  At the time, the more ridiculous of criticisms of the album was that it was nothing more than a Remain in Light rehash.  Hogwash.  Considering how involved Harrison was in the creative process of Talking Heads, it makes complete sense that his solo material would incorporate similar soundscapes.    
And while it is slightly out of the focused-upon time period, in 1984 Harrison would collaborate with Bootsy Collins for the superb 5 Minutes EP as Bonzo Goes to Washington.  I've included it here, as it is so darned hard to find these days.  

* Husband and wife team Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth would form Tom Tom Club, releasing their self-titled debut LP (Frantz, Weymouth, Belew) in 1981.  The album would spawn one of the more sampled tracks in all of hip-hop history, Genius of Love.

* Adrian Belew would spin his work with the Talking Heads into a ride with Robert Fripp's King Crimson, who would release the excellent (and Talking Heads-like) Discipline.  Afterwards Belew would release his acclaimed (and Talking Heads-like) debut, Lone Rhino

* And in keeping with the spirit of the post, we've also got Nona Hendryx's 1983 second album, Nona (Scales, Worrell, Weymouth).  As with Bonzo Goes to Washington, it does tip-toe out of the time frame. However, the middle-of-the-road 80s R&B on Nona puts a deserved spotlight on a truly wonderful singer. 


As always, all thanks go to the original posters of this material.
And all comments welcomed.  Ingrates.          

Talking Heads:

Fear of Music, 1979 -- Art of Modern Rock Blog

Remain in Light, 1980 -- Tsururadio Blog (Vinyl recording!)

Updated Link: 

David Byrne:

Jerry Harrison:

The Red and the Black, 1981 -- The amazing Rho-Xs Blog

Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth:

Tom Tom Club, 1981 -- Same as Above: Rho-Xs Blog

Adrian Belew:

King Crimson's Discipline, 1981 -- 2000 Mustangs Blog

Lone Rhino, 1982 -- DJ Koppig Blog

Nona Hendryx:

Nona, 1982 -- Quiet! There's a Lady on Stage Blog

Friday, December 26, 2008

Master of the Flying Guillotine Soundtrack

Killing Fung Sheng Wu Chi's disciples is a good way to lose one's head 

Today we've got the soundtrack to one of the greatest Kung Fu movies ever made: 1977's Master of the Flying Guillotine.

I must admit that I have never been much of a fan of kung fu movies. Thanks to the local B-Movie hosts of my Midwestern childhood, I have seen my share over the years.  However, much like Spaghetti Westerns and Samurai flicks, I've never really been blown away enough to seek them out.      
I am even less of a fan of movie soundtracks.  Sure, there are good ones out there; Anton Karas' The Third Man and Ennio Morricone's Once Upon a Time in the West soundtracks being two of the more memorable - but I've never really seen the point of listening to movie scores. 

Sometimes, though, things inevitably converge to produce brilliance.  

Or, as is the case of the soundtrack to Master of the Flying Guillotine, it is stolen.   

The single baddest man in cinema: the Master of the Flying Guillotine

Several months ago a co-worker traded me a handful of movies that he thought I might like; 3 based on the Lovecraft mythos and 5 kung fu flicks.  I'm not sure why he felt I would like kung fu movies - unless, perhaps, it was my off-hand comment to him about my not being cool enough to watch Tarantino movies. 
Regardless, who was I to complain?  The guy was kind enough to bother in the first place.     

Impressed by his high praise of the movie, the first one I ended up watching was Master of the Flying Guillotine; aka The One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine; aka One-Armed Boxer 2 

Ah, those crazy movie distributors...

During the superb prologue where the blind master of the flying guillotine is introduced, I was struck by the brilliance of the villain's ominous and strangely electronic theme.  By the time the opening credits backing track started playing, I was flat-out stunned. 
Chinese industrial music?  Wha...?

Oops! Wrong one-armed guy.

I immediately turned to my wife and in as few choice words as possible stated my utter disbelief.   

Was China this progressive in the 70s?  

Wait a minute.  Is that an electric guitar?  

Her response was a yawn.  Considering I not-so-secretly feel she uses most of my interests as a cheap sleep aid, I wasn't too surprised.  As a matter of fact, she ended up falling asleep shortly after. 

Anyway, I paused the disc at the appropriate place: 

Music by... Hsun Chi Chen?

Holy crap!  Who knew? 

"I don't care who he was.  I intend to kill every one-armed man that I come across..."

While I might be as ignorant as the next sap, it turns out my suspicions were correct. 

After researching the movie on the interdweeb, I found that the killer tunes at the beginning of the flick were unauthorized cuts by the krautrock band Neu! ('Super' and 'Super 16', off the Neu! 2 album).  On top of that, whoever assembled the backing tracks to the movie also illegally used snippets of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk.    


I should have known.  Commies don't do electric guitars. 

Links of Interest:

Note: I've compiled the krautrock tracks.  In addition, I've thrown in some audio bits from the movie that I found out there and placed them in logical order.  Enjoy!  

Monday, December 22, 2008

Jah Wobble Steps Out

I often wonder what the 'average person' (whatever that means) feels about music.  I mean... do they feel anything when listening?  Or is it just... well, there?  

Ask someone why they like what they are listening to, and you'll more often than not get a well thought out, 'I just do!' in return.  

I can respect that.  After all, the arts are nothing more than any other form of entertainment out there; a distraction from complex and sometimes difficult lives.  Whether that distraction from Every Day Life is mindless - or thought-provoking, in the end it is still a distraction.  

To a lot of us, music is a mindless entertainment.  To some, it is a Psalm.  Or a means of catharsis.  

To bassist Jah Wobble, music was a life raft.

- Steel Leg V. The Electric Dread - Virgin Records #VS239, 1978

Childhood friends with both John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) and John Ritchie (Sid Vicious), John Wardle was in the eye of the emerging punk hurricane in the United Kingdom.  In 1978, a shared appreciation of anger, alcohol, reggae and a subsequent interest in the bass guitar made Wardle an ideal choice as cornerstone to Lydon's second band, Public Image Limited (PiL).  

It was a role in which the drunkenly christened Jah Wobble would thrive.  

"No one listened to bass in rock music before PiL…"

- John Lydon

From 1978's debut 7" single, Public Image b/w Cowboy Song (Virgin #VS228, October 1978), until the sessions that would result in the Trout Mask Replica of its day, the Metal Box album (Virgin Metal 1, November 1979), Jah Wobble's low-end dubby bass lines would dominate the early sound of PiL.  So much so, in fact, that when Wobble departed the band in mid 1980, PiL - rather than replace the bass in the equation, focused on the huge drum sounds that would define the Flowers of Romance album.  

Even out of the band, Wobble's shadow cast heavy on PiL.  

And if you believe the myth that Phil Collins enjoyed the Flowers of Romance drum sound enough to incorporate it into his own chart-topping material, we can add the dreck that is Phil Collins' solo career to Wobble's achievements.  

Thanks, Mr. Wardle.  We all owe you for that one.  Jerk...   
- The Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble in 'Betrayal' - Virgin Records #V2158, 1980

Prior to leaving Public Image Limited - and in the spirit of the early philosophy of a PiL Umbrella system that allowed each of the band members avenues to release their own material, Wobble, along with noted DJ Don Letts and fellow PiL member Keith Levene (billed here as Stratetime Keith), contributed to the Steel Leg v. The Electric Dread 12" EP (Virgin #VS239-12, December 1978).  

Oddly released the same month as Public Image Limited's First Issue debut, Steel Leg V. The Electric Dread is an enjoyable four song reggae-based album.  Well... three, if you subtract the first punk track, the aptly titled 'Steel Leg'.  Frankly, I'd rather set my eyes on fire than have to listen to that one ever again.  It is a terrible, terrible cut.  
Thankfully, the reggae goodness that is Electric Dread scores a clean knock-out in this battle.   

In addition to several 12" solo EPs, Wobble would also release the solid The Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble in Betrayal (Virgin #V2158, May 1980) solo LP before splitting Rotten and Company in an acrimonious hail of well-publicized (and possibly gimmicked) ill will.     
Interestingly enough, two tracks on Betrayal were accused as being unauthorized use of PiL background material by the remaining members of the band.  It is true that Blueberry Hill (track 3) and Not Another (track 4) do incorporate PiL riddims (bass and drum rhythm patterns) - in this case The Suit and Another, both from the Metal Box album.  However, Wobble has always stated that he had simply done what reggae producers have done forever; that is, reusing riddims for other songs.  

Makes sense to me.  Obviously not to the rest of PiL.

568 albums later, Jah Wobble stands as a survivor. 

Having quit drinking in 1986, thanks to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program, Wobble has since chased the ever-elusive muse with a determination that makes even the most prolific blush.  Whether it has been backing William Blake poems, paying homage to Car Ads and Elevator Music, or birthing dub lines seeking spiritual fulfillment, one of the constant themes of Jah Wobble's thirty year discography is that there is no constant. 

And that exploration, self-assessment, and a dedicated drive to fulfill one's potential are the keys.  

Bass just happens to be the man's car.  

Praise, Jah!

Links of Interest:

* Steel Leg Vs The Electric Dread 12" -- To Live and Shave in LA blog

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Public Image Limited

- First Issue (Front), 1978 - Virgin Records #V2114

One of the more important and fertile periods of music history was the 8-year stretch between 1975 and 1982.  Other than the 1963-1970 generational gash, I doubt any other era can state as strong of a case.  
And frankly, remove Dylan and the Beatles from the sixties equation, and what would you have had?  

Without Dylan, Ricky Nelson might have been the guy everyone wanted to emulate.  And were it not for the Beatles proving that a band (a British band, no less) could successfully write and perform their own compositions, Elvis and his increasingly sanitized Roustabout-like soundtracks could very well have dominated and shaped the American pop music landscape.  

You can argue that someone else would have stepped into the roles that Dylan and the Beatles played.  But that would just extend this here rant.  And no one wants that.

No... I'm sticking with the '75-82 period as my favorite.  Nostalgia, after all, is my drug of choice.  

At the forefront of that era, in my humble opinion, is Public Image Limited.  

Formed in 1978 by former The Mama's & The Papa's crooner Johnny Rotten after the cheated ending of that band during a San Francisco Hippy Day Parade float mishap, Public Image Limited were not a band, curse you!  They were a multi-media corporation that posed as a band.

When the drugs ran out.  

And the last original corporation member resigned his seat in 1982.

Only then could they be called a band.
At that point Public Image Limited were bought out by John Lydon, former mastermind behind the Archies and the Banana Splits.  The "band" would go on to release some interesting material until the late 80s, when Lydon mysteriously and unexpectedly announced that Public Image Limited were to go on temporary hiatus.  

Lydon's attention would be diverted by the Reunion Craze of the 1990s, which allowed him to reform Spinal Tap for the lackluster 'Gimme Some Money' tours.  He would then devote the next ten years working on his acclaimed solo album, Psycho's Path (released in 1997) - which would garner him multiple Grammys and a permanent position as butter spokesman of the United Kingdom.  

It's really a heart-warming story.  And it is also quite a Prindle.

- (L-R) Jah Wobble (bass), Keith Levene (g.), Jim Walker (d.), Johnny Rotten (v.)
Early Period Public Image Limited

For my money, from the 1978 debut album, First Issue, to their third album, Flowers of Romance in 1981, Public Image Limited (PiL) were one of the most challenging, exciting and innovative bands of their - or any other era.  With a fierce rhythm section dominated by Jah Wobble's snorting rhino bass, Keith Levene's space metal guitar work and Johnny Rotten's caustic and right-on lyrics, there were very few that could top them.

And they'll be the first to tell you!

The media doesn’t give a fuck like that now... Though a lot of people talk about ‘Metal Box’ these days and they don’t get it wrong, they know we put out a serious fucking record. And I dare anyone who’s into music to listen to the first record and tell me it’s not a great first record, for any band. 
- Keith Levene, Fodderstompf interview, 2003

... what is not understood is it’s took people a long time to catch up to what we were doing in the first three or four albums. And now that period from us has somehow managed to have been blended into modern culture, but they don’t understand what came after. What came after was us going into ‘Pop structure’, in a deadly serious way and restructuring the concept of a pop song. Which was great fun, and just as important to us as anything else, and it’s not for anyone to say ‘That’s not as good as’ it IS PiL, and it’s beyond judgement, it is what it is, and it is honest and it’s not done for any other fucking reason.
- John Lydon, Fodderstompf interview, 2004
They were sitting about the Manor [Studio] all day, and I was going and doing stuff and saying look I've done some stuff do you want it? So I started working on my own stuff, I'd have been happy working on PiL stuff, I just wanted to work. Because I'm starting to play, I love it! I've been on the dole. All I wanted to do was play with this fucking group, and I still feel like that, you've got to get out and do stuff, what's the point of sitting at home if you can go out and play to people, that's what you do. So I got very frustrated... 
- Jah Wobble, Fodderstompf interview, 1999

'Low life' and 'Attack' were meant to be properly made songs. But recorded in a basement dungeon of a demo track studio. No live drum sound everything done on the cheap. Appalling result. 'Fodderstomph', the same sad sick story. Not even a song just a wank. Ripping off our fans. It still turns my stomach thinking about it. Same story with the 'Cowboy Song' .One decent track for the price of two. PiL were in effect mocking those who were feeding us. Our fans. I hated this sort of rubbish but by then I had given up hope for PiL. 
- Jim Walker, Fodderstompf interview, 2001


It would not surprise me if music critics someday rank PiL on the same level as the Velvet Underground: Influential to everyone that happened to buy into them - yet considering their inability to crack into the public consciousness, a complete and total failure.

And as is typical in pop culture, PiL's failure was generally better than the greatest of successes.

No doubt, Public Image Limited is a tough pil to swallow...

HAHA!  Tough PiL to swallow?  That one never gets old.  Kind of like the one about Sid Vicious.  You know... 'He made a stab at the top, but hit Nancy instead!'  

... but like PiL's direct ancestors, Germany's Can and Neu! and Venus' favorite son Captain Beefheart, once the myth is stripped away, you are left with a rewarding listening experience.

As they should have said on American Bandstand, 'It's got a good beat and I can trance to it!'

- Flowers of Romance (Front), 1981 - Virgin Records #V2189

So why was PiL such a failure?

Because whether it relates to silly entertainment figures or each and every one of us, wasted potential is one of the bitterest of failures.  

From their formation in 1978 through 1981, the band released 5 7" singles, 3 12" singles, 4 long players (if you include the Paris Au Printemps live album), and played a grand total of 22 shows (with two cancellations).  7 of those 22 concerts in the first two years!  
Think about that.  22 shows.  In 4 years.

Good luck trying to destroy rock and roll from the comfort of your shooting dens, guys.

That more people did not have the opportunity to experience such a brilliant band live is a rotten shame.  The potential to influence a countless amount of young people was wasted.  And if anyone could have influenced them, it would have been that first line-up of Wobble, Levene, Lydon, and a power drummer of the week.  

They were that good.  

Links of Interest:

* Fodderstompf - The one stop source of all things PiL.  Excellent.
* First Issue - Hong Kong Gardens Blog.  Superb.
* Plastic Box (PiL Box set) - Jake & Elwoods Greatest Hits Blog
* Metal Box (second album) - Baratomusical Blog

Note:  The Plastic Box set is probably all you really need, considering their first and third albums are represented in their entirety here (save one cut from First Issue, which I have also linked).  I included a link to Metal Box; i.e., Second Edition - their second album, as it is not represented as strongly on the box set.  And you really need to hear it.  Jah Wobble is in his glory.  Typical of PiL, it would be Wobble's last album with the group before he quit in disgust.  Or got fired for stealing backing tracks for 'unauthorized' solo material.  Whomever you believe. Regardless, Wobble's departure would hasten the band's descent into safer and shallower waters.  The Idiots...  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Mayfly: An Introduction

With a life-span between 30 minutes and one day, I've long considered the mayfly as a wonderful symbol of humanity.  Geologically speaking, our 70-year life spans are but blinks of an eye.  And just like the mayfly, we, too, seem to revolve our existence around reproduction, rest, and an anticipation of death.

Plus... as I was born on May Day, it just seems to fit.

Being 38, I figure my internal clock is reading 3:15 PM.  

15 hours down.  9 hours to go.

With memories to spare...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Slits

It has always fascinated me that the more artistic and experimental of the Punk-New Wave personalities have been women.  While I do consider Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux boring and overrated (though influential), others such as Su Tissue of the Suburban Lawns, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, Exene Cervenka of X, and Alice Bag of the Bags stand as perfect representatives of what made punk interesting to me in the first place: the expression of individualism.  

Of course punk would go on to becoming as marketed, conforming and irrelevant as beatniks, hippies, and any other status quo-challenging movement that slips into the mainstream.  
But that's another story.   

- Early Slits, (L-R), Viv Albertine, Ari Up (Arianne Forster), Tessa Pollitt, Palmolive (Paloma Romero)

One of the more intriguing of punk bands, at least in my eyes, was The Slits (1976-81, 2006-Present).  

Their importance to me isn't so much that they were among the first wave of the U.K. punk movement, nor that they were one of the first all-female punk bands on the scene.  More so, I appreciate them for what they would become.  

As was typical of too many early punk bands, the inability to actually play their instruments never stopped the original Slits line-up from giving it the old college try - as documented on the In the Beginning and Peel Sessions collections.  

While I understand that the early version of the Slits are well regarded amongst the punk brigade, I just don't see the allure.  

Frankly, the presentation of an all-girl punk band was simply not enough compensation for having to listen to such garage-like misery.  

Or was it?

Music, after all, was not the point.  

As strange as it might sound these days, the Slits were a dangerous band.  Their antics rivaled those of the dastardly Sex Pistols; physically attacking other bands, destroying innocent cars, public flashings of the 'naughty bits' that we bourgeois love to tittle-tattle over tasteless microwave dishes - anything to shock and outrage conservatives, feminists, and pseudo-hipsters, alike.
- (L-R), Bruce Smith, Tessa Pollitt, Viv Albertine, Ari Up
Late era Slits, NME photo sessions by Anton Corbijn

One (loooooooong) look at the Cut album cover reveals all we need to know about the Slits' politics.

Um, yeah.  

It must be noted that lead singer Ari Up has always been interesting. Her vocal style has been described as 'exotically distinct', even during the early (and sometimes painful) caterwauling stage.  
However, the overall package was a tough pill to swallow.

From a musical perspective, it is no surprise it took the band so long to sign to a record label.

From a social perspective, it is a surprise they got a record deal at all. 

- (L-R) Ari Up (vocals), Tessa Pollitt (bass), Viv Albertine (guitar)

But then a funny thing happened.    

As punk fell by the wayside and post-punk emerged from the ashes, Tessa Pollitt and Viv Albertine would not only learn to play their instruments, they would excel at them.  The band became bored with punk, replaced founding member Palmolive with drummer extraordinaire Budgie, fell under the production wings of Dennis 'Blackbeard' Bovell, and released two experimental (and amazing) dub-style albums to little fanfare - before fizzling out as a unit in 1981. 

It figures.  The experimental nature of Cut (Island ILPS #9873, September 1979) and Return of the Giant Slits (CBS #85269, October 1981) did the band in, as far as their marketability.  Yet it is that very same experimental nature that made me a fan in the first place.  

- (L-R) Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt, Ari Up

So why are the Slits important to me?

The Clash may have dabbled - and John Lydon may have been an authority on the subject, but the Slits (in addition to Jah Wobble) were the ones to open my eyes (er... ears) to the greatness of dub and reggae.  Sure, there has been and always will be Bob Marley & The Wailers - but beyond that, I had no clue as to the depth and brilliance of the genre.  

Without the music of the Slits - and in particular Tessa Pollitt's rumbling bass lines, I doubt I would have gone beyond Marley's Legend.  

Thanks, Tessa.  

Links of Interest:

*  In the Beginning - Borx's Ups Blog
*  Cut - Commercial Zone Blog (Highly Recommended)
*  Return of the Giant Slits - The Eighties... Blog
*  The Slits Peel Sessions - Champagne Blog

Updated Link:  Cut @320kbps!  - Hong Kong Gardens Blog

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Suburban Lawns

Compartmentalizing is the only way to fathom the outside world.  

Mom is a Spawn Point.  Dad is a Seed Pouch.
Hippies were Hygiene Imbalanced.  Kids are Genetic Carriers.
Wives are Pornography Substitutes.  Husbands are Stunted Children.
I am an Idiot.  

You get the picture. 

Genre-tagging is even better.  
Just ask every record reviewer and insecure fan out there.  They'll tell you.

genre |ˈzh änrə|
a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.

tag |tag|
a label attached to someone or something for the purpose of identification or to give other information.

Suburban Lawns (1978-83), eccentric No... er, New Wave Avant Art Post Punk Rockers from Long Beach, California, caused a minor splash in 1979-80 with their quirky 'Gidget Goes to Hell' single.  Featured on Saturday Night Live and Night Flight during the early 80s - and name-checked by noted zither picker Frank Appaz as the only punk single of note, the band was strangely unable to capitalize on the golden goose exposure.  

Such is the fickle nature of the entertainment beast.  

- (L-R) Vex Billingsgate (bass), Su Tissue (vocals), John Gleur (guitar), c.1981

Perhaps lead singer Su Tissue's Nico-friendly Ice Princess stage presence was too jagged for the 80s kids to dance to.  Perhaps featuring Su Tissue straight-through, rather than having her sharing vocal duties with guitarist Frankie Ennui and bassist Vix Billingsgate, would have sharpened the hook of the gimmick.  Perhaps the band became too wedged in the genre cracks for record executives and their marketing departments to swallow; Were they an Art Band? Wacky New Wavers?  Punks?
They sound new wave, Bob.  
Kids seem to buy new wave.  It's the future.
I don't know, Don.  How many units did Devo push last month?
And what's with the skirt?  Is she German, or something?
German doesn't sell.

- Drawing of Su Tissue by Mark Vallen (pencil), Slash Magazine 1979 

Were I to venture a guess, I would say they were too schizo for public consumption.  Their music veered all over the new wave herding range - jumping from Devoesqe to X-Ray Spexish to shades of The Specials' ska... with Tissue supplied vocals that combined Yoko Ono warbles, Ari Up hiccups, and Nina Hagen pronunciations.  

And that's just the first album.  

(Look Ma, I'm a record reviewer!!)    

In other words, they were great.

I'm a Janitor. Oh my genitals. Oh my genitals. I'm a Janitor.

All action is reaction. Expansion. Contraction.
Man the manipulator.

Underwater. Does it matter? Antimatter. Nuclear Reactor...
Boom boom boom boom.

I guess everything is irrelative.

- Janitor

After the 80's Compilation gravestone Gidget Goes to Hell was planted, the band would self-release another single, 'Janitor' b/w 'Protection' (Suburban Industrial #02, 1980), before signing with I.R.S. Records for a full-length self-titled LP, 'Suburban Lawns' (IRS #SP70024, 1981), and a swan-song EP, 'Baby' (IRS #70503, 1983).

During the hiatus between 'Suburban Lawns' and 'Baby', Su Tissue recorded an excellent piano & voice solo EP in 1982, Salon De Musique.  

To further confuse the issue, Tissue's solo work is as far out (and different) than anything the Suburban Lawns recorded.  It is also just as good.   

And that is where the vinyl trail goes cold.  

- Gidget Goes to Hell/My Boyfriend 7" single, Suburban Industrial #01, 1979

A highly recommended band.  It is very rare when a musician's eclecticism pays off.  Suburban Lawns are one of the few.  Their work is at first confounding - but once you allow it to sink in, you'll soon find yourself bopping in appreciation.  

I would suggest going through their discography in chronological order, if only to chart their progression as artists.  But you can not go wrong either way.  

At the very least, perhaps you'll find them worthy enough to share with your friends.  

Links of Interest:

* Gidget Goes to Hell 7" single - New Wave Tunes Blog
(Above albums courtesy of the Sound Opinions message board)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hüsker Dü (1981-84)

So what's your favorite band?

I'm sure we have all heard (and asked) that question more times than we can count. To many people, it ranks right up there with 'What's your favorite color?'

I don't know about you, but that's always a tough one for me to honestly answer. Over the years my alliances have shifted back and forth so many times, I would be hard pressed to name but one.
As a kid, it would have been The Monkees (I thought Mike Nesmith was the coolest person on the planet Davy Jones? Not so much...). For sheer longevity, I would have to say Talking Heads. Or maybe Public Image Limited. For a year or so I would have pointed towards the Dead Kennedys - perhaps even the Minutemen. Maybe The Residents? If asked during the past couple of years, I would have to side with Captain Beefheart.

One of the bands I have championed the longest (besides Talking Heads and PiL) would be Hüsker Dü. Not to be confused with Hūsker Dū.

- Hüsker Dü logo; 3 Individuals United... until they break up

Forming in the Minneapolis-St. Paul section of Minnesota (home of Mary Richards and Nick Bockwinkel) during 1979, Bob Mould (guitar, vocals), Grant Hart (drums, vocals), and Greg Norton (bass) would blaze a molten trail through the American underground until disintegrating in spectacularly messy fashion in late 1987.

The first time I heard Hüsker Dü was through my Uncle Larry (Donald to you - and almost everyone else) in... I want to say 1984. The tape, Everything Falls Apart, blew my fourteen year old sensibilities away. No surprises there, really; the record is considered by many to be a classic in whatever genre you toss it in.

You see, I took everything Larry allowed me to listen to very seriously.
His influence on me was absolute - even though he probably has no clue as to the extent. Being close to ten years my senior, I'm sure he saw me as nothing more than a twerp kid. And we all know how annoying twerp kids can be.

I, on the other hand, saw Larry as a doorway to something 'More'.

At a time when I was formulating whatever identity I would later go on to have, the man hipped me to so many things: movies, television, video games, music - even cereal (Quisp forever, Captain Crunch never!). With him, it wasn't enough to simply play the music for me, or help waste quarters at the local 7-11, or to eat the cereal with me. No, Larry would explain why whatever it was we were doing was valuable; it was never 'Because I say so!'

Every kid needs an Uncle Larry in their lives.

- March 12, 1987. Lakewood, Ohio. It sucked. Thanks, Lar.

Hüsker Dü provided me with many firsts.

* Shortly after that 'listening session', I snagged the just-released Zen Arcade on vinyl as one of my first record purchases (along with Talking Heads' Remain in Light and Public Image Limited's self-titled first release).
It was love at first listen; I had begun to expand.

* They were the first band I could self-importantly toss out to friends as one of the 'Great Unknowns'. None of them ended up liking Hüsker Dü, but that never stopped me from trying.

* One of the first concerts I went to was going to see Hüsker Dü promote their Warehouse: Songs and Stories album. Mould, Hart, and Norton were solid, yet uninspired. They played the entire album, first cut to last, with two encores: Zen Arcade's Reoccurring Dreams and Chartered Trips. Talk about a let down. As Larry's good friend Joe remarked, 'I could have stayed home, closed my eyes and listened to the damn thing!'
And he was right. Bob Mould still owes me $9.00.

* One of the first times I groped a chick's breast was during a make-out session while listening to Land Speed Record. I've never been able to look at the album in the same light.

* The first time I got drunk, I ended up serenading a girl I was crazy about with a sloppy version of Flip Your Wig's 'Green Eyes'. She wasn't impressed. Nor were any of the other people in her apartment building I woke up that morning.

- Forever to remind me of breasts. Thanks, Margie.

Oh, the band?

Let's just say that in the mid 80s, there were two college radio darlings that everyone expected to break into the mainstream: REM and Hüsker Dü. And I thought Hüsker Dü was the better of the two.

There were several phases to the band. Much like the several phases that all of us go through in life. Starting off as angry and speed fueled, Hüsker Dü would travel faster than just about every band before them. Bob Mould's guitar sound, innovative still, was that of steel melting. Youthful passion personified.

Following 1984's Zen Arcade, the band's material would mature for the sake of melody.

And heroin use.

But that's another story.

Phase One...

Links of Interest:

* Land Speed Record, 1982 - A Day Without a Record Blog
* Everything Falls Apart and More, 1983 - Punk Not Profit Blog
* Metal Circus & Zen Arcade, 1983/84 - Bloody Revolutions Blog

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Come On (New York City, 1976-80)

One of the greatest albums of the 1970s, Television's 'Marquee Moon' (1977) went practically unheard in the United States.  It took the music scribes of Britain to point out to the rest of the world Television's near brilliance.
30-something years later, publications such as Bowling Stoned and Entertaining Weakly hail the album (and band) as, 'Regrettably Unknown, Yet Vastly Influential'. 

I Hate Disneyland.  Mickey didn't shake my hand.  
Mickey Mouse is a Rat.  Mickey Mouse is a Rat!

- Disneyland

In the case of New York's Come On, I doubt anyone is going to ride out and save them from obscurity anytime soon.

Which only goes to show you: For every one highly regarded band in the mainstream or on the outskirts, there will be ten equally talented unknowns lurking to be discovered.

Top, L-R: Page Wood (Drums), Elena Glasberg (Guitar), George Elliott (Guitar)
Bot, L-R: Jamie Kaufman (Vocals), Ralf Mann (Bass)  

If you happen to stumble across reviews of Come On, you'll inevitably run into Talking Heads comparisons.  So many, in fact, it is no wonder so few have heard of them.
Why bother with wannabes?  We've already got Mr. Byrne and The Rest!

If that doesn't cause you to turn your head and cough, perhaps the genre-tagging of Come On by reviewers will: Angular Art-Rock, No/New Wave, Post-Punk, minimalist, New York Punk, Underground Pop, Asexual White Soul Dance Music, blah, blah, blah...

Old People.  Get out of the House.  Get out in the Streets.
Turn over Cars.  Elbow Young People.  Set Garbage on Fire.   

- Old People

Do not get me wrong - the comparisons to early Talking Heads are valid.  
Both feature spastic lead singers/lyricists.  Both feature women in prominent, yet not quite front-of-stage roles.  Both feature homages to the Verlaine & Lloyd duel guitar tapestry.  Both feature nervous lyrics that wallow in the horrors (and humor) of the banal.  And both took the stage in intentionally subdued 'Every Man' attire.

What many reviewers fail to mention is that Come On were contemporaries of Talking Heads, having first recorded demo tracks in 1977.  The lazy slobs.

That is not to say that Byrne and Company did not influence the direction that Come On were to take in the next three years of existence.  However, it can be argued that the similar approach to presentation and stripped-down sound were nothing more than a coincidence of similar artistic expression.

And what an expression it was...

I'm five.  Five years old.  When I'm seven, I'll get to smoke.
Secretly, I already do.  In the bushes.  With the girls.

- I'm Five

The Come On Story: New York City, 1976-80 - a compilation of material recorded between 1978-1980 (???) presents the case that Come On deserved a much better fate. 

If anything, you'll be left wondering why you are the only one in your crowd to have ever heard of them.  

Notable Cuts:

* Howard After Six -- Mom knows why Howard doesn't like making coffee after six, but she's not telling.  My favorite cut on the album; a propelling and compelling rhythm section courtesy of Ralf Mann and Page Wood, atmospheric guitar interplay between George Elliott and Elena Glasberg, and Jamie Kaufman's whispering observations on poor Howard's tedium.  It blows me away every time.  

Housewives Play Tennis -- Middle-class housewives are such a bore. Except for their weak backhands and underthings.  Mmmm.... underthings.  Besides 'Howard After Six', this song may be their strongest.  And like Howard, you'll swear you've heard it before.  

* Old People -- As if their love of Susan Lucci and Alex Trebeck weren't enough.  Now we have to worry about old people rioting, looting, and elbowing young people in the sides?  Gee, thanks Mr. Kaufman.

* Mona Lisa -- Television had Venus de Milo.  Come On had the Mona Lisa.  Great.  Here come the Television comparisons.  'Mona complains.  It seems she doesn't like it, but what can she do?  She just has to smile.'

Physical ed.  Don't get physical, Ed.
Push Up, Sit Up, Get Up, Shut Up...
Physical ed.  I'm a physical wreck.

- Physical Ed

Physical Ed -- Superb wordplay.  Where the hell did Jamie Kaufman go after Come On broke up, anyway?  The guy was far too talented to have dropped off the pimpled face of Show Business.  Obviously he was smart enough to.  

* Don't Walk on the Kitchen Floor -- The B Side to the only 7" single (self)released by the band during their lifetime.  'And I want to live all of my life.  Not just the weekends.'  Yeah... me, too!

* I'm Five -- Who would have thought five year olds were so worldly?  

My Neighbor Makes Noise -- I love the slow build.  Towards the end, drummer Page Wood throttles the cut like a slightly out of control go-kart racer.   

* See Me -- George Elliott is a superb guitarist.  His lines are subtly complex - and the weave between he and Elena Glasberg typically end up making most of the songs interesting enough to come back to.      

* Businessmen in Space

Quirky, witty, bouncy -- all the things that made early Devo so great.


Damn it!

Links of Interest:

* Come On: New York City, 1976-80 (Punk Not Profit blog link)